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Chargers RB Danny Woodhead talks about how he was minutes away from signing back with the Patriots in 2013

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The former Patriots running back was /this close/ to returning in 2013. Then the Chargers called.

Running back Danny Woodhead is entering his ninth season in the NFL. Can you believe that? He hasn’t played for the Patriots since 2012- four years ago- and yet it feels like yesterday that he was catching passes from Tom Brady out of the backfield.

He was the Dion Lewis before Dion Lewis, and that’s not an exaggeration. Woodhead

Woodhead recently penned a piece for The Players Tribune where he wrote a letter to his younger self to prepare himself for a wild career that brought him from the Jets to the Patriots and now to the Chargers.

Woodhead does a nice job of sharing what was going through his mind as he joined the Patriots franchise, and how he thought the Patriots were just using him for information about a division rival.

“Then, back in Omaha, you’ll get a call from your agent,” Woodhead writes about his time after being released by the Jets. “He’ll say he has the Patriots on the line, and they want to sign you.

“Like I said, you’re not a pessimistic guy. But this call will come on a Friday, two days before the Patriots are supposed to play the Jets. So your first instinct will be to think that they only want to sign you to get some information. You may not have been in the league long at this point, but you’ll know enough about how it works to know that this is something teams do.

“But let’s face it: You won’t be in any position to turn down an NFL teams. So you’ll hop on the next flight to New England to sign that contract. You’ll have until 4 p.m. EST to sign the deal to get paid that week … you’ll get there at 3:50 p.m.

“Then, you won’t join the team for Sunday’s game. You won’t even talk to the Patriots’ coaches until Monday — the day after the Jets game.

“So maybe they didn’t want information from you after all.”

Woodhead also shared what was going through his mind after the 2012 season and how excruciatingly close he was to returning to the Patriots.

The Patriots apparently offered Woodhead a contract “immediately” after he became a free agent; remember that the Patriots just spent a 2nd round pick in 2011 on Shane Vereen, so the retention of Woodhead might have changed Vereen’s career trajectory. Vereen was a vital component of the Patriots Super Bowl victory over the Seahawks, recording a ridiculous 11 catches on the biggest stage- but this is a different story.

Woodhead wanted to test the markets because this was his first time being a free agent, but he didn’t receive any offers in the first week of free agency. At all. Which is crazy, to me. Excuse me for being blunt, but how dumb is the rest of the league to not even put an offer on paper for one of the most dynamic receiving backs in the NFL?

Woodhead set himself a deadline where, if he didn’t receive an offer, he would have returned to the Patriots. The deadline came and he was speaking to his agent to express his desire to stay in New England. Then this happened:

Sure enough, 11 a.m. Thursday will roll around, and the Patriots will be your only offer. So you’ll call Chris, your agent.

“Hey Chris. I prayed about it, and I really feel like at this point, I’m supposed to go back to New England.”

“O.K.,” he’ll say. “Anything else?”

He’ll cut you off before you even have a chance to respond.

“Wait a second,” he’ll say. “San Diego’s calling.”

He’ll hang up with you and answer the call. In that moment, even though you won’t know if the Chargers are truly interested in you, you’ll know in your heart that you’re going to San Diego. The timing will be too perfect … it has to be part of God’s plan.

Chris will call you back, and within three hours, you’ll be a San Diego Charger.

OH, COME ON.

Over the past three seasons, no running back has averaged more receiving yards per game than Woodhead. Not Vereen. Not Matt Forte. Not Le’Veon Bell. Not Jamaal Charles or Arian Foster or LeSean McCoy. Woodhead.*

Woodhead has been the most productive receiving back in the NFL since he’s joined the Chargers, and he’s earned every ounce of praise that has been heaped in his direction.

The Patriots appreciated the 2,181 yards from scrimmage that Woodhead provided in his three years with the team, and Woodhead appreciated everything he learned in New England.

“One thing you’ll never want to trade for anything is your time in New England. You’ll spend three amazing seasons there playing with one of the greatest quarterbacks in history and learning under a genius of a coach in Bill Belichick. Your teammates, the fans — New England will hold a special place in your heart.”

Check out Woodhead’s letter here. It’s worth the read.

*My search required running backs to have recorded at least 50 rushing attempts over the past three years. Woodhead has averaged 39.83 receiving yards per game (RYPG), while Forte is second with 39.80 RYPG. Bell ranks third with 39.69 RYPG and no other back has averaged more than 35.0 RYPG.

If you drop the requirement to 49 rushing attempts to include, I don’t know, Dion Lewis, then Lewis tops the list with 55.43 RYPG. He’s incredible. The Patriots will be thrilled to have Lewis back on the field.