Yesterday New England Patriots wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster spoke to the media in front of his locker wearing a brand-new sweatshirt. Smith-Schuster said the sweatshirts were left for all the Patriots players, courtesy of assistant coach Joe Judge. But it wasn’t the old-fashioned Pat the Patriot logo on the front that got people’s attention, it was the message on the back.
“No one is coming, it’s up to us.”
The message seems clear. If the New England Patriots are going to silence their critics, they will need to be the ones to do it themselves. To paraphrase former Boston Celtics coach Rick Pitino, “nobody is walking through that door.”
It seemed particularly appropriate that a wide receiver was the player asked about this. The top complaint about the Patriots this season has been their lack of playmakers on offense. This is especially true for New England’s wide receivers, who have come under the most scrutiny.
New England Patriots Wide Receivers
JuJu Smith-Schuster was the biggest addition to the Patriots wide receiver room. He agreed to a contract that appeared nearly identical to that of the departed Jakobi Meyers. Meyers had been New England’s leading receiver each of the past two seasons. Through three games, Smith-Schuster has 10 receptions for 66 yards, and no touchdowns. Meyers, now playing for the Las Vegas Raiders, has 16 receptions for 166 yards and two scores. Fair or not, the comparisons between the two will continue.
DeVante Parker was given a contract extension this offseason. Considering his first year with the New England Patriots was uninspiring, the move was not warmly received. After missing the opener this season with a knee injury, Parker has eight receptions for 76 yards and no touchdowns over the past two weeks.
Kendrick Bourne looks like a difference-maker at times but has yet to develop consistency. Against the Philadelphia Eagles he had six receptions for 64 yards and two touchdowns. The next two games he produced a combined eight receptions for 75 yards and no touchdowns.
Demario Douglas was the talk of training camp. The rookie is capable of being New England’s most explosive offensive player. He had a decent debut (four receptions, 40 yards) but was benched the next week against Miami after a costly fumble. He did return to the lineup this past weekend against the Jets. Against New York however, Douglas had just one reception (on three targets) for 15 yards.
Kayshon Boutte was active in Week 1 due to Parker’s injury. He was targeted four times but had no receptions. On two of his intended targets, he failed to get both feet inbounds, despite making the catch. He has been inactive the since Parker’s return.
Tyquon Thornton began the season on Injured Reserve and is not eligible to return until Week 5. After being selected at 50 in the 2022 NFL Draft, Thornton began last season on IR as well. In the 13 games he did play, he had 22 receptions, 247 receiving yards and two touchdowns. The New England Patriots selected the speedster to be a difference-maker, but health issues have contributed to that not happening to date.
Possible Wide Receiver Targets
If the 2023 New England Patriots are going to upgrade their wide receiver room, it would need to happen via trade. There are a five names that seem to be most often rumored.
Jerry Jeudy, Broncos. This is a name that has been rumored to New England, at least in New England, for a while. One reason is because he was a teammate of Patriots QB Mac Jones at Alabama, Although Jones only took over for an injured Tua Tagovailoa late in Jeudy’s final year on campus, the two did perform well together. In the Citrus Bowl against Michigan, with Jones at quarterback, Jeudy had six receptions for 204 yards and a score. Last season was his best in the NFL. Jeudy finished with 67 receptions, 972 yards and six touchdowns. While those numbers might not be at the level of the “true WR1” Patriots fans have been clamoring for, he would be WR1 in New England. He has one more season remaining on his contract for $12,987,000.
Courtland Sutton, Broncos. In Sutton’s second season in the NFL, he made the Pro Bowl in the 2019. Unfortunately, a season-ending injury in 2020 limited him to just one game. He has been very solid since returning, but not to the Pro Bowl level. This season he has 17 receptions for 189 yards and two touchdowns three games in. He has two seasons remaining on his contract after this one, for roughly $35 million. They only reason either Jeudy or Sutton would be available is because the Broncos appear to be going nowhere at 0-3.
Tee Higgins, Bengals. Coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, Higgins is a number one caliber wide receiver. However, thanks to Ja’Marr Chase, Higgins doesn’t even own that role on his current team. After failing to reach a contract extension in the offseason, Higgins is scheduled to become a free agent at season’s end. Due to the slow start of the Bengals, and questionable health of franchise QB Joe Burrow, Higgins is an attractive trade target. However, it is also unlikely a team with Super Bowl aspirations heading into the season would be ready to change course too quickly.
Tyler Boyd, Bengals. Cincinnati joins Denver with multiple wide receivers in this group. Boyd did have consecutive 1,000-yard seasons himself, though those were back in 2018 and 2019. Since then he has become a dependable pass catcher for the Bengals, slotting in behind Chase and Higgins in the pecking order. While Boyd would certainly be a benefit to the Patriots wide receiver room, he would not be the type of acquisition that would silence critics of the wide receiver corps.
Marquise Brown, Cardinals. The wideout known as “Hollywood” certainly has the speed that Patriots fans have been wanting. In 2021 he was outstanding for the Baltimore Ravens, with 91 receptions for 1,008 yards and six touchdowns. Brown was then traded to Arizona at the 2022 NFL Draft. His play with the Cardinals has not been nearly as strong, and he has appeared frustrated with his role at times. With Arizona unlikely to make a playoff push, and Brown heading to free agency after the season, the idea of him being traded makes sense. It could be the low-risk, high-reward pickup that is too tempting to pass up.
So What Does it All Mean?
It is worth reiterating that JuJu Smith-Schuster said everyone on the New England Patriots received these new sweatshirts, not just the wide receivers. This gift could just be reminding the team it needs to just rely on, and trust in one another. It could also harken back to the many times the Patriots used an “us vs. the world” mantra to gain a mental edge. Joe Judge also may have just wanted to tell players to ignore any media narratives about potential trade targets. So, for now at least, it appears everyone should stop anticipating any big moves to improve this roster.
Of course when the NFL Trade Deadline begins to approach, all bets are off once again.