The New England Patriots offseason proceedings are well underway. While we are still in a bit of a “dead” period per se as we wait for the beginning of free agency, the Patriots and their staff are hard at work preparing for free agency and the draft.
While free agency doesn’t officially begin until March 16th (technically March 14th, which is when the legal tampering period begins) key decisions lurk before then. The biggest of the bunch revolves around whether or not the team will assign star cornerback J.C. Jackson the franchise tag. New England also has three restricted free agents (Jakobi Meyers, Gunner Olszewski, and Jakob Johnson) that need to either be tendered or allowed to hit unrestricted free agency.
The Pats have some clear needs as free agency nears, and much of their offseason plan is going to depend on what happens with Jackson. If Jackson ultimately ends up leaving, it gives New England a lot more flexibility in deciding how to spend their money in free agency. While it’s not the best strategy, there’s probably a 50-50 chance Jackson doesn’t return at this point, so it has to be considered.
One of the areas on the roster that could use an influx of talent is wide receiver, and I took a look the other day at three free agents that could fit with the Patriots. One of the names notably not on that list that many are suggesting as a solid potential fit is JuJu Smith-Schuster. While he would fit the team’s budget, Smith-Schuster is about as inconsistent as they come, and the team would be better off pursuing different players at the position.
The New England Patriots should stay away from JuJu Smith-Schuster
Smith-Schuster burst onto the scene in his first two seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and he quickly formed a solid pairing with Antonio Brown at wide receiver. Smith-Schuster solidified himself as a top wideout in 2018 when he caught 111 passes for 1426 yards and seven touchdowns. He seemed set for stardom with Brown eventually forcing his way out of Pittsburgh.
But Smith Schuster has failed to reach the same heights ever since then. He’s struggled to get open as easily as he did when he was playing alongside Brown, even though he now works with another pair of talented receivers (Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool) that help take attention off him. Smith-Schuster has failed to hit the 100 catch or 1000 yard mark since 2018, and has struggled to stay on the field as well.
Smith-Schuster hit free agency last offseason, and opted to stick with Pittsburgh rather than take a multiyear offer he had on the table from the Kansas City Chiefs. That came back to bite, as Smith-Schuster only played five games, and provided virtually nothing when he was on the field (15 REC, 129 YDS, 0 TD). Now he looks set to settle for another short term deal for little money after struggling in all aspects in 2021.
There’s really no reason for the New England Patriots to pursue Smith-Schuster at this stage of his career. He has a lot of potential, yes, but he has proven to be unable to get himself open unless he has other wideouts taking attention away from him. Meyers and Kendrick Bourne are a downgrade from Johnson and Claypool, and if he was struggling alongside them, he’s going to struggle alongside those two as well.
When he plays up to his potential, there is reason to envision a solid fit for Smith-Schuster on this team. He can operate out of the slot (which New England desperately needs someone to do) and he has excellent ball-carrier skills when picking up yards after the catch. Smith-Schuster was a dynamic player his first two seasons, but that has largely disappeared over the previous three campaigns.
The main problem is consistency. Smith-Schuster has been unreliable to stay on the field, and when he’s on the field he looks uninterested for long stretches of action. He’s looked like a shell of himself over the past few seasons, and that should be enough to keep the Patriots away from him.
There are plenty of other wide receiver targets the New England Patriots could target this offseason. The name that they should always stay away from though, is Smith-Schuster. He has proven time and again that he isn’t the top receiver everyone once thought he was, and there’s no sense wasting a chunk of cap space on one of the most inconsistent receivers in the league.