The scene between Bill Belichick and Kendrick Bourne looked far too familiar for comfort: an animated discussion after Bourne committed a penalty to set New England’s offense back.
On one hand, these moments happen in football amongst family, and there have probably been a dozen more heated sidelines momenta already this season that haven’t been caught on camera — and a few that have.
But this one reminded too closely of Belichick’s reaming of the wide receiver during joint practices with the Carolina Panthers — an incident which seemed to accelerate Bourne’s downfall within the organization along with his ejection from the fight that followed at the same practice — to ignore.
The optimist might point to Bourne’s season-high 34 snaps as a sign things might be turning a corner for the veteran pass-catcher. On top of that, Lil’Jordan Humphrey’s snaps decreased to 14 after he had out-snapped Bourne in each prior game this season.
But then you remember that rookie Tyquan Thornton immediately saw 25 snaps in his first game of the season, and it feels as if Bourne’s position might not be so safe after all.
Thornton looked like he was angling to overtake Bourne as the fourth receiver on the team during training camp, and the threat of his speed and explosive-play capability were on display in his first action on Sunday even if he and Bailey Zappe couldn’t connect. If the Patriots can begin to tap into Thornton’s potential, he could fit right in behind Jakobi Meyers, DeVante Parker and Nelson Agholor and provide a skill set no one else on the team truly can.
With Humphrey on hand to do the dirty work as the fifth receiver — a role the Patriots clearly valued enough to keep around even when Thornton returned — the Patriots might have a real decision on their hands with the trade deadline coming up at the end of the month.
Let’s not mince words: Bourne looks like an odd-man out here. He’s struggled to get consistent snaps despite making plays in limited opportunities, and he can seem to curry the favor of Belichick or Patricia consistently due behind-the-scenes angst or on-the-field gaffes.
Plus, with one of the most team-friendly deals on the payroll, Bourne’s contract and potential production will likely make him extremely attractive to other teams as November 1 approaches. The Patriots reportedly rebuffed trade offers for their receivers heading into the season — partly perhaps because of Thornton’s injury — but little has changed for Bourne since then even as three of his teammates (Meyers, Parker and Agholor) have had 100-yard games to start the year. With Thornton back, it’s hard to think they wouldn’t listen to offers at this point.
The Patriots work in silence well when it comes to trades, pulling off deals for players like Sony Michel and Shaq Mason that few were prepared for.
So don’t be shocked if you wake up one day to find Bourne heading to a receiver-needy team elsewhere. As much as the Patriots could use an explosive play or two like the ones he used to provide last season, they’ve apparently decided they don’t need him that much this time around.