The New England Patriots have made a big move on Tuesday by extending an offer sheet to Bills restricted free agent RB Mike Gillislee, per NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport. The offer is a 2-year contract valued at $6.4 million and is structured to provide Gillislee $4 million in the first year; Buffalo has less than $10 million in cap space, making it difficult for them to match the Patriots offer.
This is a huge move by the Patriots on multiple levels.
One, it signifies that the Patriots are moving on from RB LeGarrette Blount because this is a concrete offer to fill up the entire running back depth chart. Gillislee and Rex Burkhead would replace Blount.
Two, if the Bills do not match the Patriots offer sheet, then the Patriots will send a fifth round pick to Buffalo. The Patriots don’t have their original fifth round pick (they sent it to Cleveland for LB Barkevious Mingo), but they acquired a fifth round pick from the Denver Broncos in exchange for TE A.J. Derby. That would be the selection sent to Buffalo.
Three, if the Patriots swipe Gillislee from the Bills, it would mark the second-straight year of taking a restricted free agent from Buffalo. New England added WR Chris Hogan in 2016 and he played a major role in the Patriots journey to Super Bowl LI.
Four, it means the Patriots are not likely to add a running back in the draft.
Five, the Patriots would be investing more in the running back position in 2017 than any other year under Bill Belichick. If Gillislee makes $4 million in 2017, he will make more than Burkhead at $3.15 million. Even Gillislee’s average of $3.2 million is greater than Burkhead’s single year earnings.
Over the past five years, the Patriots top two running backs have not exceeded a combined 1.6% of the salary cap. This year, both Gillislee and Burkhead would far surpass the amount.
While $4 million doesn’t sound like much, it represents a tie for the 10th most cash given to a running back in 2017.
Gillislee is a great runner and ranked #1 in Football Outsiders’ DVOA rankings. Burkhead ranked #2. Both are more versatile running backs than Blount and both are younger with more upside. This could be a huge move if the Bills fails to match the Patriots offer.
The Bills have five days to match the Patriots offer.
Update: The Herald’s Jeff Howe reports that the first indication from the Bills is that they will not match the Patriots offer. We will wait until this is official.