The New England Patriots entered free agency week with a clear goal in mind: upgrading a passing game that struggled mightily during the 2020 season. Their moves over the first few days were a clear reflection of that; New England added considerable talent at both the tight end and the wide receiver positions.
Among the players brought in to bolster the receiver group is Kendrick Bourne, who entered the open market coming off the most productive season of his career. Now, the Patriots will hope that he can build on this momentum to help get a wide receiver corps back on track that had its issues each of the last three seasons.
Name: Kendrick Bourne
Position: Wide receiver
Opening day age: 26
Size: 6-foot-1, 205 pounds
Contract: 3 years, $15 million
Despite a productive four-year career at Eastern Washington, Bourne did not hear his name called during the NFL’s 2017 draft. Instead, he had to go the free agency route to find a team. Find one he did: the San Francisco 49ers signed him to a three-year pact, and gave him an opportunity to prove himself. While his first season with the club was a comparatively quiet one — he appeared in 11 games and caught 16 passes for 257 yards — Bourne was able to carve out a bigger role over the next three years.
Appearing in 50 games between 2018 and 2020, Bourne registered 217 catches for 1,600 yards and 12 touchdowns. Along the way, he developed into a reliable member of the 49ers’ passing game as a rotational second or third option capable of aligning all over the formation. And even though he had to miss a game on the Coronavirus reserve list during the 2020 season, he still posted new career marks in receptions (49) and receiving yards (667) that year — setting himself up nicely for free agency.
What is his projected role in New England? Bourne may not be the most explosive player, but his strong technical foundation, football IQ and physicality at the top of his routes should allow him to become a productive player in New England’s scheme. He fits what the team is looking for from its wide receivers, and tried to acquire when trading for Mohamed Sanu in 2019. The expectation is that he will help fill the Z-receiver role or move to the X and slot positions if favorable matchups present themselves.
Where does he fit on the wide receiver depth chart? While Bourne is not your classic WR1, he does have value as a rotational piece on New England’s current receiving depth chart. As such, he will be used as a second or third option alongside fellow free agency addition Nelson Agholor and one of possession receivers Jakobi Meyers or Julian Edelman (or both depending on the play design). His presence might also help lift some pressure off former first-round draft pick N’Keal Harry.
Does he have positional versatility? As mentioned above, Bourne has shown that he can move around the formation no problem. In 2020, for example, he spent 40.7 percent of his offensive snaps in the slot and 58.4 percent on the outside. New England will likely use him in a similar fashion as well. His technical proficiency allows him to win from either alignment, but his general versatility does not extend beyond that yet.
What is his special teams value? Bourne played only four special teams snaps for the 49ers last year, but he does have some experience in the kicking game. Between 2017 and 2019, he played a combined 204 snaps in the game’s third phase: San Francisco employed him on the kickoff and punt return units and also gave him a handful of snaps on kickoff coverage. The Patriots, however, will probably try to limit his exposure on special teams.
What does it mean for New England’s salary cap? Signing a three-year, $15 million contract in New England, Bourne is a comparatively cheap option at wide receiver. In 2020, for example, he will hit the team’s books with a salary cap number of only $3.12 million — currently the 20th highest cap hit on the team. The numbers will go up to $5.67 million and $6.17 million over the next two years, but his contract will remain a solid mid-tier deal.
What does it mean for New England’s draft outlook? Even with Bourne signed to a three-year pact, New England should be in the market for additional help at the wide receiver position come draft time. With the exception of Jakobi Meyers, after all, the younger wideouts on the roster have all underwhelmed so far during their respective careers in New England. The pipeline needs to be kept open despite Bourne and Nelson Agholor now part of the mix as well.
One-sentence verdict: Kendrick Bourne is not a big play waiting to happen, but his skillset should fit in well with what New England is asking its wide receivers to do.
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