5 thoughts on a surprisingly eventful day for Patriots

March 02, 2016 - 5:36 pm
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[caption id="attachment_106599" align="alignright" width="350"]Wide receiver Brandon LaFell has apparently played his last game with the Patriots.  (Jim Rogash/Getty Images) Wide receiver Brandon LaFell has apparently played his last game with the Patriots. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)[/caption] The Patriots announced Wednesday afternoon that they released tight end Scott Chandler and wide receiver Brandon LaFell, while wide receiver Brian Tyms Tweeted he wouldn't be returning in 2016. Here are a few thoughts about the impact of the moves, and what's next for the franchise. 1. After a really good spring and summer, Chandler just never clicked as a part of the Patriots offense. He was released Wednesday with a failed physical tag per the NFL transaction wire. While they clearly played different positions, part of that was because some of the targets that would have gone to the big tight end in the early going were simply hoovered up by the likes of newcomer Dion Lewis. He had some chances in the early-season win over the Bills, but in those situations, it felt a little like the Patriots were trying to force it to him just so he could find a way to stick it to his old mates. (That's not necessarily a bad thing, for what it's worth.) That's not to say he didn't have his moments — the Patriots never would have been able to force the regular-season game against the Broncos in Denver to overtime if it wasn't for the likes of Chandler, who finished that game with five catches (on 11 targets) for 58 yards and a touchdown. We were also partial to his Scott Hall-inspired nWo touchdown celebration against the Giants. But that was pretty much it for the big guy. If he doesn't return, his final line for the Patriots will be 23 catches on 42 targets for 259 yards and four touchdowns. Not a bad line, but a little underwhelming considering how he looked in the offseason. In his place, figure that the Patriots will add at least one tight end to the roster between now and the start of the 2016 season: they currently have Rob Gronkowski, Michael Williams (a converted tackle) and A.J. Derby, who spent all of last year, his first in the NFL, on injured reserve. Look for an addition, either in free agency or the draft. (Colleague Ryan Hannable is a believer in Glenn Gronkowski.) 2. As for LaFell, he ends his New England career as a cautionary tale. He had a terrific 2014 (74 catches, 953 yards and seven touchdowns in the regular season and in the playoffs he added 13 receptions for 119 yards with two touchdowns), but after offseason foot surgery, simply wasn't the same guy out of the gate in 2015. He missed all spring and summer, and didn't get on the field until Week 6 against the Jets. Brady has talked in the past several times about the issues that arise if you're not on board when the train is leaving the station, and LaFell's offseason set him back in a huge way. His performance in his first two games back saw a ton of drops, and while he managed to have a couple of nice moments (including a five-catch, 102-yard performance this year) he never found the form that he flashed in 2014, ending the year with 37 catches for 515 yards. One weird quirk: He was one of just two pass-catchers (along with tight end Jared Cook) last year who was targeted at least 70 times but didn't register a single touchdown. 3. As for replacements for LaFell, the Patriots will have to find an outside receiver to try and replicate at least some of the production that LaFell offered in 2014 but couldn't provide last year. The question is whether or not that'll come in the draft or free agency. There are some really intriguing names out there: in free agency, that includes the likes of Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones (our guy Trags has a dynamite look at both Sanu and Jones as possible Patriots) as well as Rueben Randle. (For our complete free-agent snapshot breakdown, which includes veteran receivers like Percy Harvin and Anquan Boldin, check out the series here.) The draft isn't especially considered deep at wide receiver, but there are a few names worth considering. We already wrote about Pitt's Tyler Boyd as a possibility. There's also Notre Dame's Will Fuller, Ohio State's Braxton Miller and TCU's Josh Doctson, although none of them are guaranteed to be there when the Patriots have their first bite of the apple at No. 60 overall. For the record, the following receivers are currently on the roster: Danny Amendola, Aaron Dobson, Julian Edelman, Chris Harper and Keshawn Martin. Not for nothing, but that feels a little thin. 4. Life won't be as interesting without Tyms around Foxboro. His life story is something out of a Disney movie; the simple fact that he even played a single significant snap in the NFL is a triumph in itself. He was always pleasant and chatty with the media, regardless of if he was up or down. (In the days leading up to Super Bowl XLIX, I approached him for an interview about working on the scout team. He talked about his own performance, but kept turning the focus to some of his lower-profile teammates.) While he wasn't the most talented receiver, his competitiveness made one astute Tweeter remark that he plays like the way the Patriots hoped Aaron Dobson would play. He competed for every ball like his life depended on it, and while he didn't take as many game reps as he would have liked in Foxboro, he made every single one of them count. He never half-assed it. Bottom line? He was an easy guy to pull for, and from this viewpoint, I hope he finds a gig somewhere in the NFL. He loves football, and deserves to have good things happen to him. 5. Every time the Patriots make a move this offseason that gives them more financial flexibility, it has to be examined in a very specific context — namely, how will it impact the quest to sign a significant portion of their defensive nucleus over the next 12 months. Defensive end Chandler Jones, linebackers Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins and cornerback Malcolm Butler are all scheduled to be free agents after the 2016 season, and although some will be easier to sign than others because of free-agent classifications, it will take a sizable portion of the cap to get at least three-quarters of them under contract into 2017 and beyond. With the decision to move on from Chandler and LaFell — as well as the restructure of quarterback Tom Brady — New England will not have more financial flexibility to lock down the likes of Hightower and Collins sooner rather than later.