Tyquan Thornton

Patriots Rumors: Maye, WRs, Hightower

As organized team activities have progressed in New England, it’s looking more and more like Jacoby Brissett may be the team’s starter under center in Week 1. Naturally, some have asked if that makes No. 3 overall pick Drake Maye the primary backup at the position or an emergency option to stash for development purposes.

According to Doug Kyed of the Boston Herald, Maye likely won’t need to sit and develop. In fact, Kyed reports that some in the building viewed Maye as a prospect ready to start right away as a rookie during the draft cycle. Even though Brissett is taking the lion’s share of first-team reps in OTAs so far, there’s plenty of time until training camp and the regular season for Maye to potentially take over the starting gig.

And, should Maye not beat out Brissett for the job, this also means that Maye likely won’t be stashed to sit and develop but, instead, will be the team’s primary backup behind Brissett. Kyed also notes that it makes more sense for the Patriots to stash and develop rookie sixth-round pick Joe Milton than it does to hold on to Bailey Zappe as an emergency third option. The team has seen what Zappe can provide up to this point, and while he won’t garner outstanding trade value, he should return something as an upgrade to many backup situations around the league.

Here are a few other rumors coming out of New England:

  • The Patriots’ wide receivers room is currently packed, while only six or seven players will likely end up on the 53-man roster to start the season. Kyed lists rookies Javon Baker and Ja’Lynn Polk as locks to make the team alongside Kendrick Bourne, Demario Douglas, and K.J. Osborn, leaving only one or two spots left for the rest of the group. That leaves a number of intriguing names in a precarious position including former Pro Bowler JuJu Smith-Schuster, former first-round pick Jalen Reagor, recent second-round pick Tyquan Thornton, and last year’s sixth-round pick Kayshon Boutte. As of right now, none of those four players are viewed as locks to make the roster in 2024.
  • New head coach Jerod Mayo and leading personnel executive Eliot Wolf are heading a new-look team in New England this offseason. One of the ways in which Mayo is attempting to bring the team into this new era is by appealing to the shorter attention spans of younger players. According to Jeff Howe of The Athletic, Mayo has tossed the old method of marathon meeting sessions, instead favoring a new philosophy of “25-minute mental sprints” before taking short breaks. It reportedly heightens the pace of meetings while allowing for appropriate rest time in between.
  • Since leaving the NFL in 2021, former Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower has enjoyed retirement. While he still shared a love and knowledge for the game, he had little interest in leaving the life he was living behind. In an interview, Hightower claimed that his former college coach Nick Saban and Mayo were the only two names that could’ve drawn him out of retirement onto the sideline, per Howe. It just so happened that his close friend and former teammate became the head coach of their old team and offered him Mayo’s old job of inside linebackers coach. It was one of the very few offers Hightower wouldn’t say “no” to.

Patriots Submit Offer To WR Calvin Ridley

The Patriots’ reported interest in receiver Calvin Ridley is very real. According to Josina Anderson, the Patriots have made an offer to the free agent wideout.

[RELATED: Patriots Pursuing Calvin Ridley]

The organization is also opting to “keep a deal on the table” following today’s reports that focused on the interesting logistics of the previous Jaguars/Falcons trade. If Jacksonville re-signs Ridley before 2pm tomorrow, they’ll owe Atlanta a second-round pick. If they wait beyond that deadline and re-sign the receiver, the Jaguars would only owe the Falcons a third-round pick.

This led some pundits to believe that Ridley was destined to return to Jacksonville and was simply biding his time to provide his organization with better draft capital. However, it sounds like the Patriots are still very much in the hunt, and it’ll be interesting to see how negotiations progress over the next 24 hours.

New England holds more than $80MM in cap space, and with Ridley sitting atop the WR market, it only made sense that the Patriots would target the free agent for their new-look offense. The team moved on from Mac Jones and added veteran Jacoby Brissett, and the organization appears to be leaning towards selecting a QB with the third-overall pick. Ridley would represent an intriguing target for whoever is under center for the Patriots in 2024 and beyond.

The Patriots’ receivers struggled in 2023, although that was partly due to the team’s inconsistent play at quarterback. The team has already moved on from DeVante Parker and is looking to unload JuJu Smith-Schuster, leaving plenty of question marks atop the depth chart. The team did agree to new deals with Kendrick Bourne and Jalen Reagor, but the rest of their depth chart features unproven options like Demario Douglas, Tyquan Thornton, and Kayshon Boutte.

