By Paul Wanecski
Really, could this be any less of a surprise by the New England Patriots? For years Bill Belichick has been adding veteran players, specifically wide receivers, to his roster and Reggie Wayne may just be a new chapter in an already storied book. Here, we will weigh the pros and cons of one of this generation’s most prolific receivers landing inside the Buffalo Bills division.
To address the elephant in the room, Wayne turned 26 a decade ago. He has had three surgeries within the last 20 months on his knee, triceps and ACL. He caught only two of the forty touchdowns thrown by Andrew Luck in 2014. Since Andrew Luck’s arrival, he has tossed 86 regular season touchdowns – Wayne has caught only nine of them in 38 games. By comparison over that time, Colby Fleener has fourteen touchdown receptions, Dwayne Allen has twelve, and T.Y. Hilton has nineteen. Wayne has seen his fair share of targets, with 369 since 2012, hauling in 208 passes. While 56.3% may not seem impressive, it is right on target since Luck’s career completion percentage is only 58.6%. Wayne will also turn 37 in November of this season. Last season tied his career low of yards per reception at 12.2., which included a career best 80 yard touchdown catch.
Now Wayne has never been a touchdown machine. During his 14 year career, he has caught more than 9 touchdowns only three times. The major concern for him is not if he can still catch, but rather, if Wayne can make the cuts in his routes needed and maintain a reasonably healthy season. Is his agent leaking information about interested teams to try and create an illusion that someone is more interested in Wayne than perhaps they really are? Very possible and truth be told, Wayne has an immense amount of limitations at this point in his career. He is not a special team contributor. It would be unrealistic to expect him to play 75% of offensive snaps. Those limitations wouldn’t scare someone like the Patriots.
It is interesting to note that when looking at the Patriots through 2014, we commonly think of them in “11” personnel (which would be 1RB, 1TE and 3 WRs). Actually, they were listed at having a base of “12” personnel (1 RB, 2TE, and 2 WRs), being in that set 41% of the time. Prior to the post season (specifically week 16 and 17), you can see offensive stats flip as the team reverted to 11 personnel the last few weeks of the season and into the post season. This is not an uncommon practice for New England, as they will typically change offensive scheme to either exploit a defensive weakness or to leverage that game-tape against a future opponent. With the team acquiring pass-catching TE (and matador-style run blocker) Scott Chandler, it appears that they wish to go to the more popular 12 personnel that they had previously run with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. As is typical for the Patriots, the WR depth chart is littered with pedestrian names. Outside of Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola, you may only be familiar with the rest if you were forced to troll for WR in fantasy football. Brandon LaFell, Brandon Gibson (formerly of the St. Louis Rams and Miami Dolphins), and Aaron Dobson round out the top of the depth chart. Clearly, Dobson is on the outside looking in since he was able to manage three receptions in four games before hitting injured reserve. Gibson on the other hand managed 30 receptions in 2014 in six-and-a-half-games with 3 touchdowns for Miami. Any combination of these players would be replaceable in the Patriots system and all could be released with little impact on the salary cap. It is anticipated that the Patriots will carry 5 WR on the 53 man roster, so room for Reggie Wayne still exists.
From a salary perspective, Wayne will be available for next to nothing given his track record. Most people will make the comparison to Randy Moss during his time with the Patriots. To be fair, when Moss was acquired in 2007, he was six years younger than Wayne is right now. During the entire time Moss spent in New England he caught 58.3% of his targets, right where Wayne has been the last 3 seasons. That is about where the comparison should end. While Wayne and Moss may be able to stretch the field still at this age, Moss throughout his career was a stronger red-zone player than Wayne. Would Wayne best benefit from the mismatches that would be created in the Patriots offense? Since most teams tend to drop down coverage on Gronkowski, isolating the outside receivers in one-on-one coverage, Wayne could absolutely thrive in a situation like the one in New England. Temper your expectations if he signs, he might see 60-70 targets at best. Ultimately, Wayne is a Hall of Fame talent who cannot be left alone on the field. You need to account for his skills, which is exactly what New England is known for - taking advantage of a mismatch or a weakness in coverage. If the Patriots can find a way to get Wayne in single coverage with the safety down to cover, even at his age, he would smack around most cornerbacks in the league.
Come week two of the NFL season, if Tom Brady is still suspended, Jimmy Garaoppolo would benefit greatly from the experience of receivers Edelman, Wayne, Amendola and Gronkowski. While most Bills fans have this match-up circled on the calendar, given the depth, it may be a more formidable match-up than most think if Wayne ends up with the Patriots.