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NFL free agency 2023: How JuJu Smith-Schuster can earn the full value of his Patriots contract

The wideout can earn up to $7.5 million in incentives.

Tennessee Titans v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

After losing their most productive wide receiver from the last three seasons in free agency, the New England Patriots did not hesitate to find a replacement. JuJu Smith-Schuster, who spent the 2022 season with the world champion Kansas City Chiefs, was brought aboard on a three-year deal with a base value of $25.4 million.

That deal is significantly cheaper than the one Jakobi Meyers signed with the Las Vegas Raiders — a three-year, $33 million pact — but there is a catch: Smith-Schuster can make up virtually the entire difference through incentives. In total, he can earn an extra $7.5 million by hitting his receiving goals.

What are those goals? As first reported by ESPN’s Mike Reiss, they are structured as follows:

JuJu Smith-Schuster: Contract incentives

2023: Up to $1.5 million
$750,000: 950 receiving yards
$750,000: 1,100 receiving yards

2024: Up to $3 million
$1 million: 800 receiving yards
$1 million: 950 receiving yards
$1 million: 1,100 receiving yards

2025: Up to $3 million
$1 million: 800 receiving yards
$1 million: 950 receiving yards
$1 million: 1,100 receiving yards

In 2023, Smith-Schuster has the opportunity to earn an extra $1.5 million on top of his $4.67 million salary cap hit. If he indeed is able to do so, however, this year’s cap would not be impacted: his 2023 number is set in stone given that both incentive levels are considered not likely to be earned. Smith-Schuster, after all, finished the 2022 regular season — which is used as a reference — with “only” 933 receiving yards.

If he is able to surpass 950 receiving yards this year — something he has done in only one of his six NFL seasons so far — he would earn an extra $750,000. If he surpasses 1,100 yards another $750,000 would come his way.

Smith-Schuster doing all of that to earn his full $1.5 million incentive, would decrease the Patriots’ 2024 salary cap space by $4.5 million: his 2023 incentive would be added to the books, while all of his 2024 incentives would then be considered likely to be earned. That same basic idea would also be applied for the 2025 season (and possibly the 2026 salary cap as well).

At the moment, however, all of that is just theoretical in nature. The fact remains that Smith-Schuster’s deal is still a team-friendly one: he would have to produce in order to earn his incentives, and the team would probably be quite happy to pay him an extra $7 million if it means three straight seasons of 1,100-plus receiving yards.