COMMENTARY| Despite a 3-0 start to the season, the New England Patriots have experienced some inconsistencies in certain areas of their team, particularly the wide receivers. If the team chooses to shore up the position, there are some free-agent options they could consider.
During the early going, the Patriots have seen their young receiving corps suffer through some poor route running, drops and miscommunication. Additionally, the groin injury to top receiver Danny Amendola has left the team without its most experienced target for up to six weeks.
The team's resounding 23-3 victory against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 3 showed a much better performance out of the passing game. However, while New England could wait for the young receivers to continue developing and Amendola to return, it could also choose to bring another veteran in to steady the group. Here are the best available options:
Undrafted out of the University of Florida, Nelson developed into a very useful receiver with the Buffalo Bills, with a combined 92 catches for 1,011 yards and eight touchdowns in his first two seasons. Unfortunately, he tore his ACL in the first game of last year and has not seen game action since.
He was with the Cleveland Browns during preseason, but was ultimately cut, as a bone bruise in his knee prevented him from making an impact. Now healthy, his experience and his size to potentially line up in an Aaron Hernandez-like role should have the Patriots intrigued.
Tiquan Underwood: The 26-year-old has several things going for him that make him a great match. He previously played for the team in 2011; he attended Rutgers (the Patriots currently have five Scarlet Knights under contract); and his head coach with the Buccaneers last season was Greg Schiano, a close associate of New England head coach Bill Belichick.
Known for his high-top fade haircut, Underwood caught three passes for 30 yards in six games for the Patriots in 2011. He was famously cut the day before the Super Bowl that season, as the team wanted the roster spot to strengthen another position.
His best season came last year, as he hauled in 28 passes for 425 yards and two scores for the Buccaneers.
Underwood has excellent speed, which is a dynamic New England could use. Although he has never posted huge numbers, his familiarity with the Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady would be highly desirable if he was to be plugged into the offense.
Steve Breaston: One of the most experienced receivers on the market, the 30-year-old spent the first four years of his career with the Arizona Cardinals and the past two seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Breaston has traditionally been more of a third-receiver type, and the Patriots wouldn't need him to take over a starting role.
His best season came in 2008, when he caught 77 passes for 1,006 yards and three touchdowns for Arizona.
For his career, he has caught 255 passes for 3,387 yards and nine touchdowns.
Conclusion: NFL.com's Ian Rapoport is reporting Brady has contacted free-agent receivers and former teammates Deion Branch and Brandon Lloyd to check their availability. While both are familiar faces, neither would be good fits for the Patriots.
Branch would be an excellent mentor, but the 34-year-old appeared to be running on fumes during his time in New England last year, when he caught just 16 passes in 10 games.
Lloyd had 74 receptions for 911 yards and four scores for the Patriots last season but was sent packing because of his incompatibility off the field, according to former Boston Globe reporter Greg A. Bedard. He might be able to still produce on the field, but his possible negative influence on the young receivers doesn't make him a viable option.
The Patriots aren't going to find any star receivers looking for work on the free-agent market. However, there are veteran players with solid track records who could make an impact. A successful candidate would give Brady another reliable target while providing the young receivers someone to lean on while they continue their own development. If the team decides to add another receiver, there are definitely available players who fit that bill.
In addition to the Yahoo Contributor Network, Andrew Martin has written extensively for Bleacher Report and a number of print publications and websites on the topics of history and sports (particularly the Boston Red Sox and New England Patriots). He also produces his own blog and has appeared on various sports talk shows and podcasts.
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