Coming off a 2021 season that saw them return to the playoffs but eventually come up short on wild card weekend, the New England Patriots have a long list of to-dos this offseason. One of its items is bringing back players who are scheduled to enter free agency.
There are quite a few of them: all in all, 18 players that were with New England last year are in need of a new contract. Among them is running back Brandon Bolden, who is an unrestricted free agent and will therefore hit the open market on March 16.
Name: Brandon Bolden
Position: Running back/Special teamer
Jersey number: 25
Opening day age: 32
Size: 5-foot-11, 220 pounds
Contract status: Unrestricted free agent
What is his experience? Even though he went unselected in the 2012 NFL Draft and the team had just invested two mid-round picks at the running back position the previous offseason, Bolden was able to make the Patriots’ 53-man roster as a rookie. This was the start of an impressive career for the Ole Miss product.
Over the course of the 10 seasons since, he has appeared in 131 regular season games as well as 17 playoff contests and established himself as one of the league’s better special teamers. With the exception of a one-year stint with the Miami Dolphins in 2018, Bolden spent his entire professional career in New England.
He was only irregularly featured in a prominent role at his listed position — Bolden has 392 total touches on his Patriots résumé for 2,205 yards and 16 touchdowns — but became a reliable presence for the team as a core special teamer and depth option in the running back room. As such, he helped the organization win two Super Bowls to cap the 2014 and the 2016 seasons.
What did his 2021 season look like? After spending the entire 2020 season on the list of Coronavirus opt-outs, Bolden returned the following offseason — making him one of only two Patriots to rejoin the club after opting out the previous year (the other being linebacker Dont’a Hightower). The veteran entered 2021 set to play a familiar role: serve as a four-unit member of New England’s kicking game group and as an experienced rotational player and leader among the running backs.
The first two games of the year were business as usual for Bolden, but his 10th NFL campaign was altered considerably when James White went down with a hip injury in Week 3 versus the New Orleans Saints. With White lost for the remainder of the season — and with fellow running back Sony Michel already traded to the Los Angeles Rams — Bolden was picked as the next man up: he took over White’s role as the featured back on passing plays, third downs and in up-tempo situations.
In that role, Bolden produced one of the best statistical season since entering the league. Appearing in all 17 regular season games plus the playoff loss in Buffalo, he set a new career mark with 658 total yards from scrimmage on 89 combined touches. Bolden also found the end zone on three different occasions, and finished the season ranked third on the Patriots in rushing attempts (44) and fourth in catches (45). While not as dynamic a player as White, he proved himself a solid replacement option.
Bolden did not just play 31.3 percent of offensive snaps (366 of 1,169) during the 2021 season, he also continued to serve as a key special teamer. Being on the field for 293 of a possible 464 snaps in the game’s third phase, he saw regular action on both return and coverage teams and registered eight total tackles. All in all, the veteran — who furthermore revealed a prior cancer diagnosis for the first time — looked good coming off an entire year spent on the sidelines.
Free agency preview
What is his contract history? When Bolden first joined the Patriots after going undrafted, he signed a standard three-year free agency deal. He later signed a two-year extension with the team as well as a pair of one-year pacts. In 2018, after getting released by New England, Bolden signed a one-year deal with the Dolphins. The following offseason, he returned to the Patriots via the two-year, $3.7 million contract that will expire later this year. So far, according to Over the Cap, the veteran back has earned around $10 million during his career in the NFL.
Which teams might be in the running? With the running back position devalued over the last few years, Bolden will not break the bank in free agency. However, multiple teams — including the Patriots — could use this as a chance to add a veteran presence to the mix. The Houston Texans and Las Vegas Raiders might be teams to watch, given that both of them are run by former New England executives. The Arizona Cardinals and Tampa Bay Buccaneers also might be interested with several of their backs headed towards free agency.
Why should he be expected back? Even though the Patriots are set in the early-down department with Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson, keeping Bolden on another short-term deal might be the best course of action. He offers experience and leadership at running back and in the kicking game, and could soften the blow of James White leaving via free agency or J.J. Taylor not taking the next step as a receiving back.
Why should he be expected to leave? Given their salary cap situation, the Patriots might prefer to play Bolden’s free agency rather slowly. In turn, he might be willing to jump ship if an opportunity presented itself. Bolden furthermore is on the wrong side of 30 and despite not showing any signs of slowing down is not as dynamic a player as others that might be available through free agency or, more likely, the draft. There also is a chance that he heads off into retirement.
What is his projected free agency outcome? Bolden leaving the Patriots is a possibility given his status as an unrestricted free agent, but it seems more likely that he will stay put and return on another low-cost deal. A contract similar to the one he signed in 2019 — the aforementioned two-year deal worth $3.7 million — might make sense if it gives New England an easy out along the way. Unless Bolden announces his retirement, he is a prime candidate to return.
Will the Patriots re-sign Brandon Bolden?
This poll is closed