After years of attempting to trade former first-round draft pick N’Keal Harry, the Patriots have finally pulled the trigger, on Tuesday dealing the veteran wide receiver to the Bears, as NFL Media reported. The earliest-drafted receiver of Bill Belichick’s career, Harry goes to Chicago in exchange for a 2024 seventh-round pick, per Ian Rapoport.
Harry, 24, was picked No. 25 overall in 2019 out of Arizona State, where he had back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons to close his college career. While he brought size (6-4, 225) to the Patriots’ receiving corps, he never emerged as a regular in their passing game, becoming a frequent subject of trade speculation before formally requesting a move prior to the 2021 campaign.
Harry had just 12 catches in seven games as a rookie, opening the year on injured reserve thanks to a training-camp ankle injury and finishing the season with a hip issue. His numbers improved in 2020, when he started nine games and posted a career-high 33 catches for 309 yards and two touchdowns as one of Cam Newton’s secondary targets, but he also managed just a 57.9 catch percentage. After his trade request last summer, he opened 2021 on IR with a shoulder injury and finished the year with 12 catches behind newcomers Kendrick Bourne and Nelson Agholor.
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Harry faced an even tougher road to action this summer, with the Patriots drafting Tyquan Thornton and acquiring former Dolphins starter DeVante Parker via trade. Now, he’s set to compete with a cast of other veteran castoffs in Chicago, where the Bears are leaning on ex-Chiefs backup Byron Pringle and former Packers reserve Equanimeous St. Brown to lead the WR room opposite Darnell Mooney, with 2021 first-rounder Justin Fields under center.
Here’s how we’d grade the swap:
The risk isn’t all that big here — cheap salary, 2022 rental, intriguing size — and they need receivers like anyone. But let’s not give them too much credit just yet. More than likely, they could’ve waited until the end of the summer for Harry to be outright released and tried to sign him that way. Even though they’re absorbing just $1.872 million of his 2022 cap hit (and they’ve got cap space to spare), just consider other guys with similar 2022 price tags: JuJu Smith-Schuster ($2.89M), A.J. Green ($2.2M), Josh Reynolds ($2M), Jamison Crowder ($1.975M). Some of those guys are older, sure, but if the priority is actually getting help for Fields, then why not pay a fraction more for a proven talent?
They don’t necessarily need a standing ovation for finally cutting the cord on a former top-25 pick, but unloading Harry for anything at this point should be considered a minor win. Their WR depth chart afforded him little, if any, space going into camp, and Harry mentally moved on long ago. The 2024 seventh is what it is, but saving $1.87M rather than $1.198M by outright cutting him is a little bonus for their 2022 cap as well.