James White Opens Up About Grueling Injury Rehab, Return To Patriots

'Being wanted after an injury like that is not highly likely'


March 21

When James White was carted off the Gillette Stadium game field last September, he feared his professional football career was over.

Landing awkwardly after a tackle from behind by New Orleans Saints linebacker Demario Davis, White suffered a hip subluxation — an injury that required surgery to repair and kept the veteran running back and co-captain away from the New England Patriots for the remainder of the season.

White spent much of that time in bed, unable to walk without crutches or handle many basic life functions while his surgically repaired right hip healed. During that grueling stretch, the 30-year-old acknowledged a return to the field was difficult to envision, saying he felt “a lot” of doubt over whether he’d ever play another snap.

“Being kind of confined to bed for the first few months and not being able to really move around and do things for myself, you think to yourself, ‘How could I ever run and move and all that stuff ever again?’ ” White said Monday in a video conference. “But obviously as the months go on, things start to loosen up. You start kind of moving around, doing some of the normal things you used to do and just build that confidence back up again.”

Those normal things now will include suiting up for the Patriots. Last week, New England re-signed its longtime pass-catching specialist to a two-year, $5 million contract.

Speaking with the New England media for the first time since his injury, White reflected on the arduous, months-long process that led him back to this point. He only became able to walk without crutches and begin exercising within the last 2 1/2 months.

“They’ve definitely been challenging,” said White, who’d played in at least 14 games in each of the previous six seasons. “I’ve never been in this position in my football career of having to sit out this amount of time and dealing with an injury like this, so it’s a different perspective for me.

“But I think since the months have gone on, I’ve got better and better mentally, building the confidence back and feeling like I have the ability to go out there and compete at a high level. Each week, each month, I’ve been feeling better and better. I’m just trying to push myself as much as I can to make sure I feel as best as possible whenever I step back out there.”

In a separate sitdown with Patriots.com’s Alexandra Francisco, White said it took “three or four months” for him to be able to put on his socks and shoes without assistance.

White returned to Foxboro, Mass., every few months to visit his surgeon, who ensured him that the risk of him reinjuring the hip was low. Once he realized continuing his career was a possibility, he said he was “open to anything” in free agency — and reportedly received interest from Josh McDaniels’ Las Vegas Raiders — but was pleased Bill Belichick and the Patriots still valued him.

“I didn’t really know what my free agency market was going to be like coming off this injury, whether anybody would want to quote-unquote take a chance on me and things of that nature,” the three-time Super Bowl winner said. “But Bill had the confidence and wanted me back, so that was kind of important to me. To still be wanted after this is definitely something that helped me out a lot.”

White’s role and roster spot are not assured, however. His new contract includes just $500,000 guaranteed, meaning the Patriots won’t feel financially obligated to keep him if he does not look like the same player post-injury.

New England will be hoping for a return of the White it saw early in the 2021 season, when he was the team’s most consistent offensive player over the first two games. But it’s impossible to predict how he’ll perform after such a long and challenging recovery.

“It’s kind of quote-unquote taking a chance on me,” White said. “Like I said, being wanted after an injury like that is not highly likely, especially at the running back position. That’s just the way it’s been. So it was an easy decision for me (to re-sign). Bill is one of the greatest coaches of all time, and we’ve built a great relationship over the years. So for him to still have the confidence in me means a lot.”

White, a Patriots team captain for the last four seasons, rejoins a running back room headlined by early-down duo Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson, both of whom impressed in 2021. The Patriots also signed receiver/running back/kick returner/special teamer Ty Montgomery last week and continue to evaluate available options, reportedly hosting free agent Leonard Fournette for a visit Monday.

Given the uncertainty surrounding White’s comeback, it would not be surprising to see New England add another capable backfield receiver in either free agency or the NFL draft.

Thumbnail photo via Paul Rutherford/USA TODAY Sports Images
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