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Weighing myth vs. reality regarding Dion Lewis’ postgame comments

New England Patriots v Tennessee Titans Photo by Silas Walker/Getty Images

Let’s just dive right in.

Myth: “The Patriots signed Dion Lewis off the couch when no one else would.”

Reality: After being saddled behind star bell cow LeSean McCoy for his first two years and then being swept up in Chip Kelly’s house cleaning following Andy Reid’s four-win 2012 season, Lewis broke his fibula after signing on with the Browns in 2013. Naturally, after a 4-12 season in 2013, the Browns fired first-year head coach Rob Chudzinski and GM Michael Lombardi.

After a long rehabilitation process, Lewis was cut at the end of August in 2014. Finally healthy enough to play, he signed with Indianapolis for a short stint that September. After being released, he continued working out for teams — including the Patriots — but it was simply too late in the year to catch on anywhere solid. The Patriots signed him to a reserve deal on the final day of December in 2014.

Lewis’ experience as a street free agent wasn’t special. The Patriots didn’t bend over backwards to specifically bring him into their building. Existing team personnel wasn’t altered in any way by his arrival. It was simply the natural process of filling a 90-man roster with depth that lead to Lewis’ opportunity.

Myth: “The Patriots aren’t cheap, they just don’t want to pay running backs long-term.”

Reality: Few have advocated harder for the eradication of the “Patriots don’t pay anybody” narrative more than myself over the past few years. They consistently rank in the top-five year after year in the number of players on the roster with cap hits that account for 1% or more of the league salary cap. More than any other organization, they heavily invest in their practice squad. And, they’ve been known to adjust the terms of incentive tiers for veterans on track to narrowly miss their target figures, or who have their roles change.

However, in Dion Lewis’ scenario, the Patriots clearly low-balled him. The deal that Lewis signed could have been managed easily by the Patriots this offseason, who entered free agency with around $21 million in cap space. After a 2017 season where he was such a dynamic, integral part of the offense, the only conceivable reasons for the Patriots to let him walk were injury history and age.

Interestingly enough, months after Lewis’ departure, the Patriots opted to take a running back in the first round with a significant injury history. In doing so, they committed $8,389,710 in fully guaranteed dollars to Sony Michel over four years. The deal Dion signed with the Titans fully guaranteed him $5.75 million at signing. Perhaps even more important — given the injury history of each player and the nature of the running back position is how the dead money shakes out if either player were to be cut or traded during or after the 2020 season;

Dead Money: 2020 | 2021

Michel: $4,931,517 | $2,306,055

Lewis: $1,125,000 | $562,500

This isn’t to say that Sony Michel won’t be an excellent asset to the organization for the duration of his contract, but realistically, his selection won’t be deemed a success unless he becomes the complete back that Dion Lewis already is.

Myth: “It was a classless move by Lewis, and he’s lost any respect he had in New England.”

Reality: Every NFL player is constantly on the lookout for something that can give them an edge on any given week. And, if Dion Lewis learned nothing else from his time in New England, he learned the value of quality bulletin board material.

After being low-balled in March coming off an amazing 2017 season in Foxborough, you can bet last Sunday’s game had been circled on the Lewis family calendar for quite some time. So when he and his new teammates demolished the Patriots in every aspect — to the tune of a 24-point blowout victory — it’s fair to say that his emotions were running a bit hot in the locker room after the contest.

What exactly what was classless about the situation?

If in the spirit of good-natured competitiveness, if you want to classify Lewis’ comments as saltiness, go for it. But considering the former Patriots running back got the contract he desired and the revenge game victory he psyched himself up for, it’s honestly hard to even make a valid argument for that.

If these few passionate remarks not only cause you to label Lewis as classless, but to also forget everything he provided for the organization over his three-year tenure, then maybe sports just aren’t for you.

Myth: “The Patriots stuck with him through his ACL injury, and this is how he acts?!?!”

Reality: It’s funny how quickly people forget just how good Lewis was for New England in 2015. In fact, he was so good that he became the focal point of their entire offensive attack through the first three weeks of the season — leading to the organization signing him to a modest two-year contract. A month later, he tore his ACL against Washington.

However, the notion that the Patriots “stuck with him” — as if it was out of the kindness of their hearts — is asinine.

  1. Players on IR don’t take up a roster spot.
  2. Having inked him to the extension just weeks before, the Patriots would’ve incurred $544,117 in dead money by releasing him immediately (which obviously would have been ridiculous), and $400,000 in the 2016 offseason.
  3. If Lewis were to find himself unable to find a landing spot with a new team once he completed his rehabilitation, he could have filed for injury protection, which started counting against teams’ salary caps in 2016. Lewis would’ve been eligible for $400,000 in salary (50%).

Myth: “Dion Lewis owes his entire career to the Patriots organization.”

Reality: Did the Patriots organization play a role in the spring-boarding of Dion’s career? Sure — but no more so than any other team who had a player on their roster put together a breakout season. Josh McDaniels didn’t hit the holes for Dion — or catch his check-down targets. Robert Kraft didn’t execute Dion’s blitz pickups, and Bill Belichick didn’t subject himself to the hundreds upon hundreds of hits that Dion did.

Set aside your tribalistic devotion to the organization for a moment. Try to remember how incredibly rare the talents of NFL players are. Remember that they spend their whole lives working for the opportunity to finally earn a living from those rare talents. And more importantly, remember that they are human too.

If you truly do that, then maybe you’ll see that the real myth is believing that players like Dion Lewis owe their careers to teams that operate like the cold, calloused corporations that they are.

The Reality?

Dion Lewis doesn’t owe the Patriots a damned thing.

Follow Brian Phillips on Twitter — @BPhillips_SB