The writing was on the wall, but now the move is official. The New England Patriots have decided to decline the fifth-year option in wide receiver N’Keal Harry’s rookie contract, as first reported by Ari Meirov of Pro Football Focus.
Harry, 24, joined the Patriots as the 32nd overall selection in the 2019 NFL Draft. The first wide receiver selected in Round 1 since Bill Belichick’s arrival in New England in 2000, he had only a minimal impact over his first three seasons in the league.
With injuries and inconsistency bothering him throughout his three-year career as a Patriot so far, Harry has appeared in only 35 of a possible 51 games. He has only 59 catches for 519 yards and four touchdowns on his pro résumé as well as eight carries for an additional 56 yards.
While he did show some promise and occasionally managed to showcase his talents as a jump-ball receiver and perimeter target, he was unable to build consistent chemistry with starting quarterbacks Tom Brady, Cam Newton and Mac Jones. As a result, Harry saw his opportunities decrease: he spent 2021 as the Patriots’ fourth option at the wide receiver position and took the field for just 28.3 percent of the team’s offensive snaps.
Harry caught 12 passes for 184 yards. In fact, his most notable contributions to the team came as a blocker in the run game rather than the dynamic receiver he was during his college career at Arizona State.
Harry never met expectations as a Patriot and now the team has declined his $12.4 million fifth-year option for the 2023 season. Harry is one of 11 2019 first-round picks not to have the fifth-year options in their respective contracts exercised.
All of them are therefore headed for unrestricted free agency next March, even though Harry is not guaranteed to even stay on New England’s roster that long. Not only did the team add two perimeter receivers this offseason — trade acquisition DeVante Parker and second-round rookie Tyquan Thornton — he himself has also been the subject of trade speculation going all the way back to last offseason.