NFL free agency is almost upon us and huge re-signings, trades and franchise tags have already been taking place as a manic March is in progress in the NFL. So with relation to the New England Patriots and having already passed on franchise tagging cornerback JC Jackson, let’s address the elephant in the room in regards to clearing salary via a potential trade and potentially getting back some kind of asset: N’Keal Harry.
No, the former first-round draft pick wide receiver who had requested a trade through his agent last season hasn’t been traded or released…yet.
I know that I can’t see it.
That said, I still want the Patriots’ front office to invest a high draft pick (yes, even the first-round pick) on a wide receiver, especially with the depth at the position this year. The team needs an impact receiver. Despite his draft status, it is never going to be Harry, that much is clear.
Full disclosure: I was a N’Keal Harry believer. I thought he was the answer as a rookie who just needed to earn Brady’s trust; I thought his early chemistry with Newton would carry-over from training camp to the regular season; and I truly believed Jones would find a way to utilize Harry in the red zone and on third down.
Even me, the biggest N’Keal Harry believer in New England, has given up all hope. All hope but one tiny bit: could he join a new offensive system and find a contributing role there outside of New England?
So rather than releasing Harry, how about finding a team with an underachiever of their own at wide receiver and swap him out for N’Keal Harry? Give me your underachieving wide receiver and I’ll give you mine. Sounds like a decent plan.
Amazingly, there are plenty of teams sitting on wide receivers taken in the top three rounds of the draft in the past few years that are sitting unused or are unhappy. Just like Harry, these receivers came out of college with high-expectations and instead are buried on the depth chart and in need of a fresh start.
Let’s take a look at their situation, their fit in New England, and if their current team may be interested in N’Keal Harry. Let’s make a deal!
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Arizona – Andy Isabella
Isabella was a receiver many pundits were pointing to the Patriots prior to the 2019 NFL Draft. A UMass alum, Isabella fit the mold of the undersized but incredibly quick slot receiver in the Julian Edelman/Danny Amendola/Wes Welker/Troy Brown mold. With success with similar receivers during the 21st century, Isabella seemed a perfect Patriot.
Instead, the Patriots took N’Keal Harry–the opposite build of a historically successful Patriots receiver. Isabella has struggled mightily in Arizona with just 31 receptions over three seasons. As unbelievable as it may seem, that is LESS production than Harry. Kirk has just not been a fit in Kliff Kingsbury’s offense.
Arizona has allowed Isabella’s agent the ability to seek a trade as they have decided to move on. This is almost too much of a no-brainer. Arizona needs a younger big receiver to replace A.J. Green. Harry would have free agent Christian Kirk, Rondale Moore and All-Pro DeAndre Hopkins already in the wide receiver room.
This one seems like a no-brainer: Arizona gets a reclamation project who fills a need and New England gets a reclamation project who is more likely to thrive in an offense with proven success for similar receivers. This could be a straight-up player-for-player trade.
Philadelphia – Jalen Reagor
That’s a tough call on who screwed up worse, New England or Philadelphia.
Reagor is not a pure slot receiver like Isabella; however, the outside receiver is a great fit for the Patriots to fill that David Patten/Deion Branch role in the offense. Philadelphia drafted a big receiver in the second round of the 2019 draft after Harry went off the board in J.J. Arcega-Whiteside. JJAW has been worse than Harry, if that is possible.
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With JJAW likely on the move as well as Reagor, the Eagles could use a red zone target on the outside with size. Jalen Hurts is not the most accurate quarterback so someone with a big target could be helpful. Harry could be a legitimate target for a team that desperately needs a big target and would value his run blocking.
Reagor is neither large nor small (just under six-feet and around 200 lbs), but his game is built upon elusiveness and speed in the open field. He has served as a punt returner for the Eagles and has that short space shiftiness that makes him a fit to tack on yards after the catch with Mac Jones getting the ball in his hands in a hurry.
Reagor has an extra season of team control, so New England may need to sweeten the pot (swap a fifth for a sixth round pick or something similar) but this could be a case where both players need a fresh start and could find a much better fit in a new offense.
Kansas City – Mecole Hardman
Mecole Hardman is a bit of a stretch on this list as he finally–after two-and-a-half uneven seasons–may have turned a corner in the stretch run of last season. However, playing out of the slot with the best quarterback in the NFL, Hardman still seems to be a bit of an underachiever.
Kansas City may be open to N’Keal Harry after having burned through Sammy Watkins, Byron Pringle and Josh Gordon as the big, outside receiver to complement Tyreek Hill and between the hash marks target Travis Kelce. Hardman was a raw prospect with blazing speed who still has failed to carve out a significant role in Kansas City.
