The New England Patriots wide receiver depth chart leaves a lot to be desired, but fortunately, the season does not start until September. New England still has plenty of time to bolster their roster, and they could do so by adding wide receiver Rashard Higgins. Higgins, a restricted free agent, would be a perfect fit for New England’s offense and fill the biggest hole on the roster.
New England Patriots Wide Receiver Targets: Rashard Higgins
Rashard Higgins first entered the league as a fifth-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. Selected by the Cleveland Browns, Higgins just missed making the Week One roster as a rookie. However, Higgins signed with Cleveland’s practice squad before earning an early-season promotion. Over the course of his three-year career, Higgins has recorded 72 receptions for 961 yards and six touchdowns. The 6’1”, 198-pound wideout has improved every year he’s been in the league, finishing 2018 with 39 receptions for 572 yards and four touchdowns.
As implied by his impressive size, Higgins does most of his work on the outside. Watching film shows that Higgins is a strong-handed perimeter weapon the Patriots desperately need. If the season started today (it doesn’t), Phillip Dorsett would be New England’s starting outside receiver. Dorsett is a decent player who certainly deserves a bigger role, but he shouldn’t be a WR2.
The advanced analytics show that Higgins was exceptional in a small sample. While he only received 53 targets in 2018, he made his opportunities count. According to Sharp Football Stats, Higgins had a 63.8% success rate when targeted, 12.6% above the league average. Higgins was successful at just about every level of the field, as evidenced by Sharp Football’s “Success Rate Over Average” graph.
Rashard Higgins’ Success Rate Over Average – Image Courtesy of Sharp Football Stats
What’s most impressive about Higgins is his ability to get open deep and stretch the field. The Patriots don’t have anyone on the roster who can do that, as Julian Edelman and Phillip Dorsett are much better in the short passing game.
Tom Brady was surprisingly effective in the deep part of the field last season, despite Cordarrelle Patterson being his best deep weapon. Adding Higgins to the mix will only improve Brady’s deep ball success while opening up the short passing game.
Tom Brady’s Passer Rating by Zone: Image Courtesy of Sharp Football Stats
Higgins would be an immediate starter in the offense and an instant upgrade to the receiver core. However, there are a few obstacles standing in the way of a potential Higgins signing.
For one, Higgins is still under contract. As a restricted free agent, Higgins is contractually obligated to spend 2018 in Cleveland. New England can offer a contract to Higgins, but the Browns would have the right to match this offer. Even if the Browns didn’t match, New England would need to give up a fifth-round pick for his services.
The Cleveland Browns currently have more financial flexibility than the New England Patriots. According to Spotrac, the Browns have $35.1 million in available cap space. The Patriots, meanwhile, have just $17.1 million. The Browns have the ability to match any offer the Patriots could possibly make, meaning New England can’t force the Browns’ hand with a frontloaded contract.
Additionally, the Patriots would need to send a fifth-round pick to Cleveland. Unfortunately for New England, the Patriots do not have a fifth-round pick in the upcoming NFL Draft, meaning they’d need to send their fourth-round selection to the Browns. This is a steep price to pay, and it might be a deal New England isn’t willing to make.
Despite all this, there’s still reason to believe that a Higgins signing is possible. The Browns currently have a fantastic wide receiver duo in Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham. Cleveland is paying big money to both receivers and might not want to hand out a third contract to a wide receiver.
Additionally, the Patriots could easily find a way to get a fifth-round pick. New England owns 12 picks in the upcoming NFL Draft, including five in the sixth and seventh rounds. The Patriots could potentially trade a two of these picks for a fifth-round pick. After that, New England could send that pick to Cleveland.
Last Word on Rashard Higgins
The Patriots have never shied away from acquiring restricted free agents, and Rashard Higgins would be a great addition. Higgins is a big-bodied wideout capable of immediately stepping in and contributing as an outside receiver. The former fifth-round pick is an efficient receiver in all areas of the field but is especially gifted deep down the sideline. New England didn’t have a true deep threat in 2019 and Higgins can provide an added dimension to New England’s passing attack.
Acquiring Higgins won’t be easy, but it can be done. Even though the Browns have more financial flexibility than the Patriots, Cleveland is already paying top dollar to two receivers. The Browns might not want to give another deal to a third receiver, so New England might not have to break the bank to get Higgins. Additionally, New England has enough draft capital where they can get a fifth-round pick to send over to Cleveland.
Higgins isn’t a superstar, but he’s exactly what New England’s offense needs. Julian Edelman and Tom Brady are still around, so the Patriots offense doesn’t need a big-name stud for this offense to function. Rather, they just a cost-effective starter on the outside.
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