Best available veteran WRs for Patriots if they don't sign Calvin Ridley

Best available veteran WRs for Patriots if they don’t sign Calvin Ridley originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Calvin Ridley is the best wide receiver available on the NFL’s free agent market, and the two teams that reportedly have the best chance to sign him are the Jacksonville Jaguars (his 2023 team) and New England Patriots.

The Patriots badly need an upgrade at wide receiver. They only have Kendrick Bourne, DeMario Douglas, Tyquan Thornton, Kayshon Boutte and JuJu Smith-Schuster on their depth chart right now.

New England could take a wide receiver on Day 2 of the 2024 NFL Draft, but even in that scenario, this team still needs another dependable veteran who can stretch the field.

If Ridley doesn’t come to Foxboro, which other veteran wide receivers could the Patriots target in free agency and the trade market? Here’s a list of the best options.

Free agents

Marquise Brown, Cardinals

Brown would add lots of speed to the Patriots passing attack. The athletic wideout tallied 51 receptions for 574 yards and four touchdowns in 14 games for the Cardinals last season. His best season came in 2021 as a member of the Ravens when he set career highs with 91 receptions and 1,008 yards. Brown’s stats from last season don’t jump off the page, but he was on one of the league’s worst teams and Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murry only played in eight games due to injury.

Tyler Boyd, Bengals

Boyd has been a very productive and consistent slot receiver for the Bengals. He has averaged 72.8 receptions and 862 yards over the last six seasons despite being the No. 3 option in the Cincinnati passing attack for much of that time.

K.J. Osborn, Vikings

Osborn has averaged 52.6 receptions and 615 yards over three pro seasons, while also totaling 15 touchdown catches. He’s also been pretty durable, playing in 50 of a possible 51 regular season games for Minnesota. He’s not a No. 1 or No 2 wideout on a contending team, but would be a strong No. 3 and a dependable target in the passing game.

Trade candidates

Tee Higgins, Bengals

Higgins requested a trade Monday, but the Bengals don’t have to move him because he’s under contract for the 2024 season after getting franchise tagged last month. But every player has a price, and if Higgins doesn’t want to be there, maybe the Bengals would explore a deal.

Higgins is just 25 years old — four years younger than Ridley — and is a strong, physical wideout at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds. Injuries limited him to 13 games last season, but he still tallied 42 receptions for 656 yards with five touchdowns. He posted back-to-back seasons of at least 74 catches, 1,000 yards and six touchdowns in 2021 and 2022.

Higgins has been the No. 2 wide receiver in the Bengals offense behind Ja’Marr Chase since 2021. He would be the undisputed No. 1 wideout in New England. Should the Patriots dangle the No. 34 overall pick (second round) in next month’s draft to get Higgins? It’s worth considering.

Brandon Aiyuk, 49ers

The 49ers have an expensive team. Five of their offensive players have a 2024 salary cap hit of $14 million or more, including Aiyuk, who will be an unrestricted free agent next offseason. The 25-year-old wideout is going to get a huge raise at some point in the near future, and the 49ers have to decide whether they want to be the team to pay it.

If they don’t reach an extension with Aiyuk, trading him and finding his replacement in the first or second round of the draft makes a lot of sense. It’s a deep draft class for wide receivers.

Aiyuk is a legit deep threat whose 28 catches of 20-plus yards were the third-most in the league in 2023. He also set career highs with 75 receptions, 1,342 yards and seven touchdowns in 16 games. Trading for Aiyuk would give the Patriots a top 10 wide receiver in his prime, which would be pretty helpful to any quarterback they draft in April.

Keenan Allen, Chargers

The Chargers are over the salary cap and might need to make some tough decisions with a few of their older, expensive veterans.

Doug Kyed of the Boston Herald reported Tuesday that the Patriots “have checked in with the Chargers on obvious trade/cut candidates during this week’s open negotiating period.” Kyed mentions Allen as one of those candidates.

Allen has been one of the most productive wide receivers in the league since making his debut in 2013. He has six 1,000-yard seasons, including last year when he caught 108 passes for 1,242 yards and eight touchdowns despite playing in 13 games.

The issue with Allen is he’s 31 years old and has battled injuries throughout his career. He hasn’t played a full season since 2019. Allen would be a nice short-term upgrade at wide receiver for the right price.

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