Actions speak louder than words, and the New England Patriots’ roster moves suggest they love undrafted rookie wide receivers Jakobi Meyers and Gunner Olszewski.
The Patriots have had ample opportunities to cut Meyers and Olszewski this season. And as of Friday morning, they haven’t. Instead, they’ve traded cornerback Keion Crossen and wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, placed first-round receiver N’Keal Harry and veteran wideout Josh Gordon on injured reserve and cut countless players.
The Patriots clearly weren’t going to keep eight wide receivers when Harry comes off of injured reserve next week. So, one receiver had to go. The Patriots chose to part with Gordon over Meyers and Olszewski, who both just continue over and over and over again to weather the storm. Both Meyers and Olszewski have practice squad eligibility. The Patriots won’t risk losing them on waivers in an attempt to slip them onto the practice squad.
And it makes sense. The Patriots have famously struggled to develop wide receivers in recent years. Julian Edelman has been a constant, but the Patriots have rifled through veteran receivers to complement him from Danny Amendola to Brandon LaFell, Chris Hogan, Brandin Cooks, Gordon and many more who have failed to catch on.
The Patriots have selected just two receivers (Harry and Aaron Dobson) on the first two days of the NFL draft since 2011. What they’ve done has worked. They’ve won three Super Bowls in that span. But it’s also exhausting. Think of all of the wide receivers who have passed through Gillette Stadium over the past two years. Remember Bennie Fowler’s four-day stint with the Patriots? What was your favorite memory of the Bruce Ellington era?
So, if the Patriots have found two hidden gems who they think have a future in Meyers and Olszewski, then they better damn hold onto them, especially since they’ll be a bargain if they pan out.
Meyers and Olszewski both are on minimum contracts through the 2021 season. After that point, they become restricted free agents. Then, finally, after their fourth season, they can hit unrestricted free agency if the Patriots haven’t already re-signed them. That value makes hitting on undrafted free agents even more beneficial.
And Meyers and Olszewski both have given the Patriots reason to be excited. Meyers has caught 13 of 14 targets from quarterback Tom Brady this season. The Patriots got shallow at receiver over the last two weeks, and Meyers has stepped up with nine catches for 101 yards.
“Jakobi’s been productive for us all year,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said this week. “He was productive in the preseason, as you saw, and he’s been productive at times offensively, situationally. I mean, look, when he’s on the field, I don’t think he’s the player that other teams are saying, ‘We’ve got to double-cover this guy.’ So, some of the matchups are competitive matchups that he’s done a good job with. As he has more production, then those matchups may change a little bit. But, he’s done a good job of taking advantage of his opportunities.
“He’s caught the ball well, he’s shown quickness to separate and get open. I mean, he’s still got a long way to go and a lot to learn and a lot of things that he can improve on. But, he’s come through for us in situations for really eleven weeks now, going back to preseason games, as well as training camp and the OTA’s in the spring, where he performed well and was able to earn more opportunities, and as he’s gotten those opportunities, he’s continued to be productive with them. But, again, he still has a lot of things to work on, a lot of things he can improve in and we’ll see where all that goes, but it’s certainly encouraging to see the consistent progress that he’s made over the course of these weeks.”
Olszewski also stepped up offensively when things got dire in Week 5 with two catches for 34 yards. He’s a considerable work in progress at wide receiver since last season he was playing cornerback at the Division II level, but he’s looked like a grizzled — and fearless — vet as a punt returner. He’s second in the NFL in punt return yards and eighth in yards per return.
“Gunner works really hard,” Belichick said last week. “He gives a lot of effort to do, again, whatever we ask him to do. Whether that?s return kicks, cover kicks, block, catch ? he works really hard. Just gives his best all of the time, so you can?t ask for anything more than that. He keeps getting better, so we?ll see where it goes. But, yeah, he?s a good, hard worker.”
The Patriots have tended to cut bait early when they don’t see a future in a slot receiver. It’s notable that Olszewski beat out 2018 sixth-round pick Braxton Berrios for a job this summer. Olszewski will take longer to develop than Meyers, but clearly the Patriots like something they see in the Bemidji State product. They’ve elected to keep him over Thomas, Gordon, Ben Watson and a litany of other players throughout the spring, summer and fall.
The Patriots, for once, seemingly have a bright future at wide receiver. Harry is on a four-year deal with a fifth-year option, Meyers, Olszewski and Edelman are signed through 2021 and recent addition Mohamed Sanu has two years left on his contract. Perhaps the Patriots won’t have to throw veteran receivers at the wall next offseason to see if any stick.