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What’s next for Patriots with Tee Higgins off the table in free agency?

If you were to put together a wish list of dream acquisitions for the 2024 New England Patriots in free agency, Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins probably would have been at the top of that list.

The burgeoning star wideout was headed towards the free agent market, where a slew of teams would have surely held a bidding war for his services. And then the Bengals wisely nipped it in the bud by reportedly informing Higgins he was being slapped with a $21.8 million franchise tag.

But even with Higgins off the table, there are still a multitude of different directions the Patriots could go in their search for a true No. 1 wide receiver.

An immediate option would be going after Tampa Bay Buccaneers veteran wide receiver Mike Evans. The five-time Pro Bowler and former Super Bowl champion is without question the best receiver with a pending contract.

But he’s also a 30-year-old player that might make more sense joining a team that’s already competitive. The Patriots are nose-deep in a rebuild, and they should be aiming to land a talented, young receiver their quarterback can grow with on the field.

That brings Indianapolis Colts receiver Michael Pittman Jr. into focus. Despite losing his starting quarterback, Pittman had a career-year catching passes from backup Gardner Minshew with 109 receptions, 1,152 yards and four touchdowns. He is flashing superstar potential, and he could take off like a rocket in a Patriots offense that leaned on rookie sixth-round draft pick Demario Douglas as their best receiving weapon in 2023.

Another potential free agent option—and likely cheaper one—for the Patriots would be going after Jacksonville Jaguars receiver Calvin Ridley, who is a big-bodied target that could finally move the offense in the right direction.

However, like Evans, Ridley is set to turn 30 years old this year, which means the Patriots would have less time than they would with a 26-year-old Pittman.

The other option would be drafting a rookie wideout. But going after one of the top-two players, Ohio State’s Marvin Harrison Jr. or Washington’s Rome Odunze, would likely mean missing out on a top quarterback.

If anything, this shows the vast number of holes the Patriots need to fix and the fact that it will take more than one offseason to do it.

Story originally appeared on Patriots Wire