Two days after his first appearance in pads at a training camp practice, wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell has been released by the Patriots.
Mitchell, a promising draft pick in 2016, struggled to get on the field because of chronic knee issues that reared up during training camp last season and haven’t gone away. Mitchell spent all of last season on injured reserve and hadn’t been able to participate in any team drills so far during training camp.
“He’s day-to-day,” was what coach Bill Belichick gave as an update last week.
The Patriots were trying to trade Mitchell when the young receiver had a knee procedure three days before training camp opened. It wasn’t a major procedure, just one intended to probe the source of the pain. But it revealed that there’s still a lack of clarity surrounding an injury that, at minimum, is a year old.
The likelihood is that trading partners were wary of Mitchell’s health, because he does have considerable talent when he’s able to get on the field. He caught 32 passes for 401 yards and four touchdowns during his rookie season, which included a big performance in Super Bowl LI: a six-catch, 70-yard effort that will go down as Mitchell’s last game with the organization. All but 7 of those yards came in the fourth quarter as the Patriots made their historic comeback, the former Georgia star dealing a crushing blow to Atlanta fans who probably once rooted for him.
“That’s my guy,” safety Devin McCourty said of Mitchell last week. “Younger guy that obviously you see a lot of him working his butt off to try to get back out there. It’s just sometimes, you know, 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.”
Mitchell earned Tom Brady’s trust quickly as a rookie, and was well-regarded within the organization and the community for his foundation’s work promoting children’s literacy. Team owner Robert Kraft footed the bill for a “Reading Rally” Mitchell hosted, during which he read the children’s book he wrote to a group of schoolchildren over the summer.
Each in attendance got a copy of the book, “The Magician’s Hat,” thanks to Kraft and Mitchell, who had another event planned to take place at Patriot Place this fall.
“I think the good thing about him is his spirits are always high,” McCourty said last week. “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 and do whatever he has to do.
“So, I keep encouraging him, keep him going, but, I don’t know, if you guys have talked to Malcolm, you can tell he has a good head on his shoulders and knows what he’s doing.”
Now, however, he’ll have to keep doing it somewhere else if he’s in shape to land with another team.
Last week, the Patriots added to their receivers room by signing veteran Eric Decker, who joins Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, Kenny Britt, Cordarrelle Patterson, Braxton Berrios, Riley McCarron, Devin Lucien, and Paul Turner at the position.
Even with Decker, it’s not the deepest group of receivers Brady has had to work with, which makes it more notable that the Patriots didn’t try another season with Mitchell on IR.
That probably means they came to believe the knee problems meant they couldn’t count on him in the long term. If they had put him on IR, the Patriots could have brought Mitchell back in midseason or waited until next year, arguably worth it for a good receiver on a rookie contract if they felt he’d make a full recovery.
Mitchell attempted to come off IR last season and was spotted at practice during the window in which players can be activated off the list, but was ultimately shut down for the year.
All in all, it’s a disappointing end to a Patriots story that never got a chance to flourish after a strong start.
Nora Princiotti can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @NoraPrinciotti.