With nearly $70 million in salary cap space and a severely depleted receiving corps, many expect the New England Patriots to be in the running for one of the top free agent weapons on the open market this offseason.
This week, ESPN’s Bill Barnwell took his best guess at predicting where some of the NFL’s most coveted wide receivers may land in 2021. For the Patriots, Barnwell believes a four-year, $78 million contract may be enough to land Tampa Bay Buccaneers star Chris Godwin — one of the headliners of a “uniquely stacked” free agent class.
Barnwell doesn’t believe the Bucs will be able to pay all of their key free agents, and because of the team’s existing depth at wide receiver, Tampa Bay may not be willing to pay big money to Godwin.
The Bucs have some tough decisions to make with their roster this offseason, given that Shaq Barrett, Lavonte David, Ndamukong Suh, Rob Gronkowski, Antonio Brown, and Godwin are all free agents. They can’t retain all of them, and they’re likely to get below-market prices on Brown (and Gronkowski).
While the Bucs are currently projected to have the seventh-most cap space in the NFL ($38.6 million per Spotrac), the front office could quickly burn through that money in trying to retain everyone. Players like Barrett and Gronkowski (because of his connection to Tom Brady) could be obvious contributors for the Bucs to hold on to.
Here’s where Barnwell figures the Patriots can swoop in to sign Godwin away from Brady and company.
My guess is that Godwin’s versatility appeals to another team that lost two big-name contributors to the Buccaneers last offseason. The Patriots sorely need weapons at receiver and Godwin profiles as the sort of player who could continue to flourish with a larger target share. He also doesn’t turn 25 until next month, which might make him more desirable to the Pats than [Allen] Robinson or [Kenny] Golladay.
There is no question, Godwin would instantly become the Patriots’ No. 1 receiver ahead of 34-year-old Julian Edelman, 2019 first-rounder N’Keal Harry, Jacobi Myers and impending free agent Damiere Byrd.
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Why Godwin Might Be Expendable
The Bucs have options at wide receiver. Rookie Tyler Johnson has impressed coaches and, perhaps most importantly, Brady during his first season in the NFL. Johnson appears to have the ability to fill Godwin’s role, and at just 22 years old himself, his overall upside is apparent. During the regular season, Johnson managed only 12 receptions for 169 yards and two touchdowns. However, he seemingly has a knack for making big catches.
Nine of his receptions went for first downs, and he had a pair of huge catches for 31 yards in the postseason thus far. There is a chance that Godwin’s exit will provide Johnson with the room needed to develop into the receiver he’s capable of being.
Tampa also has speedy second-year wideout Scotty Miller and three-time Pro Bowler Mike Evans under contract through at least 2023, so if Godwin leaves, the cupboard will be far from bare. If they choose to re-sign Brown, the receiver room would be even closer to running it back.
Is Godwin Worth $78 Million?
If the Patriots are paying Godwin $78 million, he would have to be a 100-reception, 1,000-yard receiver for them in 2021 and beyond. In 2019, he blew past those numbers with 1,333 yards and nine touchdowns in just 14 games. This season, the former third-round pick missed four games due to a concussion, hip and quad injuries and settled for 840 yards and seven scores on 65 receptions.
Despite the statistical slippage, most would attest, Godwin is on the cusp of becoming an elite receiver in the NFL. Because he’s still just 24 years old and fills an obvious need, it would be hard to imagine anyone criticizing the Patriots for opening their wallets to secure Godwin’s services.
For the sake of New England’s 30th ranked pass offense, let’s hope it gets done.
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