The New England Patriots could lose one of their top performers from the end of last season in free agency.
Running back LeGarrette Blount is visiting the Pittsburgh Steelers on Friday, The Baltimore Sun’s Aaron Wilson reported. The Patriots’ free-agent running back options are dwindling. Knowshon Moreno signed with the Miami Dolphins on Thursday and Maurice Jones-Drew and the Oakland Raiders reportedly agreed to a three-year deal on Friday.
Blount had 772 yards and seven touchdowns on 153 carries with five catches for 14 yards. The fifth-year pro had 24 carries for 166 yards with four touchdowns in the Patriots’ AFC divisional playoff win over the Indianapolis Colts.
If Blount departs in free agency, it leaves the Patriots with Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Brandon Bolden and Jonas Gray, who was signed to a future contract after the 2013 season, at running back. The Patriots carried five running backs going into last season.
Blount, Andre Brown, Michael Bush, La’Rod Stephens-Howling and Ronnie Brown are the best available free-agent running backs. If the Patriots choose not to sign any of those players, they could look to the draft to acquire another running back, preferably one who can catch out of the backfield.
The Patriots don’t have an obvious backup for Vereen on third down. Bolden filled that role in 2013 after Leon Washington got injured, but he is a better reserve for Ridley. The Patriots have carried a backup third-down option every year since 2010, when they had Kevin Faulk and Danny Woodhead. They had three third-down backs in 2011: Faulk, Woodhead and Vereen.
Ridley, Vereen and Bolden are all entering contract years, which increases the need for the Patriots to acquire a running back on a long-term deal.