Pats on WR Reggie Wayne’s radar

INDIANAPOLIS — To this point, the most we knew about Reggie Wayne’s interest in playing for the Patriots [team stats] came from his response to Willie McGinest when the NFL Network analyst recently asked if he would like to play in New England.

“Who wouldn’t want to play there?” Wayne answered to the former Patriots great during Super Bowl week. That’s a nice sentiment, of course, but it really provided nothing more than a tease.

As we’ve learned in recent weeks, there are quite a few wide receiver options available when the free agent window opens on March 13. Should Wayne be considered any more legitimate than the rest?

Well, we have it on good authority, if things don’t work out with the Colts, which is the most likely scenario, the Patriots are definitely on the radar of the five-time Pro Bowl player. In fact, Peyton Manning’s landing spot notwithstanding, the Pats could be at or near the top of Wayne’s list.

The reasons are simple. The Pats are perennially in the hunt, they have quarterback Tom Brady [stats] and coach Bill Belichick. Wayne doesn’t believe Belichick was just blowing smoke in his ear last year when he went out of his way to personally praise the receiver when they were together at the Pro Bowl in Hawaii. Three years ago, Belichick even told the media Wayne was the best receiver he had coached against.

But does he fit the needs of the Pats?

If the Pats are seeking a burner on the outside, he’s not your man. He does not run a 4.3 in the 40. But if you’re looking for an intelligent receiver, who runs precise routes, and doesn’t figure to get flummoxed by the Patriots offense, given he prospered with Manning in the Colts offense, he’ll work just fine. He’ll also get open deep using his smarts.

What’s interesting is Wayne is represented by Athletes First, the outfit that also represents Wes Welker. It’s hard to say if that factors in, but it shouldn’t, given they’re two different types of receivers.

Former Colts executive Bill Polian, meanwhile, provided an interesting take on Wayne yesterday. While the 33-year-old veteran receiver doesn’t have the speed he used to have, he still has what Polian described as a “brilliant football mind.” One, of course, that would work particularly well with Brady. After all, he made great music with Manning for the past decade.

“He’s a guy with incredible hands, and he understands the game tremendously well,” Polian said yesterday before his Sirius XM radio show at the NFL scouting combine. “Over the years, he’s worked with Peyton, and they have this signal and communication system only they know. But, he understands exactly what he’s supposed to do on every route. He understands coverage. He understands what the defense is doing to him. He studies tape religiously. He’s a very hard worker in practice. He’s put together a phenomenal career. Thank God he hasn’t been bothered by injury too much. I would expect he’s got a few good ones left in him.”

Basically, Wayne can provide all the things Chad Ochocinco was supposed to give the Pats, but failed to do this past season. While Belichick loved Ocho, too, and sung his praises, Wayne is a much different animal. His game is built on precise route-running, a prerequisite of Manning and the Colts offense. It’s the same deal with the Patriots. Ochocinco never had to be so precise in Cincinnati.

While Wayne isn’t fast, as Polian says, he knows how to get open. He knows how to separate. That’s really what the Pats need.

“He can fit anywhere,” Polian said. “He doesn’t have top-end speed. He’s always been a 4.5, 4.49, 4.51 guy, and he’s still that. If you’re talking about Randy Moss-type speed, that’s not what he has. That’s his only drawback. But he’ll fit with anybody, anywhere. What he’s got, are great separation skills. He can set people up. He can separate with other than purely physical ability because of the way he runs routes, and the way he studies DBs.”

Now for the million dollar question: Can a Colt be a Patriot?

“I don’t know,” Polian said. “It’s kind of like the Yankees and the Red Sox [team stats]. We’ll have to see, won’t we.”

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