Patriots Place Matt Judon On IR, Activate Tyquan Thornton, Sign Malik Cunningham To Active Roster

The Patriots opted for a busy weekend in the personnel office with today’s transactions. They started by activating wide receiver Tyquan Thornton from injured reserve. Unfortunately, this was followed up by the team finally deciding to place star pass rusher Matt Judon on IR, along with recently acquired tackle Tyrone Wheatley Jr. With a new spare roster spot, New England signed practice squad quarterback Malik Cunningham to the active roster. Finally, the Patriots announced their standard gameday practice squad elevations would be defensive tackle Jeremiah Pharms and wide receiver Jalen Reagor.

Let’s start with Thornton. One of the couple of moves here aimed at providing a spark on the offensive side of the ball, bringing back Thornton was a necessity. As JuJu Smith-Schuster and Demario Douglas deal with injuries, Thornton will come in as a reinforcement to earn targets alongside DeVante Parker, Kendrick Bourne, and Kayshon Boutte. Thornton didn’t quite live up to the high expectations of his draft stock last year as a rookie, but he’s one of the few returning receivers that quarterback Mac Jones worked with last year. He’ll hope to redeem himself a bit in Year 2 with the Patriots.

After multiple reports that he would be out indefinitely, Judon has finally been placed on IR. Based on the team slow-playing that transaction, it was already doubtful that Judon would make a return this season. Now, the earliest he could return from IR would be in Week 10. He’s joined on IR by Wheatley Jr., who was acquired in the trade that sent running back Pierre Strong to Cleveland.

The addition of Cunningham is an interesting move. He has the potential to provide a spark on offense in two ways. New England has worked him out plenty at wide receiver since signing him as an undrafted free agent, but Cunningham surpassed a lot of Lamar Jackson‘s passing marks as a quarterback at Louisville, ranking fourth all-time for passing yards and fifth all-time for passing touchdowns. Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reports that Cunningham’s return to the active roster will result in a three-year contract.

This will be Pharm’s third game being called up from the practice squad. He’s gotten a few snaps rotating in on the defensive line in the team’s last two blowout losses. Reagor was called up last week but didn’t actually see the field.

Patriots WR Tyquan Thornton Returns To Practice

The Patriots are in dire need of an offensive spark, and they welcomed back one of their most dynamic weapons on Tuesday. According to ESPN’s Mike Reiss, receiver Tyquan Thornton returned to practice today. This would signal that the Patriots have started the 21-day clock to activate Thornton from injured reserve.

Thornton suffered a shoulder injury in mid-August that ultimately landed him on injured reserve, keeping him off the field for the first four weeks of the season. There’s been increasing optimism that the former second-round pick could soon return, although he was forced to miss a fifth game before returning to practice. It remains to be seen if Thornton will be in the lineup for Sunday’s game against the Raiders.

Thornton doesn’t have much of a track record, having finished his rookie season with only 22 catches for 247 yards and two touchdowns. It’s unrealistic for him to completely turn around the offense, and any excitement surrounding his return is more a reflection of New England’s current offensive struggles.

The Patriots offense hasn’t found the end zone since Week 3, with Mac Jones tossing four interceptions over the past two games. Many of the offense’s issues can be directly attributed to Jones, and the underwhelming offensive play-calling has also come under fire (despite the return of offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien). Still, even if things were clicking, no one would be overly enthusiastic about New England’s receiving depth.

JuJu Smith-Schuster has averaged 17 yards per game since coming over to New England during the offseason. DeVante Parker has been limited to only 668 yards in 15 games with the Patriots (including four appearances this season), and tight end Mike Gesicki has 12 catches through his first five games with the organization. Wide receiver Kendrick Bourne and tight end Hunter Henry currently lead the team in receiving, and the team has even leaned on rookie sixth-round pick Demario Douglas for a chunk of snaps.

In other words, the Patriots’ current crop of receiving options haven’t done anything to separate themselves from the pack. The Patriots will likely continue to roll with their committee approach, but there’s at least an opportunity for Thornton to establish himself as the WR1.

