This is part of a series of articles examining questions the New England Patriots will have to answer in the run-up to free agency on March 11.
In November of last year, New England Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount had T-shirts designed that read "Blount Force Trauma." The Buffalo Bills and Indianapolis Colts became painfully familiar with the concept at the end of the 2013–2014 season.
But should the Patriots give Blount a new deal or let him walk?
The case for keeping Blount
The Patriots acquired Blount in a draft-day trade with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, trading a seventh-round draft pick and running back Jeff Demps, an Olympic athlete who had zero yards for New England.
Obviously, the Patriots got the better end of that deal: the 5'7", 190-pound Demps had 35 yards from scrimmage in 2013, and a 23.2 yard average on four kick returns, while the 6'0", 250-pound Blount had 810 yards from scrimmage and, remarkably, a 29.1-yard average on returns.
Blount also played a pivotal role down the stretch, with his two best performances coming in Week 17, when he helped the Patriots secure a first-round bye in the playoffs, and in the Patriots' home playoff opener, in which he scored a team record four rushing touchdowns.
With Stevan Ridley's fumbling issues and Shane Vereen's injury concerns, keeping Blount in the Patriots' "running back by committee" approach would provide some welcome stability.
The case for not keeping Blount
The basic reason for allowing Blount to depart in free agency is the nature of the running back position itself.
It's a position that's highly dependent on the play of other players, especially the offensive line. In that two-game span against the Bills and Colts, Blount had 48 carries for 355 yards. In the Patriots' loss to the Broