50% of you wanted the Patriots to add Jets running back Chris Ivory in free agency, 30% of you wanted the Patriots to draft a running back at some point, and 10% of you supporting bringing back LeGarrette Blount. The remaining 10% voted for a mix of other options.
I noted that the Patriots could probably acquire Ivory with the cash freed up from linebacker Jerod Mayo, or by moving wide receiver Danny Amendola or tackle Marcus Cannon. That's theoretically true. The problem comes with reality.
The Patriots under Bill Belichick have never invested heavy cap space in the running back position.
Looking at the top contracts for running backs, it would seem that Ivory is set to earn upwards of $7 million per season. He's not going to earn money like Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles ($9 million), or even like Eagles running back DeMarco Murray or Bills running back LeSean McCoy ($8 million). Ivory doesn't have the league-leading results.
The only other contract in between those two groupings is for Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart ($7.3 million), who is actually a pretty fair comparable when it comes to production.
And now that's a pretty big range from key rotational player at $4 million and star feature back at $8 million, so Ivory could land anywhere in between. But history is against the Patriots paying Ivory, or any other running back, a contract worth more than $5.5 million per year.
Dating back to 2001, with data via patscap.com, we can measure what percentage of the annual salary cap the Patriots have been willing to invest in their top running backs. I used a cap of $120 million for the uncapped 2010 season.
Ivory would be awesome in Patriots offense, but max contract to RB under Belichick is = $5.5mm in 2016 cap space. pic.twitter.com/jP1fAI1glo— Rich Hill (@PP_Rich_Hill) February 4, 2016
What we find is that Bill Belichick and company haven't been willing to invest more than 3.5% of their annual cap in any single running back. It's extremely rare for any player to surpass 2.0%, and never in their first season with the team. Corey Dillon maxed out at 2.59% of the cap in 2006. Fred Taylor was slated for 2.28% in 2010. It's actually running back Kevin Faulk with the three largest cap usages at 2.76%, 2.90%, and 3.46% between 2007 and 2009.
2.0% of the projected 2016 salary cap is roughly $3 million, which is well below the top dollar for a rotational player. 3.50% of the projected 2016 salary cap is roughly $5.3 million, which is likely to be lower than what Ivory can fetch on the open market.
The top two running back contracts on the Patriots have also failed to combine for 1.5% of the cap over the past four seasons. 2011's BenJarvus Green-Ellis was the last running back to receive more than 1.0% of the salary cap in a given year. The 2016 duo of Brandon Bolden (yes, he's the biggest cap hit at the position) and Dion Lewis are finally projected for roughly 1.5%.
Ivory would be a fantastic addition to the offense and would allow the Patriots to more selectively deploy Lewis to reduce the chance of injury. The New England cap strategy seems to point more towards a mid-round selection or for a veteran minimum deal like Blount to supplement the rotation.