The New England Patriots have made their running back position an offseason priority. At the beginning of free agency, the team signed Rex Burkhead to a one-year, $3.15 million contract. Last week, it extended James White on a three-year deal and also placed an offer sheet on restricted free agent Mike Gillislee.
With the Buffalo Bills opting not to match the two-year, $6.4 million offer, Gillislee will now join the Patriots. Let’s find out what that means for the team.
For now, the running back depth chart appears set
With Mike Gillislee in the fold, New England now has six pure running backs on its roster and it appears as if four of them – plus fullback James Develin – will be on the team by season’s start: Gillislee will be joined by fellow roster locks Rex Burkhead and James White; and the clear-cut favorite to earn the fourth spot is Dion Lewis, who is looking to regain his 2015 pre-ACL injury form.
The only question at this point appears to be whether or not the team opts to keep a fifth runner on the roster. Given the depth and talent at other skill positions, though, this seems unlikely as of right now.
New England no longer needs to draft a running back...
Had the Patriots not been able to acquire Gillislee, the team would have been in the market to draft a running back. However, with the 26-year old in New England, the need to select one is all but gone considering how well-stocked and comparatively young the position depth chart currently is.
However, that does not mean that the Patriots will not draft a running back anyway. If the chance presents itself to select a player in a high-value spot, the team will likely still go for him. As director of player personnel Nick Caserio pointed out last week, if the Patriots think a player will help, they will take him no matter the need or the position he ultimately ends up playing.
...or re-sign LeGarrette Blount
Adding Gillislee also means that the reign of LeGarrette Blount as the Patriots’ lead back is likely over. The 30-year old remains unsigned since entering unrestricted free agency in early March and has reportedly not garnered any interest outside of New England. With him not signing the Patriots’ offer and the team now adding Gillislee it would not be a surprise to see the Blount era end after four seasons.
The Patriots have another running back under contract beyond 2017
When the contract details of free agent pickup Rex Burkhead became public, he joined fellow running backs James White and Dion Lewis as players about to become unrestricted free agents following the season. However, with White’s contract extended last week and Gillislee now signed to a two-year deal, the team will have two of its core running backs under contract beyond this season.
New England essentially traded A.J. Derby for Mike Gillislee
In order to acquire Gillislee, the Patriots had to send their fifth round selection in this year’s draft to Buffalo. Pick number 163 originally belonged to the Denver Broncos but the team used it to trade for Patriots tight end A.J. Derby during the 2016 season. Derby, who was drafted by New England with selection 202 in 2015, was therefore essentially traded for Gillislee – a solid swap from the Patriots’ perspective.
The Patriots now own a league-low six draft picks
With a fifth rounder being shipped to the Bills, the Patriots remain with only six selections in the draft. This ties the reigning AFC and world champions with the Atlanta Falcons, the reinging NFC champions, for fewest picks in the league. If they do not acquire additional draft choices, it would also tie the lowest draft output in Bill Belichick’s era as head coach and de-facto general manager: The team also drafted six players in 2002.