The New England Patriots and LeGarrette Blount might have reached a point of no return.
The Patriots signed restricted free agent running back Mike Gillislee to a two-year, $6.4 million offer sheet worth $4 million in 2017. If the Bills elect not to match the Patriots’ offer, then New England will send a fifth-round draft pick to Buffalo for Gillislee. Suddenly, the Patriots’ backfield will be very, very crowded, with no space for the 250-pound Blount.
The Patriots would have Gillislee and Rex Burkhead signed for over $3 million each and Dion Lewis and James White under contract for one more season apiece. The team also has Brandon Bolden for depth and D.J. Foster as third-down back insurance. If the Patriots acquire Gillislee — and don’t trade Lewis or White — there’s no need to bring back Blount or draft a running back.
The Patriots reportedly have had an offer on the table for Blount since the offseason began. Then they not only gave Gillislee an offer sheet and signed Burkhead, but they also hosted Adrian Peterson on a free-agent visit, making it very clear to Blount that they’re willing to move on.
Given how much the Patriots would pay him and the compensation required to acquire him, Gillislee likely would open the offseason as New England’s starting early down back. Burkhead and Lewis both are do-everything backs, while White likely would remain the Patriots’ third-down pass-catcher.
The Patriots wouldn’t have a superstar in their running back stable, but they would have one of the NFL’s best and deepest backfields. And Gillislee and Burkhead have superstar potential. Look at the rankings below.
Gillislee and Burkhead ranked No. 1 and 2, respectively, in Warren Sharp’s successful play rate. Burkhead and Gillislee were No. 1 and 2, respectively, in fewest missed yards per attempt.
Gillislee, 26, had 101 carries for 577 yards (5.7 yards per) and eight touchdowns with the Bills last season. Burkhead, also 26, had 74 carries for 344 yards (4.6 yards per) and two touchdowns with the Bengals in 2016. And while Blount was more productive, carrying the ball 299 times for 1,161 yards and 18 touchdowns, the 30-year-old averaged 3.9 yards per carry.
Blount would be the cheaper and safer option, but Gillislee and Burkhead both offer far more upside. The Patriots have plenty of salary-cap room in 2017, so cost isn’t as much of a factor as it would be in other offseasons.
If Blount’s time with the Patriots is over, it ultimately was a very successful four-season span. He carried the ball 677 times for 2,917 yards and 34 touchdowns during the regular season and had 111 carries for 470 yards and eight TDs in the playoffs. He won two Super Bowls in New England, and twice revitalized his career after his time with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Pittsburgh Steelers prematurely ended.
The Gillislee move further proves the Patriots aren’t about to become complacent after another championship season.
Thumbnail photo via Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports Images