Inevitably, the Patriots have ripped off the band-aid at last and released third-year wideout Malcolm Mitchell. Mitchell missed all of the 2017-18 season with a knee ailment, missing most of New England’s practices this offseason as well, never being able to fully practice with his teammates.
Mitchell’s knee woes were an issue for him in college, too, thus why a player of his caliber dropped all the way to the Patriots in the fourth round of the 2016 draft. He originally tore his ACL in 2013 at Georgia and underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair cartilage in his knee just before the start of the 2014 season. Soon enough, these issues arose again in a Patriots uniform, starting off by him missing the regular season finale against Miami in his rookie year and also the divisional round game against Houston in those playoffs. Then, following Super Bowl 51 in August, he suffered yet another knee injury in the preseason that landed him on Injured Reserve, essentially never to be seen again.
He wasn’t able to fully participate in OTAs and training camp this year with the rest of the team, working with trainers and doing his own thing to lighten the load on his knee. On July 23rd, it was reported that Mitchell underwent a non-surgical procedure to scope out what was going on with his knee. Time had finally run its course and New England released him on August 6th. On July 30th, Bill Belichick even called Mitchell “day-to-day” when meeting with the media after practice. That day never came.
One thing to note, though, the Patriots did not waive Malcolm Mitchell with an injury designation when they released him. This essentially means that he passed a physical. If he clears waivers, he will not end up on New England’s IR and will instead become a free agent. So, Mitchell is physically able to step foot on a football field, his time with the Patriots is simply up. That’s life.
Mitchell’s rookie season was quite the memorable one. It all began in the first preseason game of 2016. You may remember that he dislocated his elbow (I will spare you from the photograph because we do not need to go down that road again), and he only missed the standard four weeks, back just in time for the regular season opener against Arizona. We all collectively knew that he was something special when he basically magically recovered from a *dislocated* *elbow*.
Mitchell racked in 32 catches for 401 yards and four touchdowns in his rookie season, most of that production coming in the second half of the season, when it mattered most, of course. He scored all four of his touchdowns in the final six games of the regular season. The most important game of his short career came on none other than February 5th, 2017 against the Atlanta Falcons. As I mentioned earlier, Mitchell missed the regular season finale and the first game of the playoffs due to his knee injury, so prior to the Super Bowl, he had only played in the AFC Championship Game against Pittsburgh. I recall not expecting him to have a role in the biggest game of the season after he only caught one pass just two weeks before.
Well, Mitchell went down in New England Patriots lore that magical night. In just one quarter, he caught five passes for 63 yards, totaling six receptions for 70 yards at the end of the evening. Mitchell had a string of highly important plays that lead to big things in crunch time. He first accounted for 40 yards over a five-snap span to set up Gostkowski’s field goal. Again, Mitchell was there on New England’s next drive, moving the chains on a third-and-11, which eventually led to a touchdown pass to Danny Amendola and a James White two-point conversion. The final pass he caught from Tom Brady came with 2:34 left in regulation. Mitchell got tripped up by his own feet on the route, but eventually set himself up just in time to catch Brady’s pass for 11 yards, reaching and turning up the left sideline, when the Patriots needed 10 yards. The rest is history.
To put a long story short, there’s no way in hell New England makes that comeback and wins without Malcolm Mitchell. He came up big in not only the regular season, but in the second half of the season and in the most important and biggest game on the biggest stage in all of sports. He was clutch. No wonder why he fit in so well in Foxborough.
All of his teammates and coaches, even Tom Brady, had and have extremely high praise for the player. At the start of this year’s training camp, safety Devin McCourty had this to say about Mitchell:
“That’s my guy. Younger guy that obviously you see a lot of him working his butt off trying to get back out there. It’s just sometimes he’s kind of battled through injuries and being out there. But he’s been a good player when he’s been out there, very effective for us. I think the good thing about him is his spirits are always high. He’s always continuing to work like he’s not discouraged at all. He continues to put in the work and try to get out there to do what he has to do. So, keep encouraging him, keep him going. But if you guys have talked to Malcolm, you can tell he’s got a good head on his shoulders and knows what he’s doing.”
Head coach Bill Belichick said of Mitchell:
“It’s unfortunate that it didn’t work out, but I don’t know how he could have put any more into it than he did.’’
One of my favorite quotes came from Tom Brady. This one came just days after Super Bowl 51 when he sat down with Sports Illustrated, offering insight into the player and his work ethic:
“ Malcolm has done a great job all season long, really driving off the ball and then creating separation when he plants. I think he had earned that trust of everybody based on the route that was called and the coverage that we were getting, so he wasn’t a guy that you are going to have out there that say ‘look, everything, in the world tells you to throw it here but don’t throw it because he can’t come up with a play in those spots’, and everybody had confidence to put Malcolm in those spots if he got it so, you know, he proved everybody right because he came up with the plays.”
I absolutely love that quote; I mean, you hear Brady singing praise daily in regards to his receivers and teammates in general, but nothing like that. The way he talks about him feels unique to me, it feels passionate.
Malcolm Mitchell is yet another example of how ruthless life as an NFL player can be. You take a risk when you put on pads and step foot onto the field every single day, and sometimes that risk can be fatal to your body and your career. Injuries are inevitable in every single sport, but few are as catastrophic as they are in professional football. Mitchell is unfortunately a prime example of that. He had a stellar career at Georgia, slipped to an organization like the Patriots and quickly became a fan favorite simply by putting the work in both mentally and physically. He was, dare I say, a perfect Patriot. He at least had everything it took to be a perfect Patriot. His attitude, dedication, speed, you name it.
He went from a star on the rise to an ex-Patriot in virtually one season. Yet another “what if” to add to the list. He had potential and hell, he still does. I hope he can make a full recovery down the road and make a name for himself and become an impact player on a good team. He doesn’t come off as a person who will give up no matter what life throws at him; I fully expect him to do everything in his power to make that happen.
As much as myself and every other Patriots fan on the planet would have loved to keep him, the team simply could not continue playing the waiting game with him any longer. He had missed an entire season, spilling into this offseason, unable to practice with everyone else. The Patriots need guys who can actually play, as does any team at any level especially as we’re in the month of August now with preseason games about to start, not to mention the lack of receiver depth on the team as is. It’s a brutal reality but, nonetheless, the kid has a place in everyone’s little Patriots fan hearts forever. The kid was flashy, quick, smart, athletic, dedicated to his craft, an overall joy to watch and, once again, helped bring home that fifth trophy. There’s not much more you could ask for from a guy who’s been pushing through gruesome knee injuries his entire professional career.