During Wednesday's joint practice with the Houston Texans, New England Patriots defensive edge Derek Rivers suffered an apparent knee injury on a kick coverage drill. The rookie stayed on the ground for several minutes before gingerly walking off under his own power. And while the team initially was optimistic, yesterday's news were quite the opposite.
According to ESPN's Mike Reiss and Field Yates, Rivers suffered an ACL tear on Tuesday. The injury will keep the third round draft pick out for the remainder of the year and further weakens New England's exterior depth. Let's take a closer look at what losing Rivers to injury means for the team.
The Patriots lose one of their top options at defensive edge.
While Trey Flowers will be back as the starting right edge defender, the position opposite him is up for grabs. Derek Rivers was considered as one of the primary options to fill it, alongside Deatrich Wise Jr. and Kony Ealy. However, his knee injury changes the outlook for a Patriots team that has now lost two of its projected top left-side defensive edges to injury (Rivers) and retirement (Rob Ninkovich) in the last three weeks.
New England needs to find depth either internally...
With Rivers out, the Patriots have to find a way to replace his projected production as a core rotational edge. However, while the team has depth at the position it is either inexperienced or dealing with injuries of its own: Deatrich Wise Jr. suffered a concussion, Kony Ealy is struggling with inconsistency. Geneo Grissom is a career special teamer, Adam Butler, Keionta Davis and Caleb Kidder are undrafted rookies. In short: New England needs help at the position.
Some should come in the form of Wise Jr., who is expected back soon, but the Patriots need other players to step up as well. Maybe those mentioned above – with Ealy, Grissom and Butler the most realistic ones – will, maybe another position does: the linebackers. After all, Dont'a Hightower, Shea McClellin or rookie Harvey Langi have all seen time on the left edge in the past. Seeing the team regularly use its linebacker corps as on-the-line defenders would not be a surprise in the wake of Rivers' injury.
New England still has almost $14.1 million in salary cap space, which gives the team plenty of resources to bring one of the remaining free agent edge defenders on board. Our very own Rich Hill did a great breakdown of five potential options to help the Patriots fill the void created by Rivers' injury: Paul Kruger, Dwight Freeny, Eugene Sims, Mario Williams and Jared Odrick.
The Patriots could also explore the possibility of a trade. With depth at other positions – wide receiver, running back, cornerback –, the team has the ammunition to make a player-for-player swap. And even though New England currently only has five selections in next year's draft, a pick-for-player trade might also be on the team's radar in case other options fail to provide adequate depth.
Rivers going on injured reserve will create an open roster spot.
Due to his draft status, athletic upside and potential as a rotational defensive end, Rivers was a lock to make the Patriots' 53-man roster. Consequently, his injury will create an open spot on the team – one that might not get filled from the outside or by another defensive edge currently on the roster. Instead, New England might opt to keep a fringe roster player on board.
Offensive skill position players Brandon Bolden, D.J. Foster, Austin Carr and Jacob Hollister appear to be potential candidates to fill the vacant spot on the initial roster, as are defensive backs D.J. Killings and Kenny Moore II.
Rivers' salary decreases – but won't create any cap space.
Placing Rivers on injured reserve will cost the rookie around $120,000: According to patscap.com's Miguel Benzan, his salary drops from $465,000 to $348,000. However, that does not mean the Patriots actually save money due to Rivers' injury. After all, another player will have to replace him on the roster while the third round draft pick will still be on New England's books with around $500,000 – despite spending the year on injured reserve.