Patriots: Is this Sony Michel’s last stand to prove he has a future in New England?
By Jerry Trotta
Is this RB Sony Michel’s last chance to prove he has a future with the Patriots?
There hasn’t been much buzz surrounding the New England Patriots this season, but the emergence of Damien Harris is definitely something to be excited about. While the 23-year-old running back has evidently benefitted from injuries to other players, that shouldn’t take anything away from what he’s accomplished this season.
Through seven games, Harris has compiled three 100-yard games and ranks fifth in the NFL among qualified rushers with 5.4 yards per attempt. As evidenced by his snap share and touches, the coaching staff has acknowledged that he’s made the starting job his own and deserves to receive the bulk of the carries each week.
Amid his breakout season, there have been concerns about what Harris’ workload would look like once Sony Michel (quad) re-entered the fold. Well, we’re about to find out because the Patriots have activated the former first-round pick off injured reserve and the understanding is that he will be ready to go for Sunday’s game against Arizona.
Now that Michel is finally healthy, are the remaining six games on the schedule this season his last chance to prove that he has a future with the Patriots?
The answer, at least in our eyes, in an unequivocal yes. With just one guaranteed year remaining on his rookie contract after 2020, Michel has to feel like his back is against the wall. If he doesn’t impress or suffers another lingering injury, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he ends up being a training camp cut or trade casualty next year.
At the very least, the Patriots will assuredly decline the fifth-year option on his deal. While that majorly has to do with what Harris has been able to accomplish this season, it also comes down to what Michel hasn’t shown since entering the league.
The 2018 first-round pick was never lauded for his speed and elusiveness, but that didn’t stop him from enjoying a promising rookie season. That year, he racked up 931 rushing yards and six touchdowns on a respectable 4.5 yards per carry while missing time due to injury.
In 2019, Michel was healthy for the entire campaign, but regressed in dramatic fashion, totaling 912 yards and seven touchdowns on a lousy 3.7 yards per attempt, which ranked 40th among qualified rushers.
If you ask us why the Georgia product’s effectiveness vanished, we’d say that he simply hasn’t been able to adjust to teams have a year’s worth of film on him. For a running back who lacks agility, opponents probably aren’t all that terrified when he’s lined up in the backfield.
Remember how we said that Harris has three 100-yard games this season? Michel has five such games in 23 more appearances, and four of them came during his rookie year.
It might sound like we don’t rate Michel’s ability, but that is far from the truth. Harris’ emergence in 2020 has just brought up questions about his future with the Patriots. The case would be the same for any underperforming and oft-injured player nearing the end of his contract.