The New England Patriots have a lengthy list of free agents to address over the next weeks, especially considering that multiple players or core rotational players are about the hit the open market. One of those players is running back Dion Lewis, who led the Patriots in rushing attempts (180), rushing yards (896) and rushing touchdowns (6) during the 2017 season and was sixth in the NFL in all-purpose yards gained (1,680).
Naturally, Lewis should be a high-priority for New England. However, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, the 27-year old is expected to hit free agency in March and has not yet been engaged in contract talks with the team:
Star running back Dion Lewis, who signed an early extension in his Patriots career which proved to be smart. He then took a season-ending knee injury. This time around, no contract talks with the Patriots – he is going to be a free agent. Told me he loves the product he has put on the field to prepare him to be in this situation.
While the report stems from Super Bowl Sunday, Rapoport's “he is going to be a free agent” sounds confident enough to make believe that a familiar scenario might unfold for the Patriots: The player is allowed to test the free agency waters to see how he is valued and then returns to New England with a distinct asking price. Both safety Devin McCourty and linebacker Dont'a Hightower were retained using this approach.
Whether or not the Patriots will also be able to keep Lewis around remains to be seen. Based on his 2017 campaign, however, and his role as the starter at both running back and kick returner, it would not be a surprise to see the team up the ante once Lewis returns with an offer and fight for his services – just like it did with Hightower last offseason.