Given his status as the best available wide receiver in a weak free-agent class, there seemed to be a strong chance that Jakobi Meyers would receive an inflated contract offer from some desperate club and leave the New England Patriots.
NFL teams love to overpay for wideouts, especially when there aren’t many good ones out there. Meyers, a 2019 undrafted free agent who blossomed into one of the Patriots’ best offensive players, seemed poised to capitalize on that trend.
Well, that didn’t happen — and Meyers still left anyway.
The contract Meyers agreed to with Josh McDaniels’ Las Vegas Raiders on Tuesday reportedly is worth $33 million over three years, including $21 million guaranteed.
That’s life-changing money, to be sure, especially for a player who made just $6.4 million total over his first four NFL seasons. But it’s a far cry from the $15 million per year that some had speculated for Meyers, and even below the more conservative pre-free agency estimates of $12 million to $14 million annually.
Meyers’ $11 million AAV was identical to what the Patriots gave Nelson Agholor in 2021 (two years, $22 million). They could have afforded to match that offer and still had enough cap space to plug their other various roster holes. Whether they attempted to or chose to let Meyers walk is unclear.
Regardless, the Patriots now must replace a player who was their top slot receiver and most productive and reliable pass-catcher the past three seasons. Meyers led New England in receiving yards in 2020, 2021 and 2022, and though running back Rhamondre Stevenson edged him in receptions this past season (69 to 67), he still caught nearly twice as many passes as any of his fellow wideouts. Meyers also was on the receiving end of more than 30% of the team’s touchdown passes (six of 19) despite missing three games with injuries.
Here were the 2022 stats for the five Patriots receivers currently under contract:
DeVante Parker: 31-539-3 (13 games)
Kendrick Bourne: 35-434-1 (16 games)
Tyquan Thornton: 22-247-2 (13 games)
Lynn Bowden: no catches (one game)
Tre Nixon: did not play
Parker had high-end flashes but battled injuries, as he has throughout his career. Bourne’s usage in Matt Patricia’s offense was bizarre. Thornton saw a ton of playing time as a second-round rookie but offered little production, with his preseason collarbone injury likely stunting his development. Bowden and Nixon were practice squadders. The Patriots’ other wideout, Agholor, never lived up to his contract and now is an unrestricted free agent.
It wasn’t just the numbers, either. Meyers’ intangibles will be difficult for the Patriots to replicate.
He had an excellent on- and off-field connection with quarterback Mac Jones, who constantly looked Meyers’ way on third downs and other key situations. Jones can’t be thrilled to see his favorite target sign elsewhere for a reasonable price tag. The 26-year-old also provided quiet but important leadership, with Devin McCourty saying after Meyers’ infamous lateral-six against, ironically, against the Raiders last December that he was “as close as someone can be to being a team captain.” Meyers is a skilled and willing blocker, too.
All that said, and as valuable as he was the Patriots, Meyers is not an elite, Pro Bowl-caliber player. If bidding him adieu was a precursor to some sort of major forthcoming receiver transaction, it could be viewed as the unfortunate cost of doing business. Upgrading their receiving corps, which hasn’t featured a few game-changer in years, should have been an offseason priority for the Patriots even if Meyers re-signed.
But Meyers’ departure shifts that need from desirable to dire, and their plan at the position remains unclear. This year’s free agent crop lacks true No. 1s, so the Patriots’ choices are piecing together a group with players like JuJu Smith-Schuster, Braxton Berrios, Odell Beckham Jr., DJ Chark, Adam Thielen, Parris Campbell or Richie James; swinging a trade for someone like DeAndre Hopkins, Jerry Jeudy or Courtland Sutton; or turning to the draft, where they’ve traditionally have been poor at identifying receiver talent.
Meyers’ decision could cause Bill Belichick and his staff to take a closer look at first-round wideout prospects like Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Boston College’s Zay Flowers, either of whom could fill the Patriots’ void in the slot. But that would mean passing up a chance to draft, say, a premier offensive tackle, which is another glaring need.
It’s important to remember that we’re still in the early stages of the NFL offseason, and there’s still reason to be optimistic about the Patriots’ offense in 2023. New coordinator Bill O’Brien should help recenter Jones after last season’s Patricia/Joe Judge disaster, and his schemes could coax more production out of New England’s returning receivers.
But better coaching only can help so much. New England’s collection of pass-catchers badly needs an influx of talent. We’ll find out in the coming weeks how Belichick plans to address that need, but losing Meyers significantly lowered that group’s floor.