While the New England Patriots bringing in droves of outside talent stole the headlines in free agency, the team also was able to re-sign a significant portion of its in-house players hitting the open market. Among them was running back James White.
While he remained unsigned for an entire week, White ultimately returned to New England via a one-year, $2.5 million contract. The deal helped the club keep its running back group mostly intact and retain four of five captains in need of a new contract (cornerback Jason McCourty being the lone exception after leaving for Miami).
For White, the free agency process was a new experience altogether after he had remained under contract ever since joining the Patriots as a fourth-round draft pick in 2014.
“Free agency is really strange,” he said during a recent media conference call.
“Day to day everything kind of changes a little bit. Some days a team may have interest, the next day the may not, and the next day the might have interest. It’s a little different than you might ever imagine. It’s a lot of worrying what’s going to be next and where you’re going to be at next. But obviously, the Patriots were in the mix the whole time and it’s good to be back. It’s good to be back with these guys and just find a way to improve. It starts now.”
White acknowledged that both the Coronavirus pandemic and the smaller salary cap shaped his trip to free agency. However, he also pointed out how familiarity played a big role in his return to the only pro franchise he has ever played for.
“It’s good to be back. Familiar faces and guys that I know — get back in the locker room with these guys, bounce back and be better than what we did last year and improve from it,” he said about re-signing with the Patriots.
“I’m just familiar with everybody. They always put me in a position to succeed and being back around these guys in the locker room, we have a great group of guys who have helped me shape the person and the player who I am today — the coaches and the players. So, it was only right to come back and compete.”
White claimed that the Patriots’ spending spree in free agency did not play any significant role in his decision making. Given the moves that were made, he still has re-joined a team that will look quite different moving forward especially on the offensive side of the ball.
New England signed Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry to upgrade its tight end group, and also added wide receivers Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne. Furthermore, starting quarterback Cam Newton and center David Andrews — two fellow team captains during the 2020 season — were re-signed as well. On top of those moves, the Patriots also selected QB Mac Jones in the first round of the NFL Draft.
So, will those investments help the Patriots bounce back after their disappointing 7-9 campaign?
“Only time will tell. It doesn’t necessarily matter how many guys we have staying, how many guys we have coming back, how many guys have come in, and all that stuff. It’s all about how you perform each and every week,” White said.
“It’s a long time before we get out there for a preseason game or a regular season game. Each day everybody’s working to improve and put their best foot forward to build team camaraderie and hopefully everything comes together when the games count.”
Considering how the Patriots constructed their roster, White and the rest of the running back group project to once again play a prominent role in this process.
As noted above, the group did stay mostly intact after his re-signing but it also experienced some changes: veteran Rex Burkhead remains on the open market after tearing his ACL last season, while Rhamondre Stevenson was drafted in the fourth round to serve as an early-down back. As a result, New England still has one of the most diverse backfield groups in all of football.
“Everybody has their own unique style, and I think that’s really cool,” said White of his fellow running backs. “We always have different types of running back in our group, like I said. Everybody knows they’re not going to play 100 percent of the snaps and we all just work together and have fun and make the most of our opportunities. And I see a lot of capable guys and guys that will compete and have fun.”
The ultimate goal of that competition, however, is to get better. In true Patriots fashion it did not take long for White himself to point that out.
“Last year we didn’t do our best. So, it’s going to be fun to come out here and see how excited everybody is to get back out there, compete and improve.”