Imagine, if you will: you are Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, reigning back-to-back MVP.
Practice is in the books, and you’ve done your non-contractually-mandated extra couple hours of tape grinding. Now it’s time to settle into your cozy Monsterpiece Theater chair in the study, ready to devour another hundred pages of the latest entry in the Aaron Rodgers Book Club, when....
....the phone rings. It’s a Facetime, and it’s Packers GM Brian Gutekunst.
(not sure if GMs are usually Facetiming players to give them important player personnel news, but for the purposes of this exercise, it’s more fun to imagine they do, so, just roll with it)
“We got you some help....a whole new receiving corps, actually”
“...wow, are you serious? That’s great!”
“Wait till you hear who’s coming to Green Bay: Devante Parker, Jakobi Meyers, Kendrick Bourne, Nelson Agholor, and a 2022 second-round pick that runs a 4.28”
At this point, presumably Aaron Rodgers either passes out from happiness or lines up a round of tequila shots for himself and then passes out from happiness.
The point here is that while Aaron Rodgers would probably do unspeakable things to get one of those receivers on his current squad, the New England Patriots are sporting their deepest pass-catching corps since 2017. Any one of the guys we just name-checked would make a lot of quarterbacks quite happy as a complimentary receiver, and Mac Jones made plenty of hay with Jakobi, Kendrick, and Nelson as his de facto top-3 last season. Going into this season with those three plus Devante Parker as a classic create-a-Madden-player X receiver SHOULD have been a recipe for progress from 2021. And not incremental progress, either. The “oh they’re making a STATEMENT” kind.
Instead, as we’re all acutely aware of by now, not only have a lot of the results been, let’s say, mixed, for various reasons, but arguably the most promising receiver of the bunch from 2021 appears to be frozen out of the offense more or less entirely.
We’re of course referring to Kendrick Bourne, who even if we factor in a lingering turf toe injury that’s kept him on and off of the injury report and mostly out of the starting lineup, has inexplicably been frozen out of the offense in favor of pretty much everybody else.
Why? Your guess is as good as mine.
We can definitively rule out a few explanations that typically result in players with proven production riding the pine, though:
- Kendrick doesn’t suck. Quite the opposite, actually. AND...
- There’s nobody that’s proven they’re demonstrably better enough than him that it’d result in his snap counts looking like this:
(snap counts are on the far right; he’s played over 50% just twice)
...when Jakobi Meyers (who admittedly has turned into quite a baller in his own right) and Devante Parker are getting snap counts like this (respectively):
And even Nelson Agholor is getting snap counts like this!
(*no offense, Nelson, but, surely you understand.)
First, to establish our premise, let’s run the numbers and establish the case that Kendrick Bourne does, in fact, kick major ass.
The stats, from Bourne’s first campaign in New England last season after arriving from a VERY different offense in San Francisco:
- 70 targets
- 55 catches
- 78.6 catch percentage (for context purposes, Julian Edelman has a career catch percentage of 65.9%)
- 47.1 yards per game
800 receiving yards, five touchdowns, including that glorious 75-yard bomb that helped send the Cowboys game to OT.
KENDRICK BOURNE 75 YARDS TO THE HOUSE!!!!— TSN EDGE (@TSN_Edge) October 17, 2021
PATRIOTS (+165 ML) BACK IN FRONT! #ForeverNE
and our boy averaged 14.5 yards per reception, which, again just for comparison purposes, Cooper Kupp last year averaged 13.4 yards.
A couple more fun ones: on 70 targets in 2021, KB had two (2) drops. He also averaged a clean 7.0 yards after the catch per reception, so, when people say he’s a chain-mover, you know we’re telling the truth.
If “the more you can do” is more your style, then how about this one: on 12 carries last season, Bourne racked up a svelte 125 yards and moved the chains to the tune of 7 first downs. And that’s all Belichick and McDaniels - KB had ZERO carries in his entire 4-year tenure with the 49ers. Not a bad little changeup to have in your arsenal!
And finally, as NESN’s venerable Zack Cox pointed out at the end of September, Bourne also crushes it in the advanced stats department; ESPN made up something called Catch Score that, to quote them, works like this:
Catch Score aims to measure a player’s “ability to catch the ball … relative to expectation on the play based on the positioning of players on the field, (with the) skill of the quarterback … controlled for,” wrote ESPN’s Seth Walder, who spotlighted Bourne for his notably high grade in relation to his relative lack of playing time this season.
Kendrick Bourne, as of the writing of Zack’s article, LED the NFL in Catch Score among receivers with at least 70 targets since the beginning of the 2021 season. Not a typo.
This isn’t exactly an advanced stat, but The Athletic’s Nate Tice knows what time it is. Put quite simply, Bourne can go up and get it. Like, make grown man type catches.
Kendrick Bourne’s powers amplify every yard he gets closer to the end zone pic.twitter.com/X9eaOcMhg3— Nate Tice (@Nate_Tice) November 14, 2021
And, in precisely what the Patriots WR corps has been starving for since the last wide receiver heyday of Edelman/Amendola/Hogan/Cooks, he can get open in a phone booth:
Kendrick Bourne with a crisp Dig route on the Patriots Dagger concept.— Nate Tice (@Nate_Tice) August 19, 2021
Look how he stays friendly to the QB and works *down* after his break to keep himself from drifting upfield on the route. pic.twitter.com/3Zxtsnl4F7
TL;DR - your eye test is correct. He good.
