Brown: Patriots not altering approach to WR group

  • Patriots receiver Maurice Harris catches a pass during training camp practice in Foxborough, Mass. AP

  • New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman makes a catch during an NFL training camp in June in Foxborough, Mass. Much like they have during their run of success, the Patriots haven’t put much salary toward their wide receiver corps entering the 2019 season. AP

  • New England Patriots wide receiver Phillip Dorsett (13) takes a knee during an NFL football training camp, Thursday, June 6, 2019, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne) Steven Senne

  • New England Patriots wide receiver N'Keal Harry makes a catch during an NFL football training camp practice, Thursday, Aug. 1, 2019, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne) Steven Senne

For the Monitor
Published: 8/5/2019 7:43:47 PM

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – In a run of eight consecutive trips to the AFC Championship, which has included five Super Bowl appearances and three titles, the New England Patriots have ever spent more than 12.23 percent of their salary cap on wide receivers.

New England’s spending at that position has generally been frugal over the last decade with the slight exception of 2012, when they placed a $9.5 million franchise tag on Wes Welker and he alone made 7.89 percent of the team’s overall cap space (all cap numbers according to Since then, however, the Pats have not had one Pro Bowl wideout, and have not spent more than 4.43 percent of their cap space on any single receiver. Ironically, that portion went to Julian Edelman in 2017, when he did not play a single regular-season snap.

The finer details of Patriots spending lend some insight into the current wide receiver group. To date, the nicest thing most observers have said about the 2019 Patriots receivers is that they are not the 2018 Patriots receivers.

After New England’s 13-3 victory over the Rams in Super Bowl LIII, many pointed to a receiving corps of Edelman (that game’s MVP), Chris Hogan, Cordarrelle Patterson and Phillip Dorsett as a liability. Never mind that the Patriots averaged 39 points per game in their previous two postseason efforts with that same group.

Once again, the Patriots are fielding a receiving corps that is relatively inexpensive and has people worried. Julian Edelman is 33, Josh Gordon is ineligible, Dorsett has never blossomed into a star, first-round pick N’Keal Harry is a rookie and the biggest name among the remainder of the group, injured vet Demaryius Thomas, has yet to take a practice snap.

“I think everybody’s making progress out there,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said last week of his receivers. “I mean, you go out there and practice every day, everybody’s getting better. Just competing against each other, and there’s still a lot of room for improvement for all of us, so we’ll just see where it goes. I think everybody’s making progress that’s out there. And the guys that aren’t out there, I think they’re making progress, too.”

In trying to find the soft spot of the 2019 Patriots, many have pointed to this group. But what’s clear is that when the Patriots built this receiving corps, they did not vary much from the approach they’ve used throughout their unprecedented run of success. Once again, depending on whom they cut, the team will spend between 6 and 12 percent of its salary cap on wideouts (they are currently at 11.82, but cuts will bring that number down). They are again without a clear Pro Bowl candidate unless Gordon is reinstated. But this is hardly outside the norm in Foxborough, and the absence of marquee receivers has not proven itself to be a detriment in the past.

Even with limited availability from Edelman and Rob Gronkowski, Tom Brady finished second in MVP voting in 2016 and first in 2017. Even without Pro Bowl receivers, the team has been top five in offensive efficiency every year since Welker left, except for 2014 when they were sixth and won the Super Bowl.

The Patriots offensive scheme rewards adaptability and the players whose skills best counter the opposing defense on a given day. Generally, they’ve brought in a diverse group of receivers and given them the opportunity to find roles (think Malcolm Mitchell in 2014 and Patterson in 2018). They tend to produce no-name receiver groups with players of varying talents. The ability to get open in their offense has proven more valuable than a well-established reputation or individual awards. This is why unknown veteran Maurice Harris and undrafted rookie Jakobi Myers have done the most to help themselves in camp – they get open.

“I think that’s really what we try to stress to anybody,” Brady told media Monday in Detroit. “The football doesn’t care how old you are, whether you were drafted or not. The football doesn’t care how much experience you have. It just knows that when I let that ball go, it’s got to be in the hands of the guy who it’s intended for. If that happens to be (Myers), it’s him. If it’s Julian, it’s Julian. Whoever it is, it doesn’t matter in football.”

(Dave Brown can be reached on Twitter @ThatDaveBrown.)

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