Some NFL players are turned off by the New England Patriots’ hyper-focused, no-nonsense approach. Marqise Lee was drawn to it.
After missing nearly all of the last two seasons with injuries, the former Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver viewed Bill Belichick’s discipline-focused Patriots organization as the perfect platform to resurrect his career.
So, three days after Jacksonville released him April 20, Lee agreed to terms with New England.
“I just knew the last couple years, I didn’t really have the opportunity to go out there and do the things that I felt like I needed to do as a player,” Lee said Wednesday in a video conference with New England reporters. “And I felt like me choosing New England, just to go there this season was a sense of just trying to get back to myself. I felt, which place is a more perfect place to try to get back to yourself other than New England?
“(The Patriots are) very strict, basically just all about football and handling your business. I felt like I was a little bit off on that point with these last two injuries I had, so I just wanted to get back right on track and get everything back on point, and I feel like New England was the right place for me.”
A second-round pick out of USC in 2014, Lee broke out with a 63-catch, 851-yard, three-touchdown season in 2016. He followed that up with another strong campaign in 2017, ranking first in catches (56) and second in receiving yards (702) on a Jaguars team that reached the AFC Championship Game.
Considering him a key cog of its offense, Jacksonville gave Lee with a four-year, $34 million contract with $16.5 million guaranteed in March 2018. Then, his career nosedived.
Lee sat out the entire 2018 season after tearing his ACL, MCL and PCL in a preseason game, then appeared in just six games in 2019 before a shoulder injury shelved him. In those games, he caught just three passes on four targets for 18 yards and no touchdowns.
“It’s been quite difficult,” the 28-year-old said. “With the knee injury and then coming back with a shoulder injury, it’s been difficult. But it’s been a task in which I’ve quite enjoyed it as far as knowing myself. After certain injuries, you’ve got some people who get down on themselves and want to shut it down.
“For me, it’s kind of like a motivating factor. I just want to see where I’m at at this point and go out there and play football. I feel like I haven’t played for the last couple of years, so I’m just ready to get at it.”
In explaining why he chose to sign with the Patriots, Lee recalled meeting with Belichick ahead of the 2014 NFL Draft and being struck by the Patriots coach’s “mentality.” Subsequent matchups with New England, whom Lee faced twice during his Jacksonville tenure, including in the aforementioned AFC title game, reinforced this mindset.
“When I first came out in the draft, I remember having the opportunity to sit down and talk to him,” Lee said. “We didn’t talk about much — just typical draft stuff and things like that — but I just knew what type of mentality he had.
“And then having the opportunity to be in the league for the last six years, playing against him and just seeing the type of mentality that his team has, I just knew what type of mentality he has as a coach and what he demands from his players and how much I’m willing to just get into that.”
Lee’s Patriots contract is a one-year deal worth the veteran minimum. He’ll reportedly receive just $300,000 in guaranteed money — meaning he’s far from a lock to make the roster this summer — and can earn up to $1.0475 million through incentives.
The Patriots return all but one wideout (Phillip Dorsett) from last year’s team. So far, they’ve added two veteran free agents at the position (Lee and Damiere Byrd) and four undrafted rookies (Will Hastings, Jeff Thomas, Isaiah Zuber and Sean Riley).
Those newcomers will compete for snaps and roster spots with incumbents Julian Edelman, Mohamed Sanu, N’Keal Harry, Jakobi Meyers and Gunner Olszewski, as well as 2019 practice squanders Quincy Adeboyejo and Devin Ross.