The Chiefs need size on the outside at wide receiver and Andy Reid may have interest in Harry as a possession receiver who could thrive with Mahomes extending plays instead of having to get open immediately as was the case in New England. If they would move on from Hardman is the big question.
Again, like Isabella, the smaller and faster wide receiver has consistently thrived in New England. Getting the ball to a receiver like Hardman in a hurry and giving him space to use his elusiveness and speed to make a big play fits the New England offense.
Straight-up trade? Maybe not. But throw in a sweetener and the Chiefs may consider the move.
Baltimore – Miles Boykin
The Ravens have the reputation as one of the best drafting front offices for a number of years (decades?). However, they swung and missed big time on Miles Boykin in the third round in 2019.
Boykin, like N’Keal Harry, is a big receiver who doesn’t always play big and while great for blocking, has almost completely fallen out of favor in the passing game. Both Boykin and Harry have similar paths in the NFL with inconsistent results but tantalizing potential on the edges in the offense.
Boykin has worse stats than Harry and was injured and then buried on offense last year even though Baltimore was desperate for wide receivers to step up and contribute down the stretch. Boykin gets less heat because he was drafted in the third round instead of the first round. Harry gets extra attention being a first round pick (even if it was number 32 overall). Both big wide receivers have been a disappointment to their team and both need a fresh start.
This may be the most logical one-for-one move. Similar receivers in need of a fresh start. This trade is probably the most probable of all the potential moves.
Denver – KJ Hamler
Hamler was a second-round draft pick in 2020 out of Penn State. Unlike N’Keal Harry, Hamler is an undersized slot receiver whose bread-and-butter is his speed, change-of-direction and elusiveness. In other words, the exact opposite of Harry.
Hamler tore his ACL in week three last year and finished the season with just five receptions in three games. Hamler should be back to full strength this season, but why would Denver move on from him?
Two words: Russell Wilson.
Denver has traded for Wilson and he inherits Jerry Jeudy, Tim Patrick and Courtland Sutton already entrenched as the top three wide receivers on offense, Also, with Seattle De’Wayne Eskridge is a very similar receiver to Hamler and failed to make any connection to the quarterback.
With three receivers ahead of him (one more than Wilson trusted to throw to in Seattle), coming off an injury, and no relationship to the new quarterback and offensive system, Hamler may not be a priority for Denver. Maybe there is another move by Denver to get Wilson another receiver he is more comfortable with or played with previously. Suddenly, Hamler would be the receiver on the outside looking in.
The next question is why would Denver want Harry. Heck, I don’t know. I wouldn’t want him in exchange for Hamler. Maybe, just maybe, they think about what Wilson did with another huge receiver, D.K. Metcalf, and (stupidly) assume Harry could fill that kind of role.
Not an easy trade to work out. Maybe Denver takes Harry, maybe not. But Hamler is a receiver who may perfectly fit the New England offense nicely and is certainly an upgrade from Harry. This may be a trade where a mid-round pick joins Harry on his way to Denver.
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NY Jets – Denzel Mims
A trade with the Jets? Really? Heck, why not?
Denzel Mims, like N’Keal Harry, seemingly has the honorific of “the much-maligned” added to his name whenever discussed. A second-round pick in 2020, Mims was unable to carve out a role in two seasons despite the Jets having arguably the worst wide receivers over those two seasons.
Mims just is not a fit in the Jets’ offense and the coaching staff (not around when he was drafted) has no loyalty to him and no interest in having him play. Mims has potential in the right system, but the Jets are not interested in making any effort to include him in their future plans.
Like Harry, Mims is a big outside receiver. Mims may be faster, but Harry has more size. What they both share is that neither has been productive despite being high draft picks. Also, both fan bases would gladly drive their underachieving wide receiver to the airport in order to facilitate shipping them out of town.
Harry may not be a much better fit in New York, but at least they may want to take him for a spin and see what they have in him. At worst, he could help their running game and possibly help in the red zone.
For Mims, why shouldn’t New England take a chance on him? He has size (six-foot-three and 205 lbs) and ran a sub-4.40 forty prior to the 2020 NFL Draft and made his name as a sideline threat at Baylor with his extended catch radius. Maybe Mac Jones can get some kind of use out of him.
This is basically two teams with two sunk costs. Other than playing in the same division (and all that history), why shouldn’t both teams take a flier on an underachiever and unload their own?
Final Analysis of a N’Keal Harry Deal:
For me, Hamler or Isabella is the best fit for the Patriots’ offense. A receiver who can play the slot and get open would let Jakobi Meyers work on the outside in place of Nelson Agholor (who may be on his way out the door).
Bringing Harry back and taking up a spot on the 53-man roster is a waste. The best bet is to get in touch with one of these teams and get one of these six receivers in exchange for Harry into New England. Perhaps a fresh start brings out the talent that made the receiver a high draft pick.
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