Before the NFL’s 2018 free agency period even began, the New England Patriots and Brandon Bolden agreed to a one-year contract to keep the veteran special teamer in the fold. For the second straight season, however, the team decided to release him on roster cutdown day with the intention to bring him back at a later point — a move that worked in 2017, but that did not see the desired outcome for team in 2018.
Three days after his release, Bolden signed a contract with the Miami Dolphins. The former undrafted free agent went on to appear in all 16 games for the Patriots’ division rivals and played a similar role like the one he held in New England: he served primarily as a special teamer — finishing the season with six tackles and a blocked punt — while also seeing action as a rotational running back that had arguably his best game against his former team.
In Week 14, Bolden contributed two touchdowns and 61 yards to the Dolphins’ 34-33 win over the Patriots during the so-called “Miami Miracle.” But while the team won that one game in spectacular fashion on a last-second touchdown, Bolden’s former club went on to reach and ultimately win the Super Bowl — all while he had to sit at home after the Dolphins went just 7-9 during the regular season and missed the playoffs.
Now, the 29-year-old is back on his way to the postseason and once again playing with the team that originally signed him as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2012: Bolden re-joined the Patriots on a two-year deal in March and again has carved out his role as a core special teamer and depth option at the running back position. And his impact on the team cannot be denied, as head coach Bill Belichick pointed out during a media conference call this week.
“I can’t tell you how happy I am to have Brandon back, and I think our team and our coaching staff feels the same way,” the future Hall of Famer said. “He’s been such a great re-addition to the team. I think we all knew and appreciated and loved having Brandon on the team, and last year, I think we missed each other. But sometimes that’s the business side of this game. But he’s back, and I think he’s enjoyed it.”
“I don’t want to speak for him, but he certainly seems to have enjoyed this season. I know the team and the staff and I love having him back, as well,” Belichick added. So far this season, there is plenty of potential for Bolden to enjoy it: not only are the Patriots 12-3 heading into the regular season finale against the veteran’s former team, Bolden also is in the middle of his statistically best year since 2015.
Appearing in 14 of 15 games so far this year, Bolden registered 15 carries for 68 and three touchdowns as well as nine catches for 111 yards and an additional score — despite serving as essentially only the fourth option at running back behind Sony Michel, James White and Rex Burkhead. Furthermore, he has registered seven tackles in the kicking game as well as one forced fumble and a blocked punt that resulted in a touchdown by Chase Winovich.
“He’s so valuable in so many ways,” Belichick said. “On the field, off the field, his preparation, his experience, his energy level, his ability to do so many different things well, both offensively and in the kicking game. He’s embraced new roles like, for example, being the kick returner this year. That’s something that he hasn’t really done a lot of in the past, and he had probably his best return of the season last week against Buffalo, and we really needed it.”
“He’s really come through for us in so many ways, with offensive production,” added Belichick. “But his leadership, his competitiveness, his toughness and his dependability are outstanding. It’s really great to have him back here. We missed him last year, but we’re so glad he’s back.”