We first had a sense that something was not quite right with the Patriots’ top offensive signing of the offseason, Juju Smith-Schuster, back in late August, when Albert Breer appeared on NBC Sports Boston and dropped this nugget on the local NFL fans: “JuJu Smith-Schuster’s knee is a mess, and that thing could explode at any point.”
Smith-Schuster clapped back at Breer’s suggestion, but through three weeks, it certainly appears that Breer was right—Smith-Schuster has not returned to star form this season after having an offseason knee surgery, and though we can’t say for sure that’s because of the knee, it remains the most plausible reason.
Worse is that Breer was asked again about Smith-Schuster’s knee this week on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston, and added another nugget: Not only was Smith-Schuster’s knee a problem, but everyone knew it. That included Bill Belichick and the Pats’ brain trust.
Asked by former Patriots backup quarterback Scott Zolak who told him about Smith-Schuster’s knee, Breer said:
“A lot of people. There was a lot of concern that the knee was going to get worse not better, by other teams. Which is why other teams stayed away from him. Which is why he was available at this price point. And I am sorry, if you’re not going to spend on the high end, this is what you’re gonna wind up with.”
Patriots Hoped Juju Smith-Schuster Would Rack up YAC
What the Patriots have wound up with is a guy who was signed to potentially be the team’s No. 1 threat, but who has, instead, caught just 10 passes in three games, for a total of 66 yards. The hope with Smith-Schuster is that he could be a YAC master—yards after catch—after finishing fifth among receivers last year with 503 YAC. He posted an average of 6.4 yards after the catch.
This year? He has 29 yards after the catch, an average of 2.9 per catch.
He has graded out at Pro Football Focus with a 56.9 rating, which is just 83rd overall. That’s part of an awful New England crew of receivers, which has Devante Parker (66.3 grade, 54th overall) as the team’s top threat. Kendrick Bourne, at 65.3, is second on the team and just 58th in the NFL.
The fault for that largely rests with Smith-Schuster’s disappointing production.
Bargain Shopping Costs New England
And that goes back to the knee. In March, the Patriots signed Smith-Schuster to a $25.5 million contract over three years, but one that has him only with a $4.7 million cap hit this season. That jumps to $10.6 million next year, a sort of insurance policy for Smith Schuster, guaranteeing his place with the team in 2024.
The Patriots have an out after next season, though. All in all, it’s a cheap deal the Patriots gave out in hopes that they’d get lucky on Smith-Schuster’s knee, as Breer explained.
“He came at a discount because the knee gave you the chance to sign a guy at a premium position with a less-than-premium rate,” Breer said. “You pay him with the hope that he’s gonna turn into what he used to be. I almost think, the fact that it was a three-year deal, there’s benefits to both sides with that. He gets some guaranteed money in Year 2, so he’s not just on a one-year deal, and you have three years of control over him in case he turns back into what he was.
“I think we’re so conditioned to think a guy’s making a certain amount here, sometimes we forget what the rest of the league is doing, right? Receivers are getting paid, $23, $24, $25 million a year. A.J. Brown got $25 million in Philly. So, at that price point, you either get a guy who is a 2 or a 3, or you get a guy who is reclamation project like this.”