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NFL free agency 2023: Wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster explains why he joined the Patriots

Last Tuesday, the New England Patriots lost free agent wide receiver Jakobi Meyers to the Las Vegas Raiders. One day later, they signed his supposed replacement.

JuJu Smith-Schuster, who had spent the 2022 season with the world champion Kansas City Chiefs, came aboard on a three-year contract worth $25.5 million. While the economics certainly played a part in his decision to join the Patriots, so did the team’s head coach, apparently.

Appearing on 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Zolak & Bertrand this Tuesday, Smith-Schuster mentioned how Bill Belichick was one of the key factors for why he is a Patriot now.

“To be honest, it was Belichick, man,” he said. “The guy, you know — just the want and the need, and the position that I can fill there. It really, really caught my attention. And I felt like that was the thing, feeling wanted in a place where I played against, a head coach I have a lot of respect for. And I just think that goes a long way.”

With him joining forces with Belichick in New England, Smith-Schuster will have played under three of the most successful coaches of their time.

A second-round draft pick out of USC in 2017, he started his career under Mike Tomlin in Pittsburgh. After five years as a Steeler, he joined Andy Reid’s Chiefs on a one-year contract last offseason. Now, he is off to the Patriots and the NFL’s longest-tenured head coach.

What exactly Belichick has in mind for the 26-year-old remains to be seen, but Smith-Schuster expressed his confidence in the team finding the right role for him.

“It’s a little bit of everything. They’re giving me the opportunity to go inside/outside,” he said. “I think what Bill does bring to the table, is being able to dominate the offensive game plan and me coming in and filling those roles. They see potential in what I can do.”

Smith-Schuster’s potential as an NFL receiver was apparent from the day he arrived in the league. His first season, he already caught 58 passes for 917 yards and seven touchdowns. He continued to be a productive player through most of his time in Pittsburgh up until his lone season in Kansas City.

Along the way, Smith-Schuster also met his future team on three occasions He caught six passes for 114 yards in a 27-24 Steelers loss to New England in 2017, followed by four-catch, 40-yard performance in a 17-10 win one year later. His most recent meeting with the Patriots before signing with them was a 33-3 beatdown to open the 2019 season; he had six receptions for 78 yards that day.

“Going against you guys was a pain in our butt, but the tradition was always there,” Smith-Schuster said about the Steelers-Patriots matchups. “And I always had respect for the Patriots, even though I was on the other side. Obviously, we’re playing to beat you guys, but now that I’m on this side of the ball and on this side of the country, it’s just unbelievable. I’m super excited to be a part of the city, the fanbase, and the team.”


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