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Hurley: Patriots not paying for Jakobi Meyers is a bit stunning
By Michael Hurley,
BOSTON -- This wasn't the best year for free-agent wide receivers. We all knew that. And at a position where the money has gotten silly in recent years, we mostly expected the money to be particularly stupid at this position in this particular free-agent period.
So when news broke Tuesday that Jakobi Meyers was signing somewhere other than New England, it was far from a surprise. A valuable possession receiver, Meyers was sure to receive an exorbitant salary from some team in desperate need of a receiver. With a thin crop of available players, Meyers was sure to break the bank.
Except ... he really didn't.
The Raiders gave Meyers a three-year deal worth $33 million total, with $21 million guaranteed. Of course, a pay bump from just under $4 million last year to $11 million over the next three years is a life-changing moment for Meyers, who's earned every dollar in that deal as a true underdog success story.
It's just a bit baffling why the Patriots weren't the team to give him that deal.
To be clear, Meyers' skill set will play anywhere. He's quick to get open, he's got sure hands, and he's got a sixth sense with regard to down and distance. Jimmy Garoppolo will become fast friends with him in Vegas.
It's just that no team knows that value quite like the Patriots, who kept Meyers as an undrafted rookie and played him over rookie N'Keal Harry in 2019. He led the team in receptions and receiving yards in both 2020 and 2021, and he again led the team in receiving yards in 2022. He moved the chains 134 times on his 235 receptions, and he scored eight touchdowns over the past two years -- six with a rookie quarterback in 2021.
He's not a huge, No. 1 receiver who can take over games. But he's an exceptionally valuable football player, and $11 million per year is a fair price for his services -- especially with just $21 million of his contract guaranteed. It's a risk-averse value signing, which has in the past been a calling card for Bill Belichick and the Patriots.
Of course, the offseason has just begun, and the Patriots are likely to add to their receiving corps either through free agency or the draft -- or both. But as it stands now, the wide receivers room is a bit bare. DeVante Parker and Kendrick Bourne are the veterans, while Tyquan Thornton is set to have his real rookie season with a real offensive coordinator in the upcoming season. The prospect of adding someone like DeAndre Hopkins or Jerry Jeudy is enticing, but acquiring players of that caliber requires both draft capital and big money. (Jeudy is set to make less than $5 million in 2023 but is due to make real receiver money next year.) Likewise, the promise of Ohio State's Jaxon Smith-Njigba or Boston College's Zay Flowers could be an affordable, effective solution in the slot to replace Meyers. But the hit rate on drafted receivers is spotty, particularly in New England, so nothing will be a sure thing with a rookie.
As for free agents, none of the names are particularly exciting. But it's worth remembering that it was in free agency that the Patriots gave a two-year deal with an $11 million annual value to Nelson Agholor two years ago. Belichick also gave larger contracts to outsiders in Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith, the latter of whom was traded away on Monday after proving to be a bad fit in New England.
That the team didn't want to give that same Agholor deal to Meyers -- a player who actually works within the system and has a strong rapport with the quarterback -- is a bit difficult to comprehend.
We don't know the specifics of Meyers' free agency, but we do know that the Patriots had ample time to make an offer like this without knowing the market. They presumably did not. We also know that the legal tampering window opened Monday at noon, and zero wide receivers agreed to deals before Meyers did so on Tuesday morning. Again, the Patriots had time to check in with Drew Rosenhaus to gauge the market. If Bill Belichick and the Patriots leave no stone unturned and are meticulous with their roster planning, then they surely did exactly that. The suggestion that the Patriots were not aware of the offer on the table from Vegas for Meyers is a bit far-fetched, given the timing and the circumstances.
In the end, the only conclusion is that the Patriots didn't want Jakobi Meyers for $11 million a year.
Ultimately, the Patriots were a mediocre non-playoff team with Meyers last year and in 2020, and they were a mediocre wild-card team in 2019 and 2021. So his free-agent departure can't be painted as a doomsday scenario for New England. It's just that considering all of the factors, and considering the reasonable price tag, he seems like a player who could have been part of the solution.