AFC East Notes: Dolphins, Jets, Thornton

The 2019 draft produced several long-running partnerships between defensive tackles and the teams that chose them in the first round. Four of the six DTs selected in Round 1 that year signed extensions this offseason. Quinnen Williams, Ed Oliver, Dexter Lawrence and Jeffery Simmons have new deals in hand. Jerry Tillery did not work out for the Chargers, but he was the only first-round DT from the ’19 class not to negotiate an extension this offseason. Christian Wilkins spent months discussing a deal with the Dolphins, but the sides have tabled matters to 2024, when the former No. 13 overall pick will be on the cusp of free agency.

Guarantees represented a sticking point for Wilkins, but Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald offers that the Dolphins appeared to be skittish about authorizing a Williams-level deal for a player without much in the way of sack production. Wilkins’ camp undoubtedly pushed for terms in the Williams-Lawrence-Simmons-Daron Payne neighborhood ($22.5-$24MM per year), as the Clemson alum led all DTs with 98 tackles last season. Wilkins, who produced 89 tackles in 2021, has never topped 4.5 sacks in a season. He has also eclipsed seven QB hits in just one of his four NFL slates (13 in 2021). Wilkins has not requested a trade, per Jackson, and the Dolphins — despite trade interest emerging — are not interested in moving him.

The Dolphins will have the option of franchise-tagging Wilkins next year. The Commanders used the tag as a bridge to a Payne deal, but the D-tackle tag number will likely come in north of $20MM in 2024. The Dolphins are currently projected to be $27MM over the cap next year (29th in the league), though much will obviously change between now and then. Here is the latest from the AFC East:

Patriots To Place WR Tyquan Thornton On IR

The Patriots’ receiving room will be shorthanded to begin the season. Tyquan Thornton is headed to injured reserve, reports ESPN’S Jeremy Fowler.

As a result of the move, Thornton will be sidelined for at least the first four games of the campaign. The 2022 second-rounder is dealing with a shoulder injury, and the timing of the ailment made him a logical candidate to be given the IR designation after the team’s initial 53-man roster was set.

Free agent signing JuJu Smith-Schuster is set to headline New England’s WR room this season, one which also features returnees DeVante Parker and Kendrick Bourne. The latter struggled in his second Patriots campaign last season, but outside trade interest was shut down. The team’s top three on the receiver depth chart will thus be intact to start the year, one in which signficant improvement in the passing game is expected.

Thornton has likewise been tapped for a step forward in his second NFL season. The Baylor product recorded 247 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 22 receptions as a rookie. With a veteran trio ahead of him in the pecking order, he may not be able replicate the 66% snap share he logged last year upon return, but playing time should be available given the lack of star power in New England’s pass-catching corps.

When healthy, Thornton will be able to provide the Patriots with a deep threat on offense, something which would go a long way in helping the unit become more efficient and earn him a larger role moving forward. The 23-year-old was limited to 13 games last season, however, so missed time once again will add to the urgency he faces to establish himself as a dependable contributor when he is cleared to return.

Injury Notes: Achane, Gary, Howard

Dolphins rookie running back De’Von Achane avoided a serious injury. After getting carted to the locker room during Saturday’s preseason game against the Texans, Archane has been diagnosed with a shoulder injury and is considered “week-to-week” (per ESPN’s Marcel Louis-Jacques).

The RB suffered the injury when a Texans defensive lineman fell on him during the third quarter of the exhibition. Archane was able to return to the sideline under his own power, but he was later carted to the locker room. Fortunately, it sounds like the rookie’s injury wasn’t all that serious, although it’s uncertain if he’ll be on the field for Week 1.

The Dolphins drafted the Texas A&M product in the third round of this year’s draft. The Dolphins still have both Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr. in the backfield, but the rookie was expected to play a role alongside the two vets. If Archane is forced to miss regular season time, that could open a spot for holdovers Salvon Ahmed and Myles Gaskin. The Dolphins are also rostering UDFA Chris Brooks.

