The Patriots have seemingly never had a steady running back in the Tom Brady era. LeGarrette Blount, for whatever reason, has provided a solid running game over the past two seasons that teams have not seen from the Patriots since Corey Dillon.
So it appears as if this offseason should have been simple at the running back position; lock up a short-term deal with Blount and focus on the rest of the roster. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been that simple. The Patriots have not budged from their initial offer to Blount and rather there have been other surprising free agent transactions and workouts at the position.
From James Conner to Marshawn Lynch, it is time to closely examine all of the Patriots’ options at the running back position.
It will be a major shock if the Patriots do not agree to a deal with Blount before the draft later this month. Of course the Patriots’ run game will be better with Blount than it will without, but this deal will happen because Blount needs it, not because the Patriots need Blount.
Many fans do not realize that Blount is 30-years old. He may not perform like most backs in their thirties would, but he’s aging nonetheless. This is fine for a team like the Patriots, who have been in win-now mode for over a decade. But teams like the Jaguars or the 49ers would turn away the age of Blount since they are in a rebuilding mode.
According to spotrac.com, Blount’s market value is approximately $4.3 million annually. Very few teams would pay Blount the money he’s asking for because he is not someone a team can build with. His upcoming time is limited and losing teams prefer a player that can last multiple more years.
In other words, there is a reason Blount’s contracts with the Patriots have been one or two-year deals. He may continue to put up numbers and be able to carry a workload, but the question will always be for how long. For the Patriots, one or two-year deals are perfect because they’re winning. Rebuilding teams don’t want to build around a player that’s not going to be around extensively.
Along with his age, Blount is one-dimensional; he can bury people in the north-south run game. He is nonexistent in the passing game though, another con for teams looking for a running back to build around. Again for the Patriots, who already have pass-catching running backs James White and Dion Lewis, this does not matter.
To sum it all up, Blount is the perfect match for the Patriots, and will likely be the only team willing to pay him. For Blount, the longer he waits, the smaller the chance of having a role or even getting paid as the draft and spring OTAs quickly approach.
The fact that Adrian Peterson has yet to sign with a team only proves the fact that teams are not willing to pay aged running backs. Peterson, who will likely end up in Canton, OH, reportedly visited with the Patriots last week.
Peterson left without a deal, but the Patriots likely did not plan on signing him in the first place. The big key here is that not only was he interviewed, but he was reportedly put through a workout as well.
Working out Peterson is very significant regarding the Patriots’ negotiations with Blount. As previously stated, Blount will have trouble being paid elsewhere. Being shown that the Patriots are seriously delving into their options and appearing as if they are set to move on will put pressure on Blount to re-sign.
While it would be fun to think about an offense of Brady, Peterson, Rob Gronkowski, Brandin Cooks, Julian Edelman and a great supporting cast, Peterson was only brought in to help their negotiations with Blount; and it just may work.
The idea of Lynch playing for the Patriots has been solely fueled by rumors, and the chances of Lynch becoming a Patriot are very slim, but Bill Belichick isn’t exactly predictable.
The Patriots have not yet been reported to have any communication with Lynch whatsoever. Rather, it was Lynch and his crew themselves who expressed interest in returning to football to play for the Patriots. He is supposedly talking to the Raiders to play in his home town, but mentioned the Patriots if the talks died down.
The catch here is that Lynch is currently under contract with the Seahawks. The Seahawks would have to release or trade him in order for him to play for the Patriots. Frankly, if Lynch is coming back to football, it would take one hefty trade for the running back-needy Seahawks to deal Lynch.
Unless he is released, talks with Lynch are highly unlikely, and even then Blount would still be the favored option.
The Patriots will draft a running back this offseason. There is no doubt that the Patriots will spend at least one of their picks on a running back.
The only question is when? The Patriots do not own a pick until the third round, but the draft is so immensely deep this season that there is still great talent available in the third day. As of now, two players have been tied to the Patriots: D’onta Foreman from Texas and James Conner from Pittsburgh.
Let’s start with Foreman. The issue with Foreman is that he has been projected as a first round pick and as a day-three pick and everywhere in between. He may be available at pick 72, and he may not.
If Foreman is around by the time the Patriots have their first selection, Foreman may be at the top of their board. Foreman is a downhill runner, and that’s really all that needs to be said. Drafting Foreman may mean that negotiations with Blount will stop, since six running backs is a bit much to have on an NFL roster (Blount, Lewis, White, Rex Burkhead, James Develin, Foreman). Blount is the greater immediate impact, but Foreman could develop into a workhorse back for the Patriots whereas, yet again, Blount is aging.
Conner is one of the most influential prospects ever. If someone needs some motivation, simply go to Conner’s Twitter page. The man defeated cancer and it seems like his performance never declined. His tape and highlight reel is full of hardness power football. He hits holes as hard as any back in this draft and punishes defenders. Because of how deep this draft is, Conner is mocked consistently as a fifth round pick, but if Foreman isn’t available, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Belichick reach in the third round.
Drafting Conner may force the Patriots to take six running backs (sorry D.J. Foster and Tyler Gaffney), or either White or Lewis could get cut. Burkhead can match either one of their productivities, and Lewis’s injury-prone legacy is not appealing. There truly isn’t a need for six running backs on the roster — or seven if you include special-teamer Brandon Bolden — so there just may be a surprising release come September.
Don’t be shocked if Lewis or White are let go come autumn.
Unless the Patriots are reported to have talks with other free agents like Jamaal Charles, the only other possibility at this point is to stick with the depth chart the Patriots have now: Burkhead, Lewis, White, Develin, Bolden.
This is extremely unlikely since the Patriots are a near sure bet to draft a running back, but if not, Burkhead would take the workload.
Burkhead has accumulated just 87 carries in his career, all with the Bengals. His history and legacy are diminutive, but his potential is promising.
Burkhead is a north-south back who is also productive in the passing game, and shined last season with the Bengals when their starters went down with injuries. He’s fully expected to produce to his maximum level of play, but because his sample size is so low, expectations are that the Patriots will bring in another back just in case.
The Patriots will draft Conner in the third round and sign Blount before that even happens. The Patriots will enter training camp with nine running backs (Blount, Lewis, White, Burkhead, Conner, Develin, Bolden, Foster, Gaffney) and ultimately cut three of them (White, Foster, Gaffney).
My guess is that Burkhead will perform well and appear as the future running game of the Patriots and Blount will not play with the Patriots any more than his 2017 contract defines.
With that being said, White could easily replace Lewis on the roster if his hamstring does not heal or if they are concerned with injuries, or both of them could outperform Burkhead in the offseason making him the odd man out.
Follow Jackson Haskins on Twitter @JacksonHaskins1.