A wide receiver just hit the open market, and the New England Patriots should sign him as soon as possible. The Buffalo Bills released wide receiver Jeremy Kerley, and the eight-year NFL veteran is exactly what the Patriots need right now. While he’s not the receiver he once was, he can still fill a need on the 2018 Patriots.

Should the Patriots sign Kerley, he would immediately be the best all-around punt returner on the roster. As of this posting, the only other true punt returner the Patriots have is running back Kenjon Barner, who has been on the team for less than a week. Barner has returned 30 punts in his career for 240 yards, including 27 returns for 240 yards with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2017.

However, Barner has a very serious fumble problem. Barner muffed four punts in just 27 returns last season, which is a terrible rate. While he can make plays as a punt returner, nothing matters more to Bill Belichick than ball security. Just ask Riley McCarron, who muffed a punt in Week One and now finds himself off the 53-man roster.

Kerley, while not quite as explosive in the open field, offers more ball security than Barner. Additionally, Kerley is still a solid returner in his own right, averaging 8.7 yards per return in his career. While he has lost a step and won’t be as dynamic as he used to be, the Patriots could sure use him as a returner. At the very least, he’d make a great backup plan should Barner’s ball security issues follow him to Foxboro.

Kerley as a Receiver

Additionally, the Patriots need a slot receiver, and Kerley can play the role until Julian Edelman returns from suspension. Phillip Dorsett and Chris Hogan can play the slot, but both are better suited for outside roles. Cordarrelle Patterson is exclusively a gadget play guy, so New England doesn’t have a proven option in the slot.

Enter Jeremy Kerley. Over his eight-year career, Kerley recorded 270 receptions for 3,116 yards and 13 touchdowns. Most of that production came out of the slot, and he’s proven to be a reliable security blanket over the course of his career.

His 22 receptions for 217 yards in 2017 are underwhelming, but a lot of that has to do with the cast around him. In 2017, Kerley was primarily catching passes from Josh McCown. McCown, while a solid bridge quarterback in his own right, prefers to target the deeper portions of the field. That does not play to Kerley’s strengths, so he was mostly an afterthought on the 2017 Jets.

However, back in 2016, Kerley recorded 64 receptions for 667 yards and three touchdowns while playing with Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers. Kaepernick, who also preferred the vertical passing game, was still able to find Kerley and utilize him in the offense.

Tom Brady is better than Kaepernick and McCown and has always incorporated the slot receiver in the passing game. As of now, Bennie Fowler is scheduled to see snaps in the slot, and he’s only been on the roster a week. Fowler has just 56 receptions for 698 yards and five touchdowns over his five-year career, so Kerley would be a clear upgrade.

Possible Red Flags

While signing Kerley appears to be a sound decision, there are a few red flags that come along with this move. The biggest one is trying to figure out why the Bills let Kerley go in the first place. Buffalo isn’t exactly stacked with offensive weapons right now, yet they still decided to cut bait with the former Jet.

Additionally, Kerley would need to pick up a highly complicated Patriots offense. Better receivers than him have come in and struggled to learn the playbook. Compounding that difficulty is that Kerley has no time to catch up to the rest of the offense; he’d need to learn everything basically overnight.

The Final Verdict

Even though it’s a mystery why the Bills cut Kerley loose, the Patriots have never shied away from signing Buffalo castoffs. Just since 2015, the Patriots have signed former Bills Scott Chandler, Stephon Gilmore, Mike Gillislee, Jordan Matthews, and Chris Hogan, just to name a few. While not every signing works out, it’s clear the Patriots enjoy poaching the Bills roster.

Expecting Kerley to pick up the entire offense overnight is asking the impossible. However, the Patriots can ask him to learn a select few plays and use him in a minor role. They’ve done this in the past with midseason acquisitions like Kenny Britt and Michael Floyd.

Even if Kerley can’t learn a single offensive play, his presence as a punt returner alone justifies a spot on the roster. Kenjon Barner has promise, but his historical ball security issues should leave the coaching staff nervous.

In short, this is a classic low-risk, medium-reward roster move the Patriots are notorious for making. While there is a chance Kerley won’t make any impact at all, it likely won’t take more than the veteran minimum to sign him. For that little cost, New England has the chance to shore up their punt returner problem as well as possibly get a guy who can play a few snaps at slot receiver. With outside options limited, this is a definitely a move New England should look into.

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