Devin McCourty said during his retirement ceremony that he wouldn’t be afraid to second-guess Bill Belichick in his post-playing career as an NFL analyst.
He didn’t wait long.
In an interview this week with former New England Patriots teammate Chris Long, McCourty said he disagreed with Belichick’s decision to let reliable wide receiver Jakobi Meyers walk in free agency and replace him with JuJu Smith-Schuster.
“I’m not going to lie, I would have liked to see Jakobi back over JuJu,” McCourty said on Long’s “Green Light” podcast. “Just my personal feeling. I just think Jakobi is a guy, he’s an undrafted free agent who pans out because of hard work. …
“To me, when you have guys like that — when you look at Jakobi, you can guess that his better years are still in front of him. I just think having that in the locker room for young guys, and I think especially in that (receiver) room over the years, you lose (Julian) Edelman, we haven’t replaced that room with a guy who is New England culture. You just don’t have it.”
McCourty believes the Patriots erred by not retaining a homegrown success story like Meyers, who joined the team as a UDFA in 2019 and went on to lead them in receiving in 2020, 2021 and 2022. Meyers also provided quiet but valuable leadership, and McCourty is skeptical about Smith-Schuster’s ability to replicate that.
“You’ve got Kendrick Bourne, you had (Nelson) Agholor, you’ve got DeVante Parker — all of those guys are from other teams,” McCourty continued. “So now you have JuJu in there, another guy from another team. I thought Jakobi would have been a great fit for younger guys that you bring in there to say, ‘All right, this is how I become a good football player. This guy wasn’t rated high, and look at him now. He’s the best receiver on our team.’
“I don’t know JuJu personally, but they’re going to need that leadership. From the outside looking in, you wouldn’t guess that they’re going to get that over there. But again, I don’t know him, so you could be blown away.”
McCourty previously said in a WEEI interview that he was “shocked” the Patriots did not re-sign Meyers given the reasonable contract he received from the Las Vegas Raiders. Meyers and Smith-Schuster both signed three-year, $33 million deals, though the latter must earn $7.5 million of his through incentives.
In making the switch, the Patriots sacrificed Meyers’ steadiness, durability, connection with quarterback Mac Jones and off-the-field intangibles for Smith-Schuster’s upside, explosiveness, higher career production and run-after-catch ability.
Smith-Schuster has topped Meyers’ single-season career high in catches twice, in receiving yards three times and in touchdowns three times. Time will tell whether New England chose correctly.
Overall, though, McCourty is bullish on the Patriots’ offense this season. He believes bringing in new coordinator Bill O’Brien to replace Matt Patricia and Joe Judge will be a major upgrade, remarking on just how dysfunctional that unit was in 2022.
“I think everybody’s excited about (the coaching change),” McCourty said. “? Bro, the crazy thing is it looked better during the regular season than it looked in training camp. Like, if you go by training camp, I’m like, ‘This is not good. At all. This is not good.’ But again, those two guys are really good football coaches. They just had to do something that was very hard to do that they’ve never done.
“So credit to them — which I know a lot of people won’t like hearing — that it even looked the way it did because they took something from the ground and did all of that throughout the year with no true offensive background. It wasn’t like they could go and pull out their playbooks from years past of what to install. It was all, like, figuring it out.”
O’Brien, who previously coordinated the Patriots’ offense from 2009-11 and has decades of offensive coaching experience, is going to inspire “a ton of positive energy,” McCourty said.
“He knows what he’s doing,” he said. “He’s done it for a long time. So I think there’s going to be a ton of excitement with just Billy O being in there, and I think even talking with Mac, his relationship with Billy O, being in there now, talking ball, seeing some of the things he’s done before, I’m excited for the group.”