The New England Patriots were always going to have a difficult time retaining running back Dion Lewis. When healthy, Lewis is one of the ten most dynamic running backs in the NFL. The big question is whether or not Lewis can stay healthy for a full season.
The Patriots are not willing to pay Lewis top ten running back money due to their limited amount of salary cap space. Other teams are not as restrained, or are more willing to risk their cap space on a player with an extensive injury history, which is why Lewis is expected to sign a 4-year deal with the Tennessee Titans that will make him one of the ten highest-paid running backs in the league.
Let’s analyze what this means for the Patriots.
New England will have to replace their leading rusher from 2017
Lewis led the Patriots with 896 rushing yards and 1,110 yards from scrimmage during the 2017 regular season and scored a team-high 9 touchdowns. The next-most productive running backs were James White with 600 yards from scrimmage and pending free agent Rex Burkhead with 518 yards from scrimmage. When healthy, Lewis was as dominant as White and Burkhead combined. Now the Patriots need his replacement.
Lewis led the Patriots running backs in snaps for 2017
While Lewis was extremely dominant for the Patriots from a production standpoint, he actually only played 35.6% of the offensive snaps, a fraction more than James White at 33.6%. Burkhead and Mike Gillislee clocked in at 17.1% and 15.0%, respectively, as the Patriots had a running back on the field on pretty much every snap.
The Patriots will have to add a running back- or two
With Lewis expected to leave and Rex Burkhead far from a guarantee to return, the Patriots are looking at James White, Mike Gillislee, and Brandon Bolden as their only trio under contract. Gillislee was a healthy scratch for much of the 2017 season and Bolden is a special teams ace, which means there’s a gaping hole at running back. The Patriots should either add a veteran late in free agency or add another rusher in the draft.
New England should get yet another compensatory draft pick
The Patriots are expected to get a third round compensatory pick for losing Malcolm Butler (also to the Titans) and a fifth round compensatory pick for losing Danny Amendola (to the Miami Dolphins). A top ten running back contract for Lewis should come in at $4.5 million or greater, which should be a sixth round pick at the very least. Based on the language of the report, I would be surprised if Lewis received a top five contract, which would place his ceiling at $6.5 million per year, which puts his compensatory ceiling at a fifth round pick.
UPDATE: NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo says it’s a 4-year, $20 million contract with $3 million in incentives.
Dion Lewis’ deal with the Titans: four years, $20 million with another $3 million in incentives, source says— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) March 14, 2018
While it depends on other free agent contracts, Lewis is right on the border between a fifth- and sixth-round compensatory pick.
Lewis will face the Patriots in 2018
The Titans host the Patriots in Tennessee. Lewis, Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, and head coach Mike Vrabel should have quite the warm welcome for their former teammates.