Why did Patriots’ Belichick pick JuJu Smith-Schuster over Jakobi Meyers?

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Bill Belichick always seems to have a surprise or two up his hoodie sleeve in free agency, and so far the biggest of 2023 has been the wide receiver trade of JuJu Smith-Schuster for Jakobi Meyers.

Even veteran safety Devin McCourty didn’t see it coming. He just announced his retirement last week, he said on WEEI sports radio that he was surprised the team didn’t bring Meyers back on the three-year, $33 million deal he signed with the Los Vegas Raiders. Meyers had expressed interest in returning to New England, but the team’s offers fell short of others on the market, according to a source with direct knowledge of the negotiations.

McCourty, who became a pillar of what the organization strives to represent over the past 13 years, viewed Meyers as not only the most productive pass catcher on the team, but also the next in line for great leaders. from New England.

“From a leadership standpoint moving forward, he’s a guy you say ‘Be like him.’ Unrecruited boy. Cattle. He works hard every day,” McCourty said in the radio interview. “So I think he’s a big loss. Very similar to Julian Edelman.”

That’s a lofty comparison, and surely something Belichick didn’t give up on without much thought.

Belichick often says that every decision he makes is in what he believes is best for the team; considering that Meyers and Smith-Schuster signed similar contracts, he seems to have made a clear calculation that Smith-Schuster is an overall improvement.

How is that?

For one thing, the 6-foot-1, 215-pound Smith-Schuster is more of a threat after the catch. According to NFL Next Generation Statshis yards after catching above expectations last season was +141, which ranked fifth in the NFL, behind the Dolphins’ Jaylen Waddle, the Eagles’ AJ Brown, the Bengals’ Ja’Marr Chase and Deebo Samuel of the 49ers.

While part of that might have to do with playing in the Chiefs’ high-flying offense, and how defensemen also had to pay attention to tight end Travis Kelce and others, YAC has been a big part of Smith-Schuster’s game ever since. who entered the NFL as a second-round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2017.

Smith-Schuster, who like Meyers fits better inside the field but has the flexibility to play outside, has also had more career production than Meyers.

In 79 games (65 starts), he has 401 receptions for 4,788 yards with 29 touchdowns. Meyers has played in 60 games and has 235 receptions for 2,758 yards and eight touchdowns.

Belichick is projecting to continue in New England, which is part of the risk teams and players take in free agency. Speaking from a player’s perspective, McCourty said in the WEEI radio interview that those projections can be a burden.

“That is why most of them feel very comfortable staying [on their team], if you get paid around the rate you think you should be paid and you’ve won. Because ‘I know how this will play out. I know I can be productive in this system,’” he said.

“Like Jonnu [Smith]. Jonnu is a good football player. But you go off and you go into a new system, how is that going to work? There is so much unknown.”

Smith, of course, signed a four-year, $50 million contract with the Patriots in March 2021. On Monday, after two lackluster seasons, he was traded to the Atlanta Falcons for a seventh-round pick.

There is another notable element of risk that Belichick has taken in making the Meyers-for-Smith-Schuster trade, and it relates to his oft-repeated phrase, “There is nothing more important than the health of the football team.”

Smith-Schuster, though only 26 years old, has battled notable injuries in his career, in part due to his physical style of play. Most recently, he missed all but five games in 2021 with a shoulder injury. Last season, he was diagnosed with a concussion after absorbing a heavy blow in an early December game that sidelined him the following week. He later battled a nagging knee injury that sidelined him for the AFC Championship Game.

That injury history didn’t stop the Chiefs from trying to bring Smith-Schuster back in 2023, but the Patriots were willing to offer a more lucrative contract, according to a front office source.

In doing so, after not aggressively negotiating with Meyers to return, Belichick rolled the dice with one of his patented upsets.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *