The third day of free agency week was a busy one for the New England Patriots. It started with veteran offensive tackle Riley Reiff being signed to a one-year contract, followed by a three-year deal for wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and a two-year pact for running back James Robinson.
How do the moves impact the players already on the roster? Let’s find out.
Winner: QB Mac Jones: Jones saw the team move on from his favorite wide receiver, Jakobi Meyers, and tight end Jonnu Smith over the first two days of the week. On Wednesday, however, he finally received some help.
JuJu Smith-Schuster projects as a go-to guy in the passing game, with Riley Reiff a potential upgrade at tackle and James Robinson adding depth to the running back rotation. Adding those three to the mix improves New England’s offense as a whole, and in turn should make the life of the unit’s staring quarterback an easier one.
Winner: The Patriots’ receiving corps: Adding Smith-Schuster to the mix should not negatively impact the top three wide receivers on the roster; there is space for him and the trio of DeVante Parker, Tyquan Thornton and Kendrick Bourne. In fact, the 26-year-old might make the life of those around him easier.
Smith-Schuster is no classic WR1, but he does command plenty of attention as a consistent chain-mover at the position. In an ideal world, this would help free up space for the other guys around him such as Parker, Thornton, Bourne and tight end Hunter Henry. A rising tide, as they say, lifts all the boats.
Winner: RB Rhamondre Stevenson: James Robinson will not take over the Patriots’ lead-back role; that one will belong to Stevenson until further notice. What adding him to the mix can do, however, is give the team more flexibility in how it uses its running backs.
Last year, for example, Stevenson was on the field for vast stretches of play when Damien Harris was out. With rookies Pierre Strong Jr. and Kevin Harris unproven and Ty Montgomery on injured reserve, the sophomore back became a three-down guy — a role that a) he is not necessarily suited for, and b) comes with a lot of wear and tear.
At the very least adding another body to the mix is another chance to keep the rotation going, and Stevenson a lot fresher throughout the season.
Losers: RB Kevin Harris and RB Damien Harris: On the flip side, the addition of James Robinson projects to have a negative impact on the Harrises. Kevin’s standing on the roster is now on more shaky ground given that New England added a player of a similar skillset; Damien’s return as an unrestricted free agent now seems rather unlikely.
Losers: OT Conor McDermott, OT Calvin Anderson, and OT Andrew Stueber: Whether or not Riley Reiff will become a starter along the Patriots’ offensive line remains to be seen, but the fact is that his addition makes the room a far more crowded one. The competition for the projected starting spot opposite Trent Brown — whether on the left or right side of the line — is now down to four players.
Reiff is by far the most experienced of the bunch. While that also brings its own set of questions, it also means that he is more of a proven commodity than Conor McDermott, Calvin Anderson, and especially Andrew Stueber.