LeGarrette Blount’s future with the New England Patriots remains uncertain. That seemed to be the case last April, too, even when the veteran running back returned on a one-year deal after seeing his 2015 campaign end on injured reserve.
But Blount’s 2016 wouldn’t conclude after 12 games. It would instead end after 19 and with a Super Bowl victory.
“It’s been amazing,” Blount said Tuesday on NFL Network. “Just the fact that obviously we’ve won the biggest game of all of our careers. The parade, all the love that you get from the fans, and just me personally playing a big role in how the season went. I feel great right now coming out of the season healthy, and everything went according to plan.”
Blount rushed for a career-high 1,161 yards on a career-high 299 carries during the 2016 regular season. In the process, the 30-year-old eclipsed Hall of Famer Curtis Martin for the most rushing touchdowns in the Patriots’ record books with 18, a mark that also tied him with Rob Gronkowski for the second-most all-purpose touchdowns in franchise history.
According to plan or not, it would have been hard to predict that type of spike from the seven-year pro. The Patriots likely didn’t.
Blount had last hit the 1,000-yard milestone as a Tampa Bay Buccaneers undrafted rookie in 2010, and hadn’t scraped 800 yards on the ground over the five seasons that followed through stops with New England and the Pittsburgh Steelers. He had never scored more than seven touchdowns in a season, either.
Though in his renaissance, Blount put himself in rare company all while the Patriots paid him just $760,000 in base salary to go with a $100,000 signing bonus, a $100,000 roster bonus, a $40,000 workout bonus and close to an additional $1 million in incentives.
As another league year edges closer, though, it is again unclear whether the 6-foot, 250-pound back will be back in the Patriots’ company.
Blount hopes so.
“I just want to make sure that I go to this free agency with an open mind, knowing that I definitely want to go back to New England,” Blount said. “I love it there. I love the culture. I love the players.”
Blount finds himself among 13 unrestricted free agents in Foxborough. But with the likes of linebacker Dont’a Hightower, tight end Martellus Bennett, cornerback Logan Ryan, safety Duron Harmon and defensive tackle Alan Branch standing prominently in that group – and No. 1 corner Malcolm Butler headlining the restricted class – there are no givens.
Perhaps the Patriots will elect to address the ground game through the draft. That said, perhaps another one-year, incentive-laden contract would still make sense for both sides before April arrives.
“I’ve become close with a lot of the guys – obviously you know how my running back group is – but we’ll cross that bridge whenever we cross it,” Blount added. “On that point, I feel great. I’m in amazing shape, and I feel like I could play 100 more years if I have to.”
Blount, who turned 30 in December, averaged just 3.1 yards per carry during the postseason while smaller, shiftier pass-catching threats in Dion Lewis and James White stepped to the forefront. But his skillset at his stature still differentiated him from the rest of the backfield.
From the short-term view, there’s reason to believe it still could.
While both Lewis and White are under contract with New England through 2018, undrafted addition D.J. Foster and practice-squadder Tyler Gaffney round out the ranks behind them. That leaves core special-teamer Brandon Bolden alongside Blount and scheduled for unrestricted waters this March.
Leading up to then, the Patriots’ depth chart doesn’t carry another back in the agile yet imposing mold of Blount. Then again, few depth charts around the league do.
Time will tell how much value will be placed on maintaining that.