On the first day of the new league year, the Patriots continued to retool their offense Wednesday, signing wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, running back James Robinson, and offensive tackle Riley Reiff, all free agents.
Smith-Schuster’s contract will be worth $33 million over three years, Robinson’s will be $8 million over two years, and Reiff’s will be $5 million for one year. The additions help address two of the biggest positions of need for the Patriots, as they work to rebound following a dreadful offensive performance last season.
The terms of Smith-Schuster’s contract, on the surface, match what Jakobi Meyers received Tuesday from Las Vegas. Meyers, Smith-Schuster, and Allen Lazard headlined a comparatively weak free agent receiver class, giving the Patriots limited options to upgrade. Meyers expressed his desire to return on multiple occasions, but coach Bill Belichick elected to let him walk and sign Smith-Schuster instead.
“Cold world lol,” Meyers tweeted in response to news of Smith-Schuster’s deal.
Smith-Schuster, a 2017 second-round draft pick out of Southern Cal, is coming off a strong bounce-back season with Kansas City. He caught 78 passes on 101 targets for 933 yards and 3 touchdowns en route to his first Super Bowl ring.
Prior to his year with the Chiefs, Smith-Schuster spent five seasons in Pittsburgh. His career got off to a fast start playing alongside Antonio Brown, with 2,343 yards and 14 touchdowns over his first two seasons. His last three seasons as a Steeler featured ups and downs, including a shoulder injury that sidelined him for 12 weeks in 2021.
In New England, Smith-Schuster joins DeVante Parker, Kendrick Bourne, and Tyquan Thornton. He can line up both in the slot and on the outside, with an average of 9.2 yards per target last season. He also boasts impressive yards-after-catch ability, totaling 455 last season with an average of 5.8 per reception.
The 26-year-old wide receiver tweeted Wednesday, “Excited for my next chapter in New England! I will give this organization everything I have. Thank you for believing in me!”
Even with the addition of Smith-Schuster, wide receiver should remain a top priority for the Patriots. Parker and Bourne are entering the final year of their contracts, so drafting or trading for a potential long-term contributor would be wise.
If the Patriots choose to draft a receiver with their first-round pick, there are multiple promising candidates, including Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Southern Cal’s Jordan Addison, and Boston College’s Zay Flowers.
The same goes for offensive tackle.
Reiff, drafted in the first round in 2012, is a solid depth piece with plenty of NFL experience. Over the course of his 11-year career, he has played for four teams (Detroit, Minnesota, Cincinnati, and Chicago) and earned a starting role at all stops. Most recently, he played 16 games for the Bears last season, starting the final 10.
But Reiff turns 35 in December and will serve merely as a stop-gap if he gets the start at left tackle this season.
The Patriots also signed 26-year-old offensive tackle Calvin Anderson , who hasn’t earned a consistent starting role in his three NFL seasons, and Conor McDermott, who proved last year to be a reliable backup.
With Trent Brown set to become a free agent at the end of the 2023 season, the Patriots could head into 2024 in search of two starting tackles if they don’t draft or sign a long-term contributor this offseason.
Robinson, meanwhile, will join Rhamondre Stevenson, Ty Montgomery, Pierre Strong, and Kevin Harris in the backfield. His signing likely means the Patriots will not re-sign Damien Harris, who finished out his rookie contract after getting drafted in the third round in 2019.
The 24-year-old Robinson signed with Jacksonville as an undrafted rookie in 2020. That year was the best statistical season of his three-year career, with 1,070 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. Robinson rushed for 767 yards and eight TDs in 2021, but he suffered a torn Achilles’ in Week 16.
Last season, the Jaguars traded Robinson to the Jets in October. Despite an injury to starter Breece Hall, he Robinson not log meaningful carries, finishing his brief 10-week tenure with just 85 rushing yards.
In New England, Robinson will help ease Stevenson’s workload. The Patriots also will likely tap into his pass-catching ability. In his first two years with the Jaguars, Robinson caught 80 passes for 566 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Smith-Schuster, Robinson, Reiff, and Anderson are New England’s sole external additions so far in free agency. The team also has re-signed six players (McDermott, special teamer Matthew Slater, cornerback Jonathan Jones, safety Jabrill Peppers, linebacker Raekwon McMillan, and offensive lineman James Ferentz) and tendered two (safety Myles Bryant and offensive tackle Yodny Cajuste).