FOXBORO -- Malcolm Mitchell's had a rough go over the course of the last year of so.
After serving as a key cog in his team's Super Bowl LI comeback victory over the Falcons as a rookie, Mitchell dealt with knee issues that limited him in last year's training camp. He played only in the team's second preseason game against the Texans, but in that game he aggravated his knee and sat out for the remainder of the preseason schedule.
He hit injured reserve on the night of last year's season-opener. He had an opportunity to return off of IR and practiced with the team late in the season. Despite his progress, he was never activated.
Now, in the last week, reports have emerged that a) he recently had a procedure (but not a surgery) on his knee and b) he was being shopped to potential suitors via trade.
Mitchell hasn't been moved yet. He has not been released. He's still with the club on the first day of training camp on the eve of its first practice. And when asked on Wednesday if he intended to move the third-year wideout, Bill Belichick scoffed.
"I'm not really going to engage in media speculation unless you have some professional comment on that, which I haven't seen," Belichick said. "I certainly haven't talked to any media person about Malcolm Mitchell. You'd have to talk to whoever that is."
Belichick said he couldn't exactly pinpoint Mitchell's status going into camp workouts. There's still evaluating to be done, he explained.
"That's kind of part of where we are on these first few days of training camp," he said. "Physicals, conditioning runs and so forth. That's really for every player.
"Some of the players who haven't had any injuries or setbacks or haven't been getting treatment, we kind of know where those guys are. But we have a number of players who are in various degrees of availability, or various stages of rehabilitation and preparation for the season. Those guys have been -- not away from us for a month, but they've been being treated. They haven't been active on the football field. As we get into those drills and periods, we'll know more.
"We'll place some players on the PUP/NFL lists. When they're ready to come off, they'll come off. The other players who aren't on those, it doesn't mean that they're full availability, it means that they're not on those lists for one reason or another, and that we'll do certain things with them based on their physical availability.
"Now that's the way it always is this time of year. There's a lot of guys in different stages from postseason surgeries, offseason injuries and so forth. Just need to see where everybody is. First couple days of practice are not padded. First padded practice is Saturday, so we're in a couple different stages of TC here. We'll just have to see how all that goes.
"It's no different than it normally is. Call it 10-15 players that fall somewhere in that overall net of conversation."
Belichick was asked to characterize Mitchell's effort in making his way back from injury. The reason the trade speculation came as some surprise is that the Patriots could, in theory, keep Mitchell on the physically unable to perform list in camp and rest him for as long as needed before another attempt at a return.
NFL Media's Tom Pelissero tweeted this week that there was "mounting frustration" coming from the Patriots as it pertains to Mitchell's health. That may be the case. The team would certainly be within its rights to be frustrated that a good player hasn't been able to contribute for them. But Belichick gave no indications that the team was frustrated with the work Mitchell put in to get back on the field.
"I think all of our players work hard," Belichick said. "We have a good training staff, we have a good medical staff. I think all of our players have been accountable and have done the rehabilitation that either us, them or some third party has been involved in. I don't think we've had a guy in a long time who hasn't been compliant or diligent with that, in trying to what he can do to get on the field. Some respond at different rates than others."