After a crazy weekend, the Patriots continued their busy off-season by re-signing Rex Burkhead. A transplant from the Bengals, Burkhead provides value on all four downs—as a runner, receiver, pass blocker, and special teams contributor. Adding Burkhead to James White and Dion Lewis, the Patriots have three running backs who possess the trait they desire above all else—versatility. This begs the question: Is there still room for LeGarrette Blount?
The answer is no, but the Rex Burkhead signing isn’t the reason. Burkhead is going to represent an upgrade over Brandon Bolden, providing core special team help while also bringing value to the offense. Bolden hasn’t been a factor on the offense for a couple years now, and with Burkhead adding touches in the backfield, the number of touches to go around significantly diminish.
Although theoretically there is still room for Blount on the roster, they would be better finding a different replacement. Blount’s role hasn’t yet been filled, but given that Blount is turning 30 and likely heading towards a decline, New England would be better off looking towards the draft to fill his place.
Blount had a career year last season, endearing himself even further to Patriots fans with his franchise-record 18 touchdowns, and over 1,100 yards. The issue is that Blount is hitting 30, and with a reduced role and expected decline, spending even the veteran minimum on him is a waste of resources. This draft is incredibly deep at running back, and a number of high-quality prospects fill the “big back” role Blount has filled.
With the trades for Kony Ealy and Brandin Cooks, the Patriots don’t pick until the third round as of now (barring a trade of Malcolm Butler or Jimmy Garappolo), but the value at running back should still line up to allow them to get a quality replacement on day 3. With the three backs already on the roster, the young back can get worked in slowly, the same way James White and Shane Vereen before him did.
Ultimately, the signing of Rex Burkhead was a shrewd move. He will provide value in every aspect of the offense as well as special teams, and likely comes at a cheap cost, with the ability to replace James White and/or Dion Lewis when they hit free agency after the season. While he does not fill Blount’s role, his addition should be the final push to prevent Blount from returning to New England in 2017.