BOSTON (CBS) — Take a look at the Patriots’ depth chart at receiver and it’s pretty clear why they reportedly signed 36-year-old Reggie Wayne on Monday.
Wayne fills an immediate need for a team hampered with injuries at wide receiver. Both Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell haven’t seen the field this preseason, with Edelman nursing a leg injury he suffered at the beginning of camp and LaFell reportedly just getting out of a boot over the weekend. Aaron Dobson has also missed both preseason games with (more) injuries, and the team placed newcomer Brandon Gibson on injured reserve late Monday after he limped off the field Saturday night in New Orleans.
The addition of the proven vet not only gives them an able body, but one that can go out and catch passes immediately. His touchdown totals have taken a dip in recent years, but the production is still there for Wayne. His 106 receptions and 1,355 yards in 2012 from rookie Andrew Luck, at the age of 34, are nothing to scoff at. Even last year with T.Y. Hilton assuming the go-to-guy role in Indy, Wayne had 64 receptions for 779 yards. In each of the last six years, he’s averaged at least 12-yards per catch, meaning he can still stretch the field.
Yes, he struggled mightily in the two times he faced the Patriots. He was criticized for dogging it after a five-catch performance in Week 6, and Luck only went his way twice in New England’s 45-7 loss in the AFC Championship game. Having Darrelle Revis draped all over you tends to do that to even the best of the best.
Wayne’s best years are certainly behind him, and Patriots fans will have cold sweats thinking back to other accomplished receivers who enjoyed short and fairly pointless stays in New England in their twilight years. Joey Galloway, Torry Holt and Chad Ochocinco come to mind, with those three combining for 22 receptions in 18 games played. Galloway had a disappointing three-game stint in 2009, Holt didn’t make the team in 2010, and Ochocinco somehow collected a healthy paycheck despite barely doing anything throughout the entire 2011 season.
But there is hope that Wayne, the NFL’s active leader in receptions and receiving yards, can continue to have a pulse in his new uniform. He was deemed expendable in Indianapolis after 14 successful seasons of hauling in heaves by the likes of Peyton Manning and Luck (not to mention the 75 receptions and nearly 1,000 yards he had in 2011 catching passes from the three-headed monster of Kerry Collins-Dan Orlovsky-Curtis Painter), as the Colts added All Pro Andre Johnson in the offseason and drafted Phillip Dorsett 29th overall in April.
It’s to the Patriots’ benefit though, as they add a veteran pass-catcher who can step right in and do just that. With Rob Gronkowski healthy (knock on wood) and Edelman and LaFell hopefully returning at some point within the next two weeks (knock again), Wayne can slot in to their No. 4 option behind Danny Amendola when the receiving corps is healthy. If he has to fill the shoes as their No. 2 option for a few weeks early on, he should also be up to that challenge. Given that he’s a much smarter receiver and even better route running than any of the previously mentioned flops Belichick has had in the past, Wayne should be able to catch his share of passes from Tom Brady (or Jimmy Garoppolo) throughout 2015.
And if not, the Patriots can cut ties and move on. They have two preseason games to determine what Wayne has left, and how the future Hall of Famer will fit in catching passes from another future Hall of Famer. If anything, it reduces the amount of Josh Boyce drops we’ll have to see over the next two weeks, and for that we should all thank Belichick for making the move.
To state the obvious, it’s a low risk, potentially high reward situation for New England, and a move they had to make based on the current state of their depth chart.