The New England Patriots used the first week of free agency to completely rebuild one of the worst passing offenses in football. While Cam Newton is still around and regardless of how the draft goes a relatively safe bet to serve as the starting quarterback again in 2021, the talent level around him has increased significantly.
Not only did New England sign the two best tight ends available on the open market — Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry — the team also brought in a pair of experienced wide receivers. Nelson Agholor adds some much-needed big play potential, while Kendrick Bourne will provide the Patriots with a quality second or third option capable of filling numerous roles in their aerial attack.
Bourne himself feels good about the fit, as he pointed out during his first conference call with the New England media.
“I think my skills fit obviously well,” he said. “I can do different things, wherever they want to put me is my main thing. I’m just here to do what I’m asked to do. If I have to run the same route 50 times, I’m going to run the same route 50 times. I just feel like I can do anything, I can run any route.”
Bourne did his job quite well when he was still with the San Francisco 49ers. A former rookie free agent, he appeared in 61 combined regular season and playoff games between the 2017 and 2020 seasons. While never a top option within the 49ers’ deep arsenal of pass catchers, he still carved out a role as a reliable possession receiver and notched 143 receptions for 1,857 yards and 12 touchdowns.
While the numbers themselves don’t stand out compared to other wide receivers available in free agency this year, Bourne is well aware that the Patriots see his potential within their system.
“They could have gone and gotten anybody, there’s so much talent out there,” the 25-year-old said. “I’m just grateful for the opportunity. They’ve seen something in me, they’ve seen that I fit well where they want to use me. My job is to come in and do exactly what they want me to do. I know they’ll put me in a position to be successful, so it’s my job to know the playbook, know the ins and outs of the organization and all that kind of stuff so that I can be successful and be a reason why they gave me this money.”
New England gave Bourne a three-year contract worth $15 million. While the deal is modest in comparison to what other pass catchers are getting around the league and in New England as well, the ex-49er still wants to prove himself a worthy investment.
How does he plan to do that? Through work ethic and diving into the playbook headfirst.
“The offense, it probably is complex. I haven’t seen the whole playbook; I haven’t seen everything but football’s hard, everything about football is hard. Playbook, playing, competing — everything is hard. You just have to have the mindset, ‘I’m a hard worker,’” he told shortly after signing his contract last month.
“Bill [Belichick] told us a story about Randy Moss, how he came in and all he did was focus on the playbook. Simple as that, and he had his best year. That’s what I’m going to focus on. If I can go out there comfortable, knowing exactly what I need to do, I know I will be successful. I believe in my game that much.”
Bourne’s confidence is justified: despite going undrafted, he grew into a valuable player in San Francisco, and put himself in a position to cash in during this year’s free agency. It also does not end with himself but also extends to the team.
Even though New England went just 7-9 last season and missed the playoffs behind a struggling offense and inconsistent defense, Bourne is already seeing the team reverse its course.
“I’m definitely excited,” he said. “They’re going to turn around in one year. I can honestly see it.”
Given his contract and projected role, the Patriots are banking on Bourne to assist with this turnaround.