There was some initial hope that Kendrick Bourne might not have suffered a major injury when he went down against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday. However, tests conducted the following morning revealed that that is not the case: the New England Patriots’ veteran wide receiver suffered a torn ACL.
The injury means that Bourne’s season is now over, and that he will enter a lengthy recovery process. It also means that the Patriots suffered another loss: after already losing both cornerbacks Christian Gonzalez and Marcus Jones to torn labrums, Bourne becomes the next core player to see his season come to a premature end.
With that said, let’s take a look at how the injury impacts the Patriots from a big-picture point of view.
The Patriots need a new WR1: Bourne was the Patriots’ most productive pass catcher this season, and quarterback Mac Jones’ favorite target. His absence will create a sizable hole within an offense that already has had its fair share of problems this season.
The show must go on, however. For New England this means that the search for a new No. 1 receiver is on.
Based on the previous two games, it appears that rookie Demario Douglas will continue playing a major role as a slot receiver; the youngster has looked promising and steadily saw his workload increase this year. Bourne’s spot alongside him will now likely go to veteran JuJu Smith-Schuster, who entered the lineup versus Miami when Bourne went out.
Smith-Schuster arrived in New England earlier this offseason via a three-year, $25.5 million free agency deal. And while he only caught 15 passes for 89 yards and one touchdown so far as a Patriot, his skillset makes him best suited to replace Bourne’s contributions and develop into a go-to guy for Jones.
In addition, the Patriots might also turn to Tyquan Thornton and Jalen Reagor. The two highly-drafted wideouts lack the experience of Smith-Schuster, or the chemistry Bourne had with Jones, but they too are potential candidates to fill Bourne’s role as the Z-receiver.
The injury might have an impact on the trade deadline approach: The NFL trade deadline will come up on Tuesday afternoon, and Bourne was seen as a potential — if unlikely, from our point of view — candidate to be moved. That option is now off the table, and it may not be the only one meeting that fate.
The aforementioned Tyquan Thornton, who was a healthy scratch versus Miami, was also seen as a trade candidate. However, the Patriots might prefer holding onto him now that Bourne’s season is over.
New England’s wide receiver group loses its leader: Bourne was not just No. 1 on the Patriots roster in targets, receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns, he also was the longest-tenured member of the Patriots’ wide receiver group (not counting career special teamer Matthew Slater). That alone would have made him a natural leader in the room.
Pair his experience with his upbeat persona and high level of energy, and you get a tone-setter among the team’s wide receivers. Now, somebody else will have to step up.
A roster spot will be freed up: With Bourne out for the rest of the year, he will soon be moved to injured reserve. While theoretically eligible to return, he will not come back, meaning that a spot on the 53-man roster has permanently been filled.
The Patriots have no pure wide receivers on the practice squad as prime candidates to take over, but there are some options to be considered.
QB/WR Malik Cunningham: Cunningham had a brief stint on the active team earlier this month, but was recently moved back down to the practice squad. While he is unpolished as both a quarterback and wide receiver,
OT Conor McDermott: Even with Michael Onwenu holding down the fort at right tackle the last two games, the Patriots might prefer moving him back inside. If so, using McDermott might make sense — as would then promoting him to the 53.
DT Jeremiah Pharms Jr.: Practice squad players can be elevated to the game day roster on three occasions per year, and the team has already used all of Pharms Jr.’s. As a consequence, bringing him up makes sense if they want to keep using him.
Additionally, New England might look to outside help to bolster its wide receiver depth. Unless they swing a trade, however, it seems unlikely a player will be added to the active roster right away; a practice squad promotion seems like the safer bet in that case.
His free agency value will likely plummet: What makes Bourne’s injury even more disappointing is the fact that he was in the middle of a very promising season, thus setting himself up nicely for a trip to free agency next March. While it only takes one team to invest, the injury changes his outlook — and possibly the Patriots’ ability to bring him back on the cheap.
New England will save some incentive money: In addition to the money he might lose out on as a free agent next offseason, Bourne will now also not be able to meet his contract incentives this year. He had up to $1.5 million on the line, and was on pace to earn himself $1.25 million by the time his knee gave out. Based on his production up until this point, that number has now plummeted zero.
Speaking strictly in financial terms, the Patriots do save money. Obviously, they would have preferred had Bourne been able to earn most if not all of those $1.5 million.