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What placing linebacker Raekwon McMillan on injured reserve means for the Patriots

The 27-year-old was sent to IR on Thursday after reportedly suffering a partially torn Achilles in practice.

New York Jets v New England Patriots Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images

For New England Patriots linebacker Raekwon McMillan, the 2023 NFL season ended before it even began. The 27-year-old reportedly suffered a partially torn Achilles tendon during a recent practice, and was placed on injured reserve on Thursday.

What does the injury mean for the Patriots, though? Let’s find out.

The Patriots’ linebacker depth takes a hit. Outside of the season opener in Miami, McMillan was not a starter-level contributor on the Patriots defense in 2022. That being said, he carved out a niche as a package-specific role player and eventually was on the field for 250 of a possible 1,130 snaps on the defensive side of the ball (22.1%).

The team decided to re-sign him for the 2023 season via a one-year, $1.6 million contract, hoping to get similar contributions out of him again — or at the very least some experienced depth to back up the likes of Ja’Whaun Bentley and Jahlani Tavai in the off-the-ball linebacker department. That will not happen, though, meaning that New England’s depth at the position took a hit.

As things stand, the group now looks as follows:

  • Ja’Whaun Bentley (8)
  • Jahlani Tavai (48)
  • Mack Wilson Sr. (30)
  • Marte Mapu (--)
  • Chris Board (45)
  • Calvin Munson (43)
  • Terez Hall (59)
  • Olakunle Fatukasi (47)
  • Jourdan Heilig (--)

Team captain Bentley is the top option at the position, with Tavai as the No. 2 alongside him. Veterans Mack Wilson Sr. and Chris Board, as well as third-round rookie Marte Mapu, are also projected to carve out roles. With McMillan no longer part of the equation, the pressure will be on these depth players to step up and replace who was basically LB3 last season.

The injury also impacts the special teams operation. While he played a relatively small role on defense, McMillan did see regular opportunities in the kicking game. Playing 277 of 457 special teams snaps (60.6%), he was a five-unit special teamer in 2022: he was used on the punt return and coverage team, the kickoff return and coverage team, and the field goal/extra point blocking unit.

He finished with three tackles on the coverage squads, but was also on the field for one of the three kick return touchdowns the Patriots surrendered on the year (Week 18 in Buffalo). On the whole, though, his year as a special teamer was better than his year as a defender — meaning that New England also needs to find a way to fill his role in the game’s third phase.

New England’s roster still stands at a full 90. Placing him on IR removes McMillan from the active 90-man roster, but the Patriots still do not have a spot open on their team. After all, they signed veteran tight end Anthony Firkser to effectively take his position.

McMillan becomes the first Patriot on injured reserve. The Patriots entered Phase 3 of their offseason workouts with zero players on an injury list, meaning that McMillan is now the first. While this theoretically means he is out for the rest of the year as only players sent to IR after roster cutdowns are eligible to be reactivated, there is a chance he might take the field after all.

For that to happen, New England would have to release him from injured reserve with a settlement. Once deemed “healthy” via the settlement agreement, he would be able to sign a new contract elsewhere (and, after a certain period of time, with the Patriots as well).

Bad injury luck continues to follow McMillan: Due to his partially torn Achilles, McMillan now is looking toward missing his second of three seasons in New England; he also suffered a torn ACL in his first training camp with the club in 2021. There is a chance that he might still be playing in 2023, as noted above, but the fact remains that bad injury luck continues to follow McMillan.

The 27-year-old, after all, also missed his entire 2017 rookie season with the Miami Dolphins because of injury. In total, he has appeared in just 61.6 percent of possible games since turning pro (61 of 99) — a number that will likely decrease even more this season.