After fielding one of the worst assortments of receiving talent in the league last year, the New England Patriots needed to make some considerable investments this offseason. In doing so, they completely rebuilt their wide receiver depth chart: Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne were signed to multi-year deals to help turn the struggling group around.
While it remains to be seen how successful they will be, it seems as if they are already off to a good start in New England — at least when listening to those working closely alongside them.
“Those guys have come in here and have accepted the role of being a pro. They work extremely hard, they dedicate some time both here in the weight room, and then off the field in terms of studying and learning the new playbook — like any new player tries to,” their position coach, Mick Lombardi said about the two pass catchers.
“But I think their mindset of knowing what it takes to be productive in the league [is] similar to a guy like Damiere Byrd who we had here last year and who had to do the same thing. Being a pro is not just performing on Sunday at a high level, but it’s also performing off the field, in the weight room, in your playbook, at home, whatever you have to do. They’re doing a great job of that.”
While Agholor and Bourne were both added with the expectation of playing prominent roles in New England, their journeys to the Patriots were quite different.
Agholor entered the NFL as a first-round draft pick by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2015. He saw prominent playing time right away, and over the next few seasons developed into a productive member of the Eagles’ passing offense and top-two option at the wide receiver position.
Unfortunately, however, he produced a sub-par season while playing for a new contract in 2019: Agholor posted his worst receiving numbers since his second year in the league, and eventually had to sign a minimum-salary deal with the Las Vegas Raiders as a free agent. His decision to join the Raiders was still a good one, though, as Agholor finished his lone season in Nevada with 48 catches for 896 yards as well as eight touchdowns.
Three months after his final game with the club, he signed a two-year, $22 million contract in New England.
Bourne, meanwhile, joined the Patriots on a three-year, $15 million pact. Originally coming into the NFL as an undrafted free agent signing by the San Francisco 49ers in 2017, Bourne carved out a role on the team’s roster and proved himself a reliable and consistent rotational option over the next four years.
While Bourne never carried the WR1 label in San Francisco, he still managed to post some strong numbers. The 2020 season was his best in this regard: after re-signing with the 49ers, he caught 49 passes for 667 yards and a pair of scores despite missing time on the Reserve/Covid-19 list. His production put him on New England’s free agency radar and he joined the team on the same day as Agholor.
Since then, the two have left a positive impression on their teammates.
“They’re family already,” said Jakobi Meyers. “I love having them around, just the energy they bring and how hard they work. They’re definitely two guys who you can tell want to be the best at what they do. Every day we come in here they push each other, they push us. They just definitely brought some new life to the room, and I’m definitely excited to have them here.”
“It’s just like bringing in two big brothers,” added Isaiah Zuber. “Those guys came in, they took me under their wings. It seems like those guys have been in this offense for, like, years now. They just have this confidence and they instill this confidence into me really just watching them execute.”
The two wide receivers are on different ends of the depth chart — Meyers is a de facto roster lock and starting-caliber option, Zuber is on the bubble after a year on the practice squad — but their statements still say a lot about their new teammates. Both Agholor and Bourne appear to have integrated well into the Patriots’ system and locker room, already taking on prominent roles with the team.
At least as far as Agholor is concerned, head coach Bill Belichick also confirmed this during a media conference call last month.
“He’s a smart kid,” Belichick said about the former first-round pick. “He’s got a lot of position flexibility and good skill and talent. He’s like everybody else, learning from scratch, learning a little bit of a new offense and some things; the way we call things and do things and all that, but nothing that he or any other new players can’t handle. It’s just part of the process, but he’s doing well. Good to work with him.”
Given that Agholor and Bourne are projected to see heavy action as part of New England’s rebuilt passing arsenal, statements by teammates and coaches are obviously encouraging. Now, however, comes the hard part: living up to them and actually helping the Patriots offense get back on track.