Several Wide Receivers linked to the Patriots

(Melina Vastola/USA Today Sports)
It is the most exciting and stressful time of the year in the NFL. The beginning of free agency is a time for bad teams to improve, and good teams to lose prize players. So far, the New England Patriots have kept to the status quo and have yet to make a splash in comparison to their division opponents. Given that the start of the legal tampering period has begun, teams and players are beginning to announce unofficial deals. The Patriots have yet to churn out "deals" for players that are on the soon-to-be open market, but have good reasons why. Revis still has to decide what is best for him. McCourty's market is still developing. And the Patriots never overspend for a free agent (at least not since Adalius Thomas).

Over the last few hours, rumors have finally leaked in regards to a few players that the Patriots might be interested in. These players have one commonality: they are mid-level, athletic WRs. The names that have been mentioned by Yahoo!'s Charles Robinson and Mike Loyko include, but are not limited to: Cecil Shorts, Brian Hartline, Percy Harvin, and Eddie Royal.

As Mike Loyko points out, Cecil Shorts has been on the Patriots' radar for some time now and fits the speedy WR role that they've been lacking for some time. All of the mentioned WRs have good speed, with Shorts and Harvin being the most obvious. Shorts comes from a Division III school, and then went to Jacksonville. He could want a taste of real success with a real contender, so interest could be mutual. At 6'0", he is a bit taller than the Smurfs (Amendola/Edelman), but has had injury concerns of late. At 27 years old, he is entering the prime of his career.

Brian Hartline, at 6'2" 200 lbs, can play inside and outside. Rumors from earlier this week, from Mary Kay Cabot, said that Hartline would accept a discounted contract in order to play with Tom Brady. He wouldn't be the first WR to make the switch from Miami to New England, and the first time worked out fairly well. More rumors came that the Patriots had a contract on the table for Hartline as early as last Thursday.

Harvin is another name that has been brought up over the last two weeks. Now with Brandon Marshall joining the Jets, Harvin seems all but set to join the free agency pool if the Jets release him. While injury and locker room issues have followed him around everywhere he goes, his potential as a Patriot is enticing.

Eddie Royal, the former San Diego Charger, is a new name to the mix. At 5'10", he is around the same build as Amendola and Edelman, but presents good speed. He ran a 4.39 forty yard dash, but that was eight years ago. Last season, he was productive alongside Keenan Allen and Antonio Gates, catching 62 passes for 778 yards and seven touchdowns. Patriots were linked to Royal the last time he was a free agent, but likely didn't offer the kind of money San Diego had at the time. Royal is 28, meaning his time is now to produce, could look for a one year deal in hopes of signing on for a bigger deal the following season.

While these are the names that have come out so far, don't be surprised if the Patriots end up bringing in someone along the likes of Reggie Wayne or Andre Johnson if they make it through the initial wave of free agent signings. Belichick has spoken highly of both in the past, and would likely be willing to have them in on cheap deals to offer them a chance to finally have a shot at the Super Bowl. Both have been open about wanting to play for a contender, and given the current salary cap implications, New England sits alongside Seattle as the best options, with Indianapolis, Philadelphia, and Baltimore as the other top possibilities for the veterans.

As the new league year and official free agency draw near, things will change, players will go to surprise teams, and other acts of randomness may occur. The Patriots are notorious for waiting for the right deal, not jumping at the first player with a big name to visit them. That is what keeps them successful. Do not think for a moment that the Patriots are content with their Super Bowl win and will take it easy this offseason. They need to spend money by league rules. Just let things play out.

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