2017 NFL free agency is nearly here, and the New England Patriots might need to find some replacements at running back during this time.
The 2nd positional grouping we will be looking at in free agency is the running back position. This preview will look into the available free agents and short list a few players that may fit the New England Patriots’ scheme.
As stated in the Quarterback preview, (which you can see here) we aren’t taking into account the upcoming draft. Basically we are answering the question “If the Patriots could only fill their roster with Free Agents, who would they be?”
Let’s take a look at the Patriots current Halfback situation:
Running Backs under contract
Running Backs not under contract
Apart from Practice Squad member Tyler Gaffney, if the Patriots were to stay as they are, there would be three passing backs and nobody who makes their money running between the tackles. I predict that they re-sign both Blount and Bolden on similar deals to last year. Continuity can have a positive impact and make a team more productive. With the running back group being one of the closest-knit positions on the team, the combination of continuity and togetherness could result in further on-the-field production in 2017. Or at least that is the hope.
The Patriots clearly love what Bolden offers on special teams and in the locker room. He is unlikely to receive a substantially better offer elsewhere and he knows how that he is valued in New England.
Blount’s situation is a bit different. On one hand he had a productive, record-breaking season in 2016. On the other hand he may be looking to cash in on his 2016 performance and he has recently turned 30.
Patriots fans will be happy to hear the quote below from Blount when he appeared on NFL Total Access recently:
"“I love it there (in New England). I love the culture. Love the players. I’ve become close with a lot of the guys.”"
Some players see the value in taking less money and enjoying the winning and regimented culture of New England, Blount looks like he is another Belichick disciple.
The Patriots will be looking for is somebody to compete with Blount for those bulldozing runs. This rules out the bevy of passing backs that will be available. In this preview there will be a few relatively big names to look at, and I think that is what the Patriots will need to look at to improve the position.
Like most Patriots free agent signings, they will be looking for unrealised talent, i.e. high draft picks that didn’t live up to expectations, (this will be a theme throughout these previews).
Free Agent Running Backs
- The inconvenient truth for Chris Johnson detractors is that he is a borderline Hall Of Fame talent. The other inconvenient truth for his fans is that most of that production came a number of seasons ago. Coming off an ACL injury, this could be the Patriots time to strike. In 2015 with the Cardinals he was relatively productive rushing for 800 yards and 3 TD’s eventually losing the starting role to the transcendent talent of David Johnson. His value has never been lower which is where Belichick does his best business.
- For a lot of Patriots fans this would be the fantasy signing. Will they really splash the cash on a guy in the peak age for a running back (26)? With his weight issues, would he even be on the Patriots radar? There is no doubting his talent, with two one-thousand yard rushing seasons to start his career he has the pedigree, but would that same pedigree price New England out of the reckoning? Contrary to popular belief the Patriots do pay highly for free agents but they are pickier about when they do it. Lacy’s bruising style makes him an ideal Blount replacement should the Patriots pull the trigger.
- McFadden has been maligned throughout his career as oft injured and not living up to the lofty expectations he set during his college career. The reality of McFadden is that while his speed may have diminished a touch, he has adapted his style slightly while remaining productive outside the tackles. In 2015 he rushed for over a thousand yards with a 4.6 yards per carry average. In 2016 he spent most of his time on the Cowboys treatment table. McFadden only cost Dallas $1.25m last year (according to Spotrac.com) and will be turning 30 just before the season starts. He hits a lot of the Patriots requirements except the crucial one, which could be the stumbling block – availability.
- To be honest this one is completely off the wall. Robinson isn’t like the other backs mentioned here. He is a freak of an athlete that the Jacksonville Jaguars didn’t know how to use correctly. He didn’t help himself by fumbling the ball – a lot. Robinson is a running back in a similar mold to White, Foster and Lewis where he does his most damage in space. Throughout his time in Jacksonville, he was only used sparingly in the passing game, catching 44 balls in four seasons. Belichick might just look at his college tape and think; “I could do something with this guy”. Robinson should be available for around the veteran minimum due to his nondescript performance in 2016 so the Patriots might just take a punt on him for training camp.
Eddie Lacy appears to be the consensus heir-apparent to LeGarrette Blount if the Patriots decide to move on. As Andy Hart (@jumbohart) reminded us on PFW in Progress (Patriots.com Radio) “Lacy was the same age as Blount when he joined the Patriots”. There really is something symmetrical about Lacy joining the Patriots, he is the bruising back that the Patriots usually covet, (think Antowain Smith, Corey Dillon, BenJarvus Green-Ellis) and I think that is who they will sign.