More injury notes from around the NFL…

  • After tearing his ACL last November, Packers linebacker Rashan Gary participated in his first team drills on Tuesday. As Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette writes, the pass rusher didn’t show any signs of rust, which only provides optimism regarding his availability for Week 1. Of course, it’s no guarantee that Gary will be ready to go for the season opener, with the player revealing that he’s got “a couple more boxes to check off” before he’s cleared.
  • Tytus Howard underwent hand surgery earlier this month, putting his status for Week 1 in doubt. However, the Texans offensive tackle is making “steady progress” in his recovery and hasn’t been ruled out for the start of the regular season, per Aaron Wilson of KPRC2 in Houston (via Twitter). Howard was given a recovery time of four to six weeks, so a Week 1 return isn’t overly optimistic.
  • Patriots wide receiver Tyquan Thornton landed hard on his shoulder during practice last Thursday and is considered “week-to-week,” per Christopher Price of the Boston Globe (on Twitter). The 2022 second-round pick showed flashes of his potential during his rookie campaign, finishing the season with 263 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns. Thornton could find himself buried on the depth chart behind Devante Parker, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Kendrick Bourne in 2023.
  • Broncos wideout Jalen Virgil suffered an injury during his 50-yard catch on Saturday. While he’ll need knee surgery to repair his meniscus, Mike Klis of 9News in Denver reports (via Twitter) that the receiver’s ACL is intact. Unfortunately, Virgil’s comeback probably won’t take place until the 2024 campaign, as he was placed on injured reserve today. The former UDFA won’t be eligible to play for the Broncos this season, but he could play for another team if he’s granted his release.

Patriots LS Joe Cardona Done For Year

One of New England’s longest-tenured players is done for the season. ESPN’s Mike Reiss reports (via Twitter) that long snapper Joe Cardona has a torn tendon in his foot and won’t play again this season.

The 30-year-old suffered a partial tear in his foot earlier this month, but he still managed to play through the injury in Week 15. It’s uncertain if Cardona made the injury worse by playing, but either way, he won’t be back on the field until the 2023 campaign. Reiss notes that the veteran is expected to be fully recovered by the spring.

Cardona made a name for himself when he became the fourth long snapper in NFL history to be drafted, with the Patriots selecting the Navy product in the fifth round of the 2015 draft. Cardona hasn’t missed a game since joining the organization, appearing in all of New England’s 127 regular season games and 13 playoff games over that stretch. During his time with New England, Cardona has earned a pair of Super Bowl rings. He was also named to the organization’s ‘All-Dynasty Team’ in 2020. Cardona inked a four-year extension with the Patriots in 2018 that is set to expire following this season.

Elsewhere on the injury front, receiver DeVante Parker and cornerback Jalen Mills will both be out again for the Patriots this weekend when they take on the Bengals. Running back Damien Harris, cornerback Jack Jones, and receivers Tyquan Thornton and Jakobi Meyers are all questionable for this weekend.

Minor NFL Transactions: 10/8/22

Here are the roster moves for today, leading into gameday tomorrow. Reminder that gameday elevations will revert to the practice squad after this weekend’s games:

Arizona Cardinals

Atlanta Falcons

Baltimore Ravens

Buffalo Bills

Carolina Panthers

Cincinnati Bengals

Cleveland Browns

Dallas Cowboys

Detroit Lions

Houston Texans

Jacksonville Jaguars

Los Angeles Chargers

Los Angeles Rams

Miami Dolphins

Minnesota Vikings

New England Patriots

New Orleans Saints

New York Giants

New York Jets

Philadelphia Eagles

Pittsburgh Steelers

San Francisco 49ers

Seattle Seahawks

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Washington Commanders

Minor NFL Transactions: 10/5/22

Today’s minor moves:

Arizona Cardinals

Atlanta Falcons

Cincinnati Bengals

Cleveland Browns

Dallas Cowboys

Detroit Lions

Miami Dolphins

Minnesota Vikings

New England Patriots

New Orleans Saints

Philadelphia Eagles

Seattle Seahawks

Tennessee Titans

Washington Commanders

A number of players who were placed on IR after the preseason and prior to the regular season returned to practice today. These players will have a three-week practice window until they have to be activated to the active roster. Otherwise, they’ll be ineligible to return this season.

One of the most surprising returns is Cardinals cornerback Antonio Hamilton. The former undrafted free agent rode a strong preseason to a potential starting gig, but he was sidelined with second-degree burns after spilling hot oil on his legs and feet. Kliff Kingsbury previously said an early-October return may be a “little aggressive” (per ESPN’s Josh Weinfuss on Twitter), but the cornerback ended up working his way back to practice.