There is a very real chance that New England is going to poach a former headache from the division rival Buffalo Bills for a third consecutive year.
Though Buffalo can still match the Patriots' offer sheet of $6.4 million with $4 million in cash for the 2017 season for restricted free agent Mike Gillislee, it seems unlikely. Buffalo doesn't really have the cap space to pay such a hefty price for a player who would be a backup. If they decide to fork up the cash, the Patriots still win by putting a division rival in a cap bind; the Bills plan on using as much time as possible to make their decision.
McDermott: "We're still going thru the process" w deciding on whether to match on Gillislee. Decide in next couple days. #Bills— Vic Carucci (@viccarucci) April 20, 2017
Gillislee may not be a household name, but he is a well-rounded back whose underutilized talents will make him a fan favorite in New England.
Originally drafted 164th overall by the Miami Dolphins in 2013, Gillislee spent a month the Arizona Cardinals' practice squad in 2015 before being released and picked up by the Buffalo Bills. After a month on Buffalo's practice squad, he became LeSean McCoy's backup and began showing some impressive flashes.
Football Outsiders rated the former Florida Gator as the #1 running back by DVOA and #1 in success rate. And with 148 totes in his career, the success Gillislee has had is nothing to scoff at.Here are some of the qualities Gillislee could bring to New England.
Position: Running Back
Weight: 210 lbs
Former teams: Miami Dolphins, Buffalo Bills
Patriots fans should be really excited about LeGarrette Blount's prospective replacement. He doesn't have the big back's menacing size, but Gillislee takes advantage of his "jack-of-all-trades" skill-set and is more than capable of usurping Blount as the team's go-to guy on first- and second-downs or in short-yardage situations.
Most impressive trait, in my opinion, is his burst. Puts his foot in the ground and hits top speed very quickly. This forces a lot of missed tackles and helps him get to the edge when bouncing runs outside.
Isn't a burner, but has just well-above-average speed to compliment his burst. Has the extra gear to get to the edge on outside runs or take it to the house once he gets past the second level.
Possesses very good vision and is patient when looking for a hole to hit. Once he finds it, he attacks without hesitation. Can identify cutback lanes immediately and exploit them with quick, nimble feet and impressive acceleration. There are occasions where Gillislee is too patient and stops behind his linemen, depleting his momentum and allowing defenders to swarm.
Good improvisational runner. Stays patient, poised, and waits to find a crease when defenders shoot into the backfield or if an offensive lineman is pushed into his lap.
Gets skinny when running through the line of scrimmage, which helps him shoot through smaller gaps. This is an area where Blount struggled mightily. However, like Blount, Gillislee can also plow forward and prevent a loss of yards when met in the hole or a couple of yards past the line of scrimmage.
Low center of gravity makes it hard for linebackers and defensive linemen to wrap up if they don't have a clear shot or if have to bring him down in the open field.
Effective at lowering his shoulders, keeping his legs churning and gaining extra yards when tackled. This ability stands out on the goal line, where many of Gillislee's touchdown runs were the result of him fighting through initial contact into the end zone.
Smooth and elusive in the open field. Forces defenders to take good angles when attacking. Can make people miss using stutter steps, subtle jukes, and by swiping away the arms of diving defenders.
Doesn't try to run out of bounds if more yards are available to him. Uses spin-moves to avoid taking big hits and pick up extra yards, which sometimes results in him taking shots to the back when reinforcements arrive.
Hasn't been utilized much as a receiver in the NFL, but showed proficiency in that area in college. No one will confuse him with James White when he's running routes, but he has shown soft, reliable hands.
Willing and capable pass blocker; another skill Blount did not consistently show he possessed. In addition to having good timing on cut blocks, Gillislee gets low and has a solid base to block blitzing defenders straight-up. This keeps defenders on their toes, as they don’t know what to expect when Gillislee is standing in their way.
Besides some suspect vision here and there, only other weakness is that he doesn't fit into a traditional box. He's powerful, but he isn't a power-back like Blount. Has good hands, but he isn't a receiving-back like White. He can be elusive and make would-be tacklers look silly in the open field, but he isn't Lewis or Shady McCoy.
Gillislee simply does a lot of things well, and that will quickly endear him to the Foxborough faithful.
He projects to take over as the Patriots' early down and short yardage back. Though he has the ability to stay on the field for third downs, it's unlikely that he will get many of those opportunities given the depth and receiving skills of the backs behind him. Through no fault of his own, I also don't see the journeyman breaking the millennium mark in rushing yards in 2017.
Rex Burkhead and Dion Lewis are capable rushers and McDaniels will likely try to keep his backs fresh by implementing a heavy rotation, which will also put a stress on defenses to know who is on the field. Even if he doesn't pick up 1,000 yards, this should be a breakout year for Gillislee. He will finally have an opportunity to be the lead back for a team that fielded the league's sixth best run-blocking grade in 2016, according to Pro Football Focus.
Belichick and Caserio have done an excellent job this offseason loading up an offense that showed some holes in Super Bowl LI, despite leaving NRG Stadium as champions and overcoming the largest deficit in the history of the big game. Acquiring Gillislee could be the cherry on top.