Patriots reportedly seeking running back help in free agency tells us a lot

Patriots RB Sony Michel (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)
Patriots RB Sony Michel (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images) /

If the early signs of the offseason have been any indication, the New England Patriots are putting an emphasis on drastically improving their offense after it ranked 27th in the league in both total yards (327.3) and points (20.4) per game last campaign.

Thus far, the Patriots have re-signed quarterback Cam Newton, traded for offensive tackle Trent Brown, signed tight end Jonnu Smith and nose tackle Davon Godchaux, and are reportedly considering a reunion with versatile guard Joe Thuney.

As far as the rest of the offense is concerned, the Patriots are widely expected to be in the market for a big-ticket receiver, and understandably so considering that that position has been the epitome of fruitless over the last two seasons.

While most fans are of the opinion that the offensive upgrades would stop there, however, insider Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network surprisingly revealed that the Patriots could be in contention to sign a running back (!) in free agency.

The Patriots reportedly being in the market for a running back says a lot about certain players.

This news comes in wake of Aaron Jones, who was previously pegged as the cream of the free agent crop at the running back position, inking a four-year, $48 million extension with the Packers. It remains to be seen who the Patriots have in mind as a potential signing, but their interest in bolstering their RB room tell us a lot about the futures of James White and Sony Michel.

For starters, it indicates that the Patriots won’t pick up Michel’s fifth-year option, with the deadline to do so coming in less than two months. The former first-round pick has struggled to replicate the success he enjoyed as a rookie, though he did flash potential in 2020 after returning from injury, averaging an elite 5.7 yards per carry over 79 attempts.

That’s not a huge sample size, but it’s a considerable improvement compared to what Michel did (or didn’t do) as a sophomore. For context, he logged 912 rushing yards on 3.7 yards per carry despite not missing any time due to injury that year.

With one year remaining on his rookie contract, the Patriots’ newfound interest in a running back suggests his promising third year wasn’t enough to convince them to exercise Michel’s fifth-year option, which means he’ll have to make serious strides if he wants a future with the team.

As for White, this report leads us to believe that he’ll leave in free agency. As much as the Patriots would hate to see him go, we’d be surprised if there weren’t at least several teams in the league interested by the security he’d provide for a quarterback as a pass-catcher out of the backfield.

Why would de facto GM Bill Belichick, who has so many other areas to address, enter a bidding war for a 29-year-old back? That wouldn’t fly in the face of his entire roster-building philosophy.

Again, this doesn’t confirm the Patriots will sign a running back. However, it leaves us thinking that they plan to roll with 2020 breakout star Damien Harris and whomever they add in free agency as their new committee as they look to overhaul their offensive personnel.