The New England Patriots selected a league-low four players in the NFL’s 2017 draft — a number that was down to two just a year later. With Antonio Garcia getting cut after missing his entire rookie season due to the discovery of blood clots in his lungs, and with Conor McDermott already being lost as part of 2017’s roster cutdown process, two defenders were all that was left from the Patriots’ tally that year.
Third-round pick Derek Rivers and fourth-round choice Deatrich Wise Jr. remained with the team through the 2018 and 2019 seasons as well, but were recently split up: Rivers was released over the last weekend and while he was seen as a realistic candidate to re-join the team via its practice squad, he was eventually claimed off waivers by the Los Angeles Rams.
The Patriots exposing Rivers to the waiver wire and subsequently losing him does not have too big an impact on the team overall — he was merely a rotational role player at outside linebacker — but it was still a blow to Wise Jr. as he explained during a recent media conference call.
“This is a very touchy subject, I need a moment of silence,” a visibly emotional Wise Jr. said on Wednesday. “Derek was my guy. Him leaving is definitely sad because we were really good friends. Him leaving was something out of the blue, but I know he’s on a good team now and I wish him the best of luck. We came in together. It was us two, we had two other linemen on the team.
“Before that, it was just us two and Adam Butler, and we were close, like brothers. We are brothers, but now he’s left and this is the first practice I had without him.”
Despite their close relationship, Wise Jr. and Rivers had two different career trajectories up until the latter’s departure. While Wise Jr. quickly established himself as a productive defensive lineman and ranked second on the Patriots in quarterback pressures during his rookie season, Rivers spent two out of his first three seasons in the NFL on injured reserve and was never quite able to live up to his Day Two draft status.
Nevertheless, Rivers was a well-liked member of the organization with Wise Jr. and him — as well as Adam Butler, who arrived in New England as an undrafted free agent in 2017 — forming a close bond almost from the get go. That bond has now been severed.
“It was kind of awkward, like ‘Where’s Derek? Oh, he’s not here.’ That was kind of sad, but I definitely talk to him. We’ve talked it up and spoke and such. I wish him the best and I’ll see him in two weeks,” Wise Jr. added. “It’s going to be weird seeing him in a different jersey, but it’s going to be cool. I’ll definitely be rooting for him this season.”
Unless the Rams also decide to part ways with Rivers, he and Wise Jr. will see each other soon: the Patriots will travel to Los Angeles next week to first play the Chargers and four days later Rivers’ new team.