Funny enough, despite limited action in 2022, for whatever reason, despite only getting 15 targets on the season so far, Bourne’s stats appear....largely identical to his 2021 efficiency despite the drastically reduced volume.
- 14.2 yards per reception (vs 14.5 in 2021)
- 73.3% catch percentage (vs 78.6% in 2021)
- 10.4 yards per target, which seems like a fake stat in this year’s offense where it seems like every other play is a 3-and-out on offense. In 2021, it was 11.4.
.....and he’s started 1 game in 2022.
So it’s not like, despite the offense attempting to try new things in 2022 with wildly varying degrees of success, Kendrick Bourne forgot how to football. He’s the same dude. He’s just been relegated to mostly watching the game courtside and doing a beer pong celebrity shot here and there.
The reason for that relegation is anyone’s guess. We’re not here to speculate on any coach-player Mean Girls drama, but IF there was a falling out between Kendrick Bourne and one or all of the coaches......
Why wasn’t he traded? People were calling!
Not like this is super important at this point, but Da Bears allegedly were curious about Kendrick Bourne, and they just traded a second-round pick for Chase Claypool, arguably the least clock-aware player on the planet.
Per sources:— Doug Kyed (@DougKyed) November 1, 2022
- Two top teams have shown the most interest in #Colts RB Nyheim Hines before the trade deadline.
- The #Bears are among teams who have called the Patriots to gauge WR Kendrick Bourne's availability. https://t.co/QRGBXV0ctE
And if Bourne was out of the rotation to the point where the coaching staff felt like trading him would be addition by subtraction, a la shipping Randy Moss back to the Vikings in 2010, his contract suddenly looks like one of the most valuable in all of football. This is the league where AJ Brown just inked a four-year deal for $100,000,000.00, and in the category of “guy that we made so many jokes about, we kind of feel bad for him now”, Christian Kirk is getting paid $72,000,000.00 over four years by the Jaguars.
By comparison, Kendrick Bourne’s deal runs through 2023 and he has a cap hit this season of $6.4 million and for next season, he’s at the still-bargain-basement price of $6.9 million against the cap. No matter whether you fall into the Cap is Fake camp or the (correct) camp that the salary cap is a game and the better you understand the rules, the more likely you are to win, that contract alone for a 2nd/3rd receiver on pretty much any team that’s not already out of the playoff hunt would be worth its weight in gold. Put another way, if a team drafts a receiver in the back half of the first round, and hopes they turn into Justin Jefferson - which, needless to say, is pretty much the best outcome one could possibly dream of - Justin Jefferson counts for roughly $3.6 mil against the cap in 2022 and $4.2 mil in 2023 on his collectively-bargained rookie deal.
You could make a pretty convincing case that the only non-Agholor mistake Bill Belichick made in 2021 free agency was not signing Bourne for 5 or 6 years at that price.
(ok, fine, that’s probably not feasible, given that in every non-COVID year the salary cap explodes and no agent in their right mind would let a player worth their salt sign a half-a-decade-long deal at that moment in time, but still. We’re making a point here)
And that point is, it simply doesn’t stand to reason that if the team wanted to get rid of KB, even if it was as simple as “hey we want to get Tyquan Thornton some more action as the de facto WR3, and nobody will trade for Agholor on his current contract”, a deal couldn’t have been made. Quite the contrary. Kendrick’s proven production at this point, coupled with his extremely manageable cap hit for this year and next year, are a value combo that most teams would and/or should gobble up like it’s one of those Taco Bell boxes where you get 5 things and some nacho fries for the price of 3.
And yet, here we are, going into Week 9, and Kendrick Bourne is still on the squad. Perhaps more importantly, this is a Patriots offense that, despite the made-for-First-Take quarterback situation, is mostly in DIRE need of chain-moving plays and reliable pass-catchers.
Our already-razor-thin playoff chances depend on playing the kind of situational football that made the dynasty. Both eras of it. The situational football Troy Brown and Deion Branch and Danny Amendola and (salute) Malcolm Mitchell were nails in. The guys the GOAT could throw to before they were even open and be like “they’ll be there. just wait”.
If this ends up on Freezing Cold Takes, I’ll gladly shotgun a beer or whatever penalty is appropriate, but as of right now, the Patriots have a legit talent on the roster that has proven they can produce, in the exact ways that the Patriots love their wideouts to produce, day in and day out, and they’re wasting it by making KB run-block and ride the bench, because... reasons.
And especially given that both big-money tight ends from last season appear to be producing at the same rate as the secretary in Ghostbusters, leaving a weapon like Kendrick Bourne on the shelf seems either oblivious or malicious, or both.
Regardless of which one it is, with all due respect to the nerds that do the NBA thing and crave the offseason even more than the real season, if the goal is winning football games, Bourne needs to be on the field. A lot. And after the last few weeks, where between Bailey Zappe and Mac Jones, the passing game still looks like herding cats on more than a few snaps, not calling Kendrick’s number at this point is doing the dad thing where it’s like “nah I don’t need (tool that would clearly make the job easier), I got my flathead screwdriver, I’m fine”
The choice to keep Kendrick Bourne was deliberate. Now for the love of winning football games, let him and Mac cook.