New WRs Could Take Pressure Off TEs

The Patriots may have enough wide receiver that Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez may find defenses playing them differently this season.

  Not every move works out, but the one constant with the New England Patriots is that they approach each offseason with a game plan, targeting their most pressing needs, and, more often than not, find a way to execute.

   The Patriots became so reliant on their tight ends last year, which wasn't necessarily a bad thing since Rob Gronkowski broke records, that their wideouts failed to strike any fear in opposing defenses. The quest to find a No. 1 wide receiver capable of causing stress on opposing defenses was a top priority this winter, and the Patriots made sure to address that need immediately.

   New England acquired Donte Stallworth, Jabar Gaffney and Brandon Lloyd to add depth to a position lacking capable bodies. Stallworth was a solid No. 3 during the team's perfect season in 2007, while Gaffney played a role as one of Tom Brady's most reliable targets during his brief tenure with the Patriots.

   Lloyd, a former Denver Bronco, has the potential to develop into a No. 1 threat. With Deion Branch and Wes Welker back in the fold, this is suddenly a much more respectable group at wide receiver, which could take some pressure off the tight ends.

   In addition to adding new bodies to the fold, the Patriots also took care of business on the home front, re-signing center Dan Koppen, offensive lineman Dan Connolly, special teams ace Matthew Slater and backup quarterback Brian Hoyer. They also franchised Welker before signing him to a multi-year extension and re-upped with Gronkowski, locking up two of the team's most important offensive weapons. In a surprise move, the team also acquired former Giants tight end Jake Ballard, who won't be able to play until next year at the earliest.

   The NFL draft also added new talent as the Patriots retooled up front, selecting Syracuse defensive end Chandler Jones and Alabama linebacker Dont'a Hightower, moves they hope will solidify a sagging pass rush over the past two years.

   The bottom line is the Patriots went out and addressed their needs, both in the draft and through free agency, and made sure to take care of the players who are key contributors. The team looks loaded on paper, but only time will tell how quickly this group meshes together in training camp.


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