The writing was already on the wall. Not only did the New England Patriots decline to pick up Sony Michel’s fifth-year contract option in spring, they later also invested a fourth-round draft pick in his potential heir at the early-down running back position.
After three seasons of ups and downs, it was no surprise to see the Patriots prepare for a future without Michel. That future came sooner than originally expected, though, with the team trading him to the Los Angeles Rams on Wednesday. New England, which spent the 31st overall pick in the draft on him just three years ago, will get either a fourth-round pick in return, or fifth- and sixth-round selections.
From that perspective, the return on their investment is disappointing. And the statistics themselves also do not tell a much better story from the Patriots’ point of view.
In three full seasons in New England, Michel appeared in a combined 42 regular season and playoff games. He carried the football a total of 620 times for 2,689 yards and 20 touchdowns. While his output was solid, the Georgia product was unable to live up to the natural expectations that come with being a first-round draft selection.
Hence, the Patriots’ decision to decline his fifth-year option and eventually to move on from him even before his rookie pact is up.
Despite this unceremonious departure, however, there is a strong argument to be made that Michel has earned his place in Patriots history. He actually did so pretty early in his career, despite adding little to his legacy in New England since.
Michel had a solid regular season as a rookie. He ran the ball 209 times for 931 yards and 6 scores, establishing himself as the primary early-down back for a team among the favorites to win the Super Bowl. Had he not missed three games due to injury — an unfortunate constant in his NFL career — he likely would have crossed the 1,000-yard barrier.
His solid regular season performance was only an appetizer, though. The playoffs were the main course.
Michel was spectacular during the three-game stretch en route to earning his first and so far only championship ring. In fact, he had a postseason for the ages.
Running behind an outstanding offensive line, tight end group and fullback, Michel touched the football 53 times through the divisional and championship round. Along the way he gained 242 yards and 5 touchdowns — one of them when he turned a crucial fourth down during the AFC Championship Game against the Kansas City Chiefs in a score:
Sony Michel was unstoppable during the 2018 playoffs. pic.twitter.com/k4hdZ9KiJ6— Pats Pulpit (@patspulpit) August 25, 2021
In Super Bowl 53 versus the Rams of all opponents, the then-rookie added his crowning achievement. While his final stat-line might not have been quite as spectacular as some of the other numbers he put up this season — he ran for 94 yards on 18 handoffs — Michel continuously made plays and delivered especially when it counted the most. He was a key factor in New England’s victory.
For starters, he scored the game’s only touchdown when he found the end zone on a 2-yard run in the fourth quarter.
The score put New England up 10-3, and the pressure on a Los Angeles offense that had pretty much been shut down through the game’s first 53 minutes. The unit failed to answer, and the Patriots continued their defensive domination with a Stephon Gilmore interception on the next series.
The game was not yet over, though, and it was the Patriots’ turn to drain time off the clock late in the game. In this situation, just like they did near the goal line, they trusted Michel to deliver.
Deliver he did. Michel was handed the football on seven of eight plays on what turned out to be New England’s final non-kneel-down possession. He gained a combined 41 yards and had run the game clock down to 1:16 when kicker Stephen Gostkowski took the field to ice the game and put the Patriots up 13-3 game.
Even though he had some very good moments over the next two seasons as well, Michel never returned to the dominant form he showed during the 2018 playoffs when he carried the football 71 for 336 yards and 6 touchdowns. There is a reason why he is now a Ram instead.
And yet, that postseason run was one for the ages and his performance a big reason why New England’s trophy case holds six Vince Lombardi Trophies. For that alone, Michel has earned his spot in Patriots history.