The New England Patriots came up just short of their ultimate goal in 2017 as the team lost Super Bowl LII against the Philadelphia Eagles. In order to get back onto the top of the NFL mountain, the team – on and off the field personnel – will have to quickly turn the page to get into a position to field the best possible team in 2018; one that will be able to once again compete for the world championship.
A big part of creating such a team is mastering the upcoming free agency. And if judged by the list of free agents to be, New England's front office will be busy over the next few weeks. Also over the next few weeks, we will take a look at those free agents to find out who might or might not get re-signed; and who should be a part of the 2018 Patriots. Today, we'll continue the series with running back Rex Burkhead.
#34 RB Rex Burkhead
2018 opening day age: 28
2017 playing time: 12 games (10 regular season + 2 playoffs); 16.2% offensive snaps, 21.8% special teams snaps
2017 statistics: 68 carries, 287 yards, 5 touchdowns; 31 receptions, 300 yards, 3 touchdowns; 4 special teams tackles, 1 punt block
2017 cap number: $3.15 million
The Patriots saw significant turnover at the running back position during the 2017 offseason – signing Burkhead to a one-year deal in free agency was one part of the changes. Acquiring the ex-Cincinnati Bengals running back turned out to be a good move for New England as he appeared in 12 of the team's games as a versatile chess-piece option out of the backfield to complement Dion Lewis and James White.
Burkhead's productivity was not limited to offense as he actually saw a higher playing time percentage in the kicking game and finished with four tackles and a blocked punt. In short: No matter how he was used, the former sixth round draft pick was effective and if not for injuries would certainly have played more than just 16.2% of New England's offensive snaps. His injury situation – he missed seven total games in 2017 due to rib and knee issues – also is a factor when it comes to assessing Burkhead's free agency status.
With availability a potential concern, his market could develop slowly – especially considering that Burkhead has not yet proven himself capable of being more than a role player in an offense. Consequently, the Patriots might be able to get him back on a relatively cheap deal that would benefit both sides: The running back would have one or two seasons to prove his worth to the league while the team would have security in case Dion Lewis left via free agency.
Projection: Burkhead re-signs with the Patriots on a contract for one or two years worth a around $3.0 million per season.