Bill Belichick addressed reporters for the first time this offseason Monday morning, fielding questions for roughly a half-hour at the NFL annual meeting in Phoenix.
The New England Patriots head coach tends to be especially unforthcoming in his traditional late-March news conference, and he stuck to that approach this year, offering brief, largely generic responses to most of the queries he received.
But this was the first opportunity for Belichick to publicly discuss the players the Patriots signed since free agency opened earlier this month. Here’s what he had to say about five of the team’s new additions:
WR JuJu Smith-Schuster
“He’s a good player. Good guy. Looking forward to having him. … I think we’re getting a good player. … I’ve never worked with him before, so I’ll get to know him. I look forward to it.”
The Patriots essentially swapped out top receiver Jakobi Meyers for Smith-Schuster, sacrificing the former’s durability, reliability and intangibles for the latter’s upside and explosiveness. Belichick pushed back on the notion that this was a one-for-one swap, however, saying: “It wasn’t a trade.”
“It wasn’t planned that way,” he said. “It worked out that way.”
Meyers landed with the Las Vegas Raiders on a three-year, $33 million contract. Smith-Schuster also signed for three years and $33 million, but more than 20% of his money must be earned through incentives.
A Pro Bowler with Pittsburgh earlier in his career, the 26-year-old Smith-Schuster caught 78 passes for 933 yards and three touchdowns for Kansas City last season.
TE Mike Gesicki
“Tough guy to game-plan for. Hard to cover. I look forward to working with Mike, so we’ll see how it goes. He’s kind of a unique player, so hopefully we’ll be able to use him productively.”
Belichick called Gesicki “a big receiver” in the past since he rarely plays as a traditional in-line tight end and is not a skilled blocker. He replaces the disappointing Jonnu Smith, whom the Patriots traded to Atlanta in a salary dump.
It’ll be up to new coordinator Bill O’Brien, who’s operated successful two-tight end offenses in the past, to find the best way of pairing Gesicki with returning position mate Hunter Henry. Gesicki has two 700-yard seasons and 18 career touchdowns on his record, but he was a poor fit for Mike McDaniel’s Dolphins offense last year and managed just 32 receptions.
OT Riley Reiff
“He’s been in the league for a long time. Very experienced guy, played multiple positions. Smart, tough guy. I’m glad we have him. … We’ll see (where he plays). He’s played both (tackle spots). He’s also played guard.”
The 34-year-old Reiff has started 149 games in his career, and he and Trent Brown project as the Patriots’ starting tackles this season. Which side each will man remains to be seen, as both have experience at right and left tackle. Right tackle was the Patriots’ weakest position in 2022.
Calvin Anderson, Conor McDermott, Yodny Cajuste and Andrew Stueber also will compete for playing time.
RB James Robinson
“Productive player in Jacksonville and the Jets. Gives us some depth in the backfield and see how it goes. I haven’t ever worked with him before, so I look forward to it.”
Saying Robinson was a productive player for the Jets isn’t exactly accurate, as he averaged just 2.9 yards per carry over four appearances and was scratched for the final five games. But if he can return to the level he played at in Jacksonville, he’ll be a valuable addition.
Robinson rushed for 1,070 yards as an undrafted rookie in 2020 and caught 80 passes over his first two seasons before tearing his Achilles in December 2021. He’ll replace the departed Damien Harris on the depth chart and compete with 2022 draftees Pierre Strong and Kevin Harris, plus the returning Ty Montgomery, for reps behind lead back Rhamondre Stevenson.
LB Chris Board
“I look forward to working with all the players that we’ve added to the team. And the guys we have on the team that are coming back. So, I look forward to all of it.”
Belichick last season called Board “the best special teams player we’ll play against all year.” He’ll beef up the Patriots’ kick and punt coverage units and also can contribute defensively (160-plus defensive snaps in each of the last three seasons).