The New England Patriots invested considerable resources in their offensive backfield this offseason: First, the team re-signed free agent runner Rex Burkhead on a three-year, $9.75 million contract. Not even two months later, the Patriots spent the 31st overall pick in the draft on Georgia back Sony Michel. And now, with organized team activities and minicamp over, the team addressed its fullback position.
Yesterday, New England and James Develin agreed to a two-year, $3.8 million contract extension that will keep the veteran from hitting free agency in March of 2019. Beyond keeping one of the NFL’s premier fullbacks in the fold, the move also further adds stability to the Patriots’ offensive backfield: The team’s top four players of the group are now all under contract for at least three more seasons.
RB James White: signed through 2020
RB Rex Burkhead: signed through 2020
FB James Develin: signed through 2020
RB Sony Michel: will be signed through 2021 with an option for 2022
With Tom Brady turning 41 in early August and entering the twilight of his career, having a stable corps of runners and pass protectors behind him certainly is a smart move. Even if the future Hall of Fame passer is able to maintain his elite level of play, a potent ground game consisting mostly of familiar and experienced players certainly helps put less pressure on Brady’s shoulders – and possibly his succesor’s as well.
All four players being signed through multi-year deals also allows the the Patriots to manage the cost of their offensive backfield rather than having the market regularly dictate it to a certain degree. New England can therefore keep the investments comparatively low for the next three seasons because it will not have to compete against other teams during free agency.
Even though the running game in general is being devalued ever since the rule changes of the early 2000s made passing the football easier, the Patriots still know the importance of employing a high-quality backfield. This offseason’s moves – with Develin’s extension being the latest – are another example of this and give the team a core of players that will play in New England for the foreseeable future.