This weekend the Patriots will see several familiar faces on the opposing sideline, including Jakobi Meyers. After four productive seasons with the New England Patriots, Meyers signed as a free agent with the Las Vegas Raiders this past offseason. The Patriots inability to retain Meyers has become less popular by the day in New England. Critics use Meyers departure as an example of why Bill Belichick should no longer be in charge of football operations in Foxboro. Although Belichick is fighting back against the narrative that he “let” Meyers leave, there is no disputing Meyers is missed in New England.
Jakobi Meyers was not selected in the 2019 NFL Draft. There were 254 draft picks made that year, but Meyers was not one of them. His college quarterback Ryan Finley was drafted. Kelvin Harmon, who played the same position on the same team as Meyers, was also selected. Jakobi Meyers settled for signing as an undrafted free agent following the draft. Fortunately for football fans in New England, he signed with the Patriots.
The wide receiver from North Carolina State began his college career as a quarterback before switching positions as a sophomore. As a junior Meyers was incredibly productive. In only his second year as a wide receiver he recorded a school-record 92 receptions for 1,047 yards in 12 games. After the season, Meyers turned pro.
Although Jakobi Meyers had the size and the stats, he was considered not athletic enough to succeed in the NFL. Meyers ran a 4.63 40-yard dash and his other testing scores were average at best. Having great hands and proven production was not enough to convince any teams in the NFL Draft to take a chance on Jakobi Meyers. This is a decision many NFL franchises would come to regret.
UDFA in New England
Despite being an underdog, Meyers made the New England Patriots roster out of training camp. With Tom Brady still at quarterback in 2019, Jakobi Meyers possessed two highly-valued qualities. When he ran routes, he was where he was supposed to be. And he caught the ball when it was thrown to him. This simple formula would serve Meyers well as in pro career.
The 2019 New England Patriots had a plethora of characters in their wide receiver room:
- Julian Edelman led the way with 100 receptions and 1,117 yards.
- Josh Gordon had been reinstated after a suspension but was injured after six games and ultimately waived.
- Antonio Brown was brought in and played well in one game. He was released after 11 days due to off-field issues
- N’Keal Harry was a first-round pick in 2019, but was either injured or unproductive. He failed to build any sort of rapport with Brady.
- Former Colts first-round pick Phillip Dorsett proved that the best ability is availability. He emerged as the second-most reliable Patriots receiver behind only Edelman.
- Mohamed Sanu was acquired from the Atlanta Falcons mid-season. He amassed 207 receiving yards over eight games.
- UDFA Jakobi Meyers was a longshot to make the team, but finished third among Patriots wide receivers in receptions (26) and receiving yards (359). He was barely edged out by Dorsett in both categories.
Although Meyers didn’t establish himself as a star or even an NFL starter as rookie, he proved he was an NFL player. As an undrafted free agent that is more than anyone can ask in year one. By the end of the season, Jakobi Meyers had become more highly regarded in Foxboro than the wide receiver the Patriots had drafted in round one. But the best was yet to come for Jakobi Meyers.
Productive Years with the Patriots (2020-2022)
In 2020 Tom Brady was no longer in New England but Jakobi Meyers was. With Edelman injured for most of the season, Meyers became the go-to receiver for new Patriots QB Cam Newton. He led the team in receptions (59) and receiving yards (729). By season two it was apparent Jakobi Meyers was well ahead of N’Keal Harry’s development. The only aspect of Meyers game yet to develop was finding the end zone. He had not scored in either of his first two seasons.
The next year brought rookie quarterback Mac Jones. It was an even more productive year for Meyers. He finished 2021 with 83 receptions for 833 yards and scored his first two NFL touchdowns. Meyers quickly became Jones’ favorite and most reliabile target.
2022 was a down year for the New England Patriots. After making the playoffs in 2021, they finished 8-9. The offensive struggled all year, with Jones regressing after a solid first year. Offensive play caller Matt Patricia replaced the departed Josh McDaniels. Patricia received the bulk of blame for the poor performance of the offense. Despite the team’s struggles, Meyers continued to produce. He finished 2022 with 67 catches for 804 yards and six touchdowns.
The only lowlight from this period was a play against the very Raiders team he would eventually play for. When the Patriots were playing the Raiders last year, Jakobi Meyers made an error that gave away the game. The Patriots were driving for a potential game-winning drive in a tie game. Instead of going down and heading to overtime, Meyers inexplicably threw the ball back across the field on a lateral attempt. Chandler Jones intercepted the lateral attempt, steamrolled Mac Jones, and ran it in for a game-winning touchdown.
NFL Free Agency
Over Jakobi Meyers’ last three years in New England he was easily the most productive wide receiver on the roster. Although Meyers was not considered a “true number one” NFL receiver, his numbers were incredibly solid. During those three years he finished top 30 among NFL wide receivers in receptions (209), receiving yards (2,399) and first downs (117). Following the season, Meyers hit free agency.
Many considered Jakobi Meyers the top available free agent wide receiver on the market. Coincidentally, wide receiver was an obvious area of concern for the New England. His value on the open market was difficult to gauge prior to the start of free agency. Even Patriots cap salary expert Miguel Benzan opined back in February that he would not be surprised by Meyers signing for anywhere from $8 million to $18 million per year.
Ultimately the Las Vegas Raiders signed Meyers to a three-year deal worth $33 million. Soon after it was reported that the New England Patriots had signed free agent WR JuJu Smith-Schuster to a nearly identical deal. Meyers took to Twitter/X with a reaction to Smith-Schuster’s signing:
Cold world lol https://t.co/YtYqjrymUw
— Jakobi Meyers (@jkbmyrs5) March 15, 2023
Cold world lol
When correct contract numbers were released, Smith-Schuster had received closer to $25.5 million, not $33 million. However, Jakobi Meyers deal with the Raiders was more team friendly, while JuJu Smith-Schuster’s contract with the Patriots was more team-friendly. Although Meyers had the potential to make more money, he also had less money fully guaranteed ($16 million vs. $10.5 million). Cold world indeed.
2023 NFL Season
It is only five games into the 2023 NFL season, but Jakobi Meyers’ free agency signing has definitely affected both the New England Patriots and Las Vegas Raiders. Despite missing the Raiders week two matchup, Meyers has put up impressive numbers. He has 25 receptions for 274 yards and three touchdowns in four games. This past week on Monday Night Football he had the game-winning touchdown grab against the Packers.
Meanwhile back in Foxboro things have not gone nearly as smoothly. JuJu Smith-Schuster, the player immediately signed after Meyers’ departure, has failed to make a splash. In five games Smith-Schuster has 14 receptions for 86 yards. He has yet to score in 2023.
The leading wide receiver for the Patriots this season has been Kendrick Bourne. But despite playing one more game, Bourne has seven fewer catches, 56 fewer yards, and one less touchdown than Meyers in 2023.
Questioning of Bill Belichick
Since JuJu Smith-Schuster was signed for more guaranteed money than Jakobi Meyers and has been less productive, there is an obvious question lingering out there: Why didn’t the New England Patriots just keep Meyers? As longtime Patriots reporter Tom E. Curran stated, Meyers is exactly the type of homegrown player Bill Belichick should have been excited to keep in New England.
“My blood boils every time I see Jakobi Meyers make another catch,” Curran tweeted. “A good player who won’t cost stupid money and did everything you asked is STANDING RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU FOR 4 SEASONS. Instead you say “no thanks” and bring in someone who’s never done anything for you? Why?”
New England Patriots legend, and Meyers former teammate Julian Edelman said he was “still a little shook on the Jakobi Meyers departure.” He said Meyers did the three things that are preached in Foxboro that a wide receiver needs to do: “Get open, catch the ball, and be tough in the run game.”
But when Bill Belichick was asked about not bringing Jakobi Meyers back to New England he gave a very Belichickian response.
“He was a free agent. He signed with the Raiders,” Belichick explained. “There’s a lot of guys that leave in free agency.”
Who Made the Decision?
Based on Bill Belichick’s remarks it would seem that Jakobi Meyers alone made the decision to leave the New England Patriots and sign with the Las Vegas Raiders. When pressed further on Meyers departure, Belichick claimed that the team had made Meyers a priority in free agency. He claimed they were “relatively” close in negotiations to bring Meyers back. Andrew Callahan of the Boston Herald responded by tweeting, “I can tell you this: that’s news to Meyers’ camp.”
So the truth of why Jakobi Meyers is no longer a New England Patriots player technically remains a mystery. It seems very possible that Bill Belichick thought JuJu Smith-Schuster had more potential upside. Perhaps he would be able to stay healthy and produce as he had once done with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Maybe Belichick viewed Meyers has already having reached his ceiling, which was a solid second option for an NFL team.
This Sunday Jakobi Meyers will have a chance to prove the New England Patriots wrong for not doing what it took to keep him in his original NFL home. Unfortunately, JuJu Smith-Schuster will likely not have an opportunity to silence critics of his signing, as he continues to recover from a concussion suffered last Sunday. But Bill Belichick better hope that the Patriots defense figures out a way to slow down #16 in silver and black this weekend, or the talk of him being out of touch with what it takes to build a roster will only increase in volume.