The new NFL league year begins Wednesday, March 15, and with it, the advent of 2023's free agency marketplace. Leading up to that day, we'll examine the landscape from a Patriots perspective. Today, we analyze the wide receivers.
NOTABLE EXTERNAL FREE AGENTS: D.J. Chark, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Mecole Hardman, Parris Campbell, Allen Lazard, Darius Slayton
The trickiest decision the Patriots need to make this offseason is placing a contract value on wide receiver Jakobi Meyers.
Over the last three seasons, Meyers has been New England's most productive receiver by a landslide. He has developed from an undrafted free agent following the 2019 draft, lapping much more touted players, into a legitimate NFL receiver and an emerging leader in the locker room. Meyers has done absolutely everything right.
The Pats wideout has played himself into arguably the best wide receiver on the free-agent market, albeit in a down year, and that could push his market toward roughly $15 million per season. But should it come from the Patriots?
Although Meyers is a rock-solid player as the "Z" receiver in the Patriots offense, that role has passed through many hands that can say the same thing about productivity from Brown to Branch to Welker to Edelman and now Meyers. Ideally, the team leader in targets would add a more explosive element to the passing game. Last season, Meyers ranked middle-of-the-pack by averaging 3.6 yards after the catch per reception. For comparison, Julian Edelman cleared five yards after the catch on average in his peak years. Meyers also converted just 14.6 percent of his receptions into gains of 20-plus yards.
In the wise words of Patriots.com's Mike Dussault, Meyers moves the chains, but does he move the needle? Every offense needs a steady chain-mover. But the Pats lack the needling-moving piece, so paying Meyers like a true number one is tough. That's not to say the Pats should bow out immediately. If the money gets silly, it's time to turn to other, more dynamic options.
To maintain their depth and establish a legit hierarchy in the room, we'd entertain a three-year, $37.5 million ceiling for Meyers to return to New England. In today's market, that would pay Meyers as a good number two receiver, leaving wiggle room to add to the top of the depth chart.
With Meyers being the top option in free agency, upgrading the wide receiver position will need to come differently. There's bound to be some movement via trade in the veteran market. Names such as DeAndre Hopkins, Tee Higgins, and Jerry Jeudy have already been floated as potential trade targets, while there's always a chance that a sleeper could become available.
Although we prefer to make a move for an established star, given New England's history in the draft, the 2023 rookie class has several receivers who fit New England's prototype.
We'll discuss three names all draft season for the Patriots: Ohio State's Jaxon Smith-Njigba, USC wideout Jordan Addison, and Boston College WR Zay Flowers. Smith-Njigba is a lightning-quick route runner with an insane 2021 season (95 catches, 1,606 yards, nine touchdowns), while Addison is the bursty and versatile option who takes short and intermediate targets for big gains. Then, the already local Flowers is as explosive as any prospect in this draft. Non-first-round targets such as Josh Downs (UNC), Marvin Mims (Oklahoma), Nathaniel Dell (Houston), and Charlie Jones (Purdue) also fit the profile.
If the Patriots lose their current top target to free agency, many options exist to replace Meyers and potentially upgrade at wide receiver.