NBC Sports

Curran: Assessing the state of New England's wide receiver position

NBC Sports

A familiar theme will recur as we plow through our positional breakdown of the New England Patriots. Last season’s offensive performance and production comes with an asterisk. The offense was uncoordinated.

All positions were affected. But wide receiver may have been the spot most profoundly undone by the team spending spring and summer changing the scheme and stressing downfield aggressiveness then pivoting from that when it realized it couldn’t block long enough to let that happen.

Time wasted, an offense without an experienced coordinator/playcaller never looked in sync. That fact was pointed out all season long.

Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne, DeVante Parker and Tyquan Thornton combined for 119 catches, 1,582 yards and eight touchdowns. All that for the low, low price of $18.8M in 2022 salary and $28M in cap space in 58 combined games.

Just for idle comparison, Tyreek Hill had 119 catches for 1,710 yards and seven touchdowns. In 2023, he’ll make $16M in salary and have a $31M cap hit.

Closer to home, Jakobi Meyers had 67 catches for 804 yards and six touchdowns, making $3.986M on a restricted free agent tender in just 14 games.

Let us scrutinize more closely.

Bright spots

Meyers, who is about to hit free agency, remains one of the best success stories of the Belichick Era. He’s just an incredibly smart player (Vegas Lateral Disaster Play notwithstanding) who’s improved his strength, route-running, hands and explosiveness every season. He is Mac Jones’ most surefire weapon in the passing game.


The rookie Thornton (22 catches, 247 yards, 2 TDs) had a great camp but missed time at the start of the year with a shoulder injury that slowed his momentum. His straight-line speed is absurd, but he also showed during camp a knack for speed and direction change that make him more than just a burner. He did have five drops, but he’s got the potential to be a real weapon going forward.

The same goes for Parker (31 catches, 539 yards, 3 TDs, 17.4 YPC). He caught 66 percent of the balls sent his way and his physicality as an outside guy complements the speed of Thornton.

Bourne (35 catches, 434 yards) remains talented, as his six-catch, 100-yard day against the Bengals showed. So if he stays for the final year of his deal, that can be tapped into. Which brings us to …

Patriots Talk: A position-by-position deep dive on the Patriots offense | Listen & Subscribe | Watch on YouTube

The disappointments

It was a lost year for Bourne. Things got sideways in the summer when Bourne and de facto OC Matt Patricia bumped heads reportedly over Bourne grumbling about Patricia’s expertise and/or the direction of the offense. Bourne rotted on the bench early in the year, then when he got on the field he made airhead mistakes. Too many penalties. Too many drops. He was smilingly disgruntled all year long.

Agholor made a really nice catch against the Steelers in Week 2 that helped the Patriots win. He had 31 catches for 362 yards and two scores. As a big-ticket free agent on a two-year deal, Agholor’s contribution was 68 catches for 835 yards and five scores in 31 games. Not enough bang for the buck.

Finally, when wondering what went wrong, everything can’t land on the doorstep of Patricia. Troy Brown is wide receivers coach. Too often, his crew wasn’t on the same page with each other or Jones. There were alignment issues, penalties, pre-snap communication problems and clear mistakes in route-running when the spacing and precision was all gunked up. It has to be better than that in 2023.

Contract status

Agholor’s deal is up. He’s almost certainly gone.

Bourne is entering the final year of his deal at a reasonable rate (salary of $4.75M and cap hit of $6.872M). It would suck if he and the team parted ways because he’s 28, talented, seems a pleasant fella and showed in 2021 that he could produce.

Parker’s deal is similar to Bourne’s. Entering the final year with a $5.7M base and a $6.2M cap hit. He’ll be 30 this year.

Thornton is in the second year of his rookie deal. He makes modest dough.

Which brings us to Meyers. I spent a whole podcast diving deep on the prospective free agent and what the Patriots may do with him. In four seasons, he’s made $6.016 million, which was three-fifths of what Isaiah Wynn made in 2022 alone.


Do the Patriots look at Meyers -- who they found and developed -- as something they created and have a hard time envisioning him north of $10 million a year, something like four and 40? 

Do they say, "Nobody else will see him like as a $10 million/year player. We can lowball him because he doesn’t have a unique physical skill like Agholor or Parker. The market will dictate that we can pay him less even if he’s been our most productive wideout for three years." The valuation for Meyers’ 2022 season was $8 million according to OverTheCap.com.

Even if the Patriots gave him a four-year, $44 million deal, they would -- over an eight-year span -- pay Meyers $50 million. For a dependable, productive, trustworthy, honest, strong, brave (ok, enough) player, that’s a good rate.

Of course, the Patriots could franchise Meyers but the projected tag is about $19 million. I love Meyers but ... no. So it will be fascinating to see how the Patriots approach Meyers, who is the best (or at least most productive) projected free agent.

Offseason Priority (scale 1-5)

It’s a 4.

Meyers should be a priority. If he’s re-signed, adding a waterbug slot (or third-down back) would be wise as well. I’m not as high on the prospects or need for adding a DeAndre Hopkins-type receiver. There’s enough talent on offense to challenge defenses already. Going into 2024 when Parker and Bourne are free agents? Have at it. Your results may vary.