FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. Meyers’ market: The Patriots are entering the red zone when it comes to answering one of the most pressing questions of their offseason: How far will they extend to retain free agent receiver Jakobi Meyers?
The fifth-year pro from NC State is on the cusp of a life-altering payday when free agency begins March 15, which will test the team’s preferred philosophy of drafting/signing rookies, developing them, and then re-signing them to second contracts in their prime years.
The Patriots’ results have been uneven in recent years, as evidenced by seeing two homegrown players — offensive linemen Joe Thuney (Chiefs) and Ted Karras (Bengals) — playing key roles in 2022 championship games after being poached away.
No team can retain every ascending player, but given the Patriots’ limited options of late, Thuney and Karras becoming foundational cogs for AFC competitors should sting Bill Belichick & Co. at least a little bit — especially considering how the O-line struggled for extended stretches in 2022.
Now comes the 26-year-old Meyers, who remarkably has developed from undrafted free agent to the pearl of a 2019 rookie class that is almost a complete wash.
He has outshined receiver N’Keal Harry, cornerback Joejuan Williams, outside linebacker Chase Winovich, running back Damien Harris, offensive tackle Yodny Cajuste, guard Hjalte Froholdt, quarterback Jarrett Stidham, defensive tackle Byron Cowart, punter Jake Bailey and defensive back Ken Webster.
ESPN front-office insider Mike Tannenbaum sees a major payday coming Meyers’ way — whether in New England or elsewhere.
“The wide receiver market has absolutely exploded. I think he’s going to do well,” he said.
Tannenbaum has experienced both sides of the negotiating table in similar situations — from his time as New York Jets general manager (2006-12) and Miami Dolphins executive VP of football operations (2015-18), and working at Priority Sports and Entertainment.
He foreshadowed how things might unfold between the Patriots and Meyers’ agent, Drew Rosenhaus, behind the scenes.
“For a team — when it comes to years, guarantees and structure — it was always really important to be able to point to something objective,” he said.
That means looking at recent deals for comparable players. Raiders receiver Hunter Renfrow, who last June signed a two-year, $32 million deal with $21 million guaranteed, falls into that category. Renfrow’s stats through four seasons (56 games, 244 catches, 2,629 yards, 17 TDs) are close to what Meyers has produced (60 games, 235 catches, 2,758 yards, 8 TDs).
But Tannenbaum doubts that deal — which Renfrow signed entering the final year of his rookie contract and not as an unrestricted free agent — would motivate Meyers to sign before exploring other options.
“The agents this time of year are usually like, ‘We’re going to listen, we’re interested, but we’re going to see what the market is.’ They want to make sure they’re maximizing any leverage they have. They would certainly wait to get through the combine [Feb. 28-March 6].
“Anything before last season for me is highly irrelevant if I was representing Jakobi Meyers because the market has changed discernibly. There’s a greater emphasis on passing, and receivers’ value has never been higher.”
Contracts for Tyreek Hill ($30 million per season) and Davante Adams ($28 million) re-set the receiver market last offseason, but Meyers won’t be in that neighborhood. Instead, Jaguars receiver Christian Kirk’s four-year, $72 million deal with $37 million guaranteed from last offseason might project as a closer range for Meyers’ eventual payday.
Consider that Kirk had 236 career catches through his first four seasons when he signed that deal as an unrestricted free agent in March of 2022, one more than Meyers has now.
How a player’s market develops can often be unpredictable, and it only takes one team to blow it out of the water. But if Meyers ultimately lands a deal consistent with those of his ilk, he’ll be earning in the range of $15 million to $20 million per season.
Whether the Patriots view him worthy of such a contract represents one of the first key dominos to fall in a critical offseason.
2. Groh-ing into role: When special teams veteran Matthew Slater finalized his previous two-year contract in 2021, Matt Patricia signed it on behalf of the Patriots, a reflection of Patricia’s work in a general manager-type role at that time. Slater’s most recent one-year contract was signed by Matt Groh, which some around the NFL viewed as a reflection of his growing responsibilities as director of player personnel.
3. Parcells’ lessons: As Groh leads the Patriots’ personnel staff to the NFL combine this week, a benchmark event for personnel evaluation, NFL coaching legend Bill Parcells provided an insightful look at the specifics of the New England scouting system for “The 33rd Team” — highlighting the importance of sticking to prototypes and creating a grading system. When it comes to receivers, and Meyers’ upcoming contract negotiation, this stood out: “The critical factors are hands, quickness and speed. There’s never been a good receiver that couldn’t catch. You somehow have to create separation from the defender, and quickness and speed are vehicles to do that.”
4. Marcus Jones’ prototype: All-Pro punt returner Marcus Jones, who along with starting left guard Cole Strange, was back at Gillette Stadium last week, didn’t measure up to the Parcells-based prototype (5-foot-8, 174 pounds compared to 5-11 , 194 pounds) for a nickel cornerback in last year’s draft. But Jones’ return skills must have elevated his draft grade into the 5.5 to 6.3 range, leading the Patriots to select him in the third round — a reminder of how projected special teams contributions play a major role in the process.
5. Leadership laden: Slater’s return to the Patriots in 2023 ensures that at least five of the team’s six captains are back, joining center David Andrews, quarterback Mac Jones, defensive lineman Deatrich Wise Jr. and linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley. That leaves just safety Devin McCourty, who last week told Chris Price on “The Patriots Report” podcast that he’s “gone back and forth” on retirement and plans to decide by the second week of March. McCourty is scheduled to co-host “Good Morning Football” on NFL Network with his brother Jason in early March.
6. Who’s next?: When it comes to who’s next in the pipeline of Patriots leadership, McCourty said on the podcast that Meyers and safety Kyle Dugger are two players he envisions emerging. “They’ve grown from where they started to where they are now; for both of them, it’s not their nature to be talkative … but I think they’ll look around and say ‘I have to fill a role like Deatrich Wise is filling now, and then Wise will take a step up and Ja’Whaun Bentley will be a more outspoken leader.”
7. Coaching changes: In a reflection of how quickly things change in the NFL, consider this: Of the Patriots’ 14 different opponents in 2023, only four have retained the same combination of head coach, offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator from last season: Bills, Giants, Raiders and Steelers.
8. Shrine review: From behind-the-scenes mic’d up footage of assistant coach Troy Brown, to new offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien’s passionate on-field coaching style, and a Bill Belichick recap, Patriots.com delivered a compelling look at what the team gained from coaching at last month’s Shrine Bowl in Las Vegas. As Brown said: “We’re representing ourselves, so this is a reflection of our whole organization.”
9. Combine report: A quick snapshot of what to expect media coverage-wise at the combine this coming week.
DL/LBs: Interviews Wednesday, workouts Thursday
DBs/STs: Interviews Thursday, workouts Friday
QBs/WRs/TEs: Interviews Friday, workouts Saturday
OL/RBs: Interviews Friday, workouts Sunday
Belichick and Groh aren’t scheduled to take part in the standard media access, when head coaches and/or personnel heads field questions from a variety of reporters. As for Patriots needs, my view is offensive tackle, cornerback and receiver top the list.
10. Did You Know: Meyers’ initial contract with the Patriots was for three years and worth $1.76 million, which included a $10,000 signing bonus. He earned $3.98 million last season as a restricted free agent, bringing his career earnings to $5.75 million over four seasons.