Bill Belichick's decision-making deserves questioning amid the New England Patriots' 1-4 start. And we can think of one decision in particular worth spotlighting ahead of the Patriots' Week 6 matchup with the Las Vegas Raiders.
The Raiders edged the Green Bay Packers 17-13 on Monday night thanks to the play of wide receiver Jakobi Meyers, who led the team in receptions (seven) and receiving yards (75) while scoring one of Las Vegas' two touchdowns.
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Meyers, of course, spent his first four seasons with the Patriots before New England let him walk in 2023 free agency to sign a three-year, $33 million deal with Las Vegas. To account for Meyers' loss -- he was the Patriots' leading receiver for three straight seasons from 2020 to 2022 -- Belichick and the front office signed wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster to a relatively similar deal of three years and $25 million.
The result has been a disaster for New England through five weeks: Meyers has racked up 25 catches for 274 yards with three touchdowns, while Smith-Schuster has been an absolute dud, with just 14 catches for 86 yards through five games.
Our Patriots Insider Tom E. Curran was particularly frustrated watching Meyers torch another NFL defense Monday night in Las Vegas.
Former Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman shared a similar sentiment even before Monday's game during appearance on FS1's "The Herd" with Colin Cowherd.
“I’m still a little shook on the Jakobi Meyers departure,” Edelman told Cowherd. “I didn’t get that."
"He could separate a lot,” Edelman added. “He could run routes. He was tough in the run game. He would go in and block [with] force. And that’s what you preach as a New England receiver: get open, catch the ball, and block in the run game. Those are the three things you hear all the time.
"This receiver group we have, it just seems like they’re struggling to create separation regardless of the reason. They haven’t been able to separate."
Edelman's point is well-taken: New England has three players -- DeVante Parker, Kendrick Bourne and Hunter Henry -- who rank among the bottom 20 qualified pass-catchers in average separation from their defenders, per the NFL's NextGen Stats. Smith-Schuster isn't much far ahead of them on that list and has caught just 56 percent of passes thrown his way this season, compared to Meyers' 69.4 percent on significantly more targets.
Simply put, Meyers is exactly the type of pass-catcher Mac Jones could use right now: a strong route-runner with reliable hands who can serve as the quarterback's "security blanket" in passing situations. Meyers also is an excellent blocker, a trait Belichick values highly.
Unless there were behind-the-scenes factors that led to Meyers' departure -- Curran added that Meyers was open to re-signing with New England -- it's baffling that the Patriots would let him go to take a risk on Smith-Schuster, who had a known knee issue when he signed with the team in free agency.
Meyers alone probably wouldn't have prevented this New England offense from sliding into dysfunction in 2023. But he's certainly proved Belichick wrong through a quarter of the season, and will have another chance to do so in-person this Sunday.