The news came out, per ESPN’s Field Yates and Mike Reiss, that 2017 top draft selection defensive end Derek Rivers has suffered a torn ACL and a sprained LCL. The rookie will get a second opinion to confirm whether surgery is needed, per NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport.
The third-round selection injured himself during Thursday’s joint practice with the Houston Texans. He walked off the field under his own power, however he was clearly in pain.
The Patriots were already thin at defensive end, after the Rob Ninkovich retirement, and this injury certainly does not help.
After defensive end Trey Flowers, there is a lot of uncertainty on the depth chart. Kony Ealy is the favorite to land the opposite defensive end spot, but he has been a mixed bag thus far in training camp and preseason.
After Ealy, the Patriots have Geneo Grissom, who was on the Patriots practice squad for the majority of last year, and 2017 fourth-round selection, Deatrich Wise.
The Patriots can use linebacker Dont’a Hightower off the edge, but that will leave the Patriots thin at linebacker. The signing of linebacker David Harris will help the linebacking corps, but the depth after him is questionable, as well.
Head coach and general manager Bill Belichick must make an outside acquisition, either via trade or free agency to add depth to a very thin position.
There are not a lot of options, but some are intriguing. Defensive end Dwight Freeney is a free agent, and is coming off a productive season with the Atlanta Falcons, where he was primarily used as a situational pass-rusher.
The long-time Indianapolis Colt has enjoyed a productive career (as many Patriots fans know too well), and signing him would be a wise move to add some much needed depth.
Defensive ends Paul Kruger and Mario Williams are also unrestricted free agents, and I would expect the Patriots to at least have one of the three players in for a visit.
Another option would be to convince the recently retired Rob Ninkovich to come out of retirement for one last run at another Lombardi Trophy.
While Ninkovich was not particularly effective last season, he gave the Patriots depth at both defensive end and linebacker, and he did what Belichick always praises: doing your job.
One last avenue the Patriots could take to add some depth is to explore the trade market. Recently, the Patriots have made some trades that have brought in very productive players.
The list includes Akeem Ayers, Akiem Hicks, Kyle Van Noy and Jonathan Casillas. Adding a low-risk, high-reward player for a late-round draft pick has always been a mantra for Belichick, and I would not be surprised if he made another one of those moves.