LeGarrette Blount had the kind of season that most power backs dream of, and it’d be a surprise if he didn’t come back for a fifth season with the New England Patriots.
The New England Patriots offense has usually been at its best with a power back churning out yardage in between the tackles. They’ve had players of varying quality in this role from Corey Dillon to Laurence Maroney to Stevan Ridley and now to LeGarrette Blount.
Originally acquired in an absolute steal of a deal in the 2013 offseason, the Patriots sent Jeff Demps (out of the league) and a seventh-round pick to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for Blount, who ran for 1,000 yards as a rookie. For some reason, Bucs head coach Greg Schiano didn’t think highly of Blount, and Bill Belichick ended up making his old friend pay for it.
Since then, Blount has been a solid starting running back for the Patriots. He’s averaged 4.3 yards per carry and 59.5 rushing yards per game in New England, never scoring less than five rushing touchdowns in a single season.
On top of that, Blount has been able to avoid turning the ball over, losing just one fumble in the last two seasons. Blount’s predecessor as the lead back, Ridley, earned criticism from Belichick for frequent fumbles. His lack of turnovers with the Patriots has been especially impressive, because he lost six fumbles in his first two seasons in the league (both with Tampa Bay).
Blount will hit free agency this offseason, and it’s a situation familiar to both him and the Patriots. The 30-year-old signed a one-year, $1 million deal with a meager $100,000 signing bonus to stay with the Patriots last year, and the relationship between team and player has been on a year-to-year basis, essentially ever since he stepped foot into the team facilities.
There’s plenty of mutual admiration on both sides, and I’m sure some of that stems back to Blount’s attempt to hitch himself elsewhere. Blount didn’t perform well in his brief time with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and it didn’t seem like he wanted to be there.
“I don’t know what the future holds. That’s something for them and my agent to discuss. I love being here, and they know I love being here…I feel great. I’m 30 years old, not a lot of wear and tear on my body. I feel like I’ll be able to play for as long as I want.”
It is true that Blount has about as little wear-and-tear as you could expect on a 30-year-old back with two Super Bowl rings and reasonable success over the past four years. Blount hadn’t carried the ball 200 times in a season since his rookie campaign before he ran the ball a career-high 299 times in 2016. It was Blount’s first season with over 1,100 rushing yards, and, as you have probably heard, he led the league with 18 rushing touchdowns.
Judging by last season’s performance, Blount is at the top of his game, and he has the coaching staff’s trust. I mean, how else could you explain him racking up 299 rushing attempts in a single season? Note that Ezekiel Elliott was the only player with more rushing attempts than Blount.
Jan 1, 2017; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; New England Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount (29) runs the ball during the second quarter of an NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
There aren’t many better backs in the league at scoring touchdowns, and Blount can no longer be criticized for his work in between the tackles. He is truly among the league’s best power backs, and because of the Patriots interest in basing an offense around this type of player (perhaps as a foil to their multi-faceted passing attack), it only makes sense to retain Blount.
Furthermore, there’s no risk, because Blount will remain cheap. His value hasn’t actually risen much, despite his excellent numbers. Blount is still old, he’s still clearly best-suited for New England’s offense, and he also wants to stay. Maybe Blount decides he wants to make as much money as possible to end his career, but how much more will someone else give a 30-year-old back who could be labeled as a “system” player by cynical evaluators?
The idea of the Patriots drafting a running back relatively high is compelling, and we’ve seen Leonard Fournette mocked to the Pats. However, the Patriots have always found value at the running back position where others haven’t (Danny Woodhead, Dion Lewis, James White, Shane Vereen, Stevan Ridley, and Blount himself spring to mind). Fournette and other top backs are interesting, but the Patriots will likely target players at positions where it has been more difficult for them to find difference-makers in the bargain bins of free agency (or undrafted free agency).
Blount is a safe, cheap, and effective player who is a known quantity to Belichick and the Patriots. That alone makes it clear in my mind that he will be returning for another season with the Patriots. Unless the Patriots decide to go out and get Le’Veon Bell, Eddie Lacy, or Latavius Murray in free agency, some combination of Blount and a Day 3 rookie running back is most likely. The Pats do need to bring in another two-down rusher to pair with Blount, but I would be surprised if they are interested in making a bigger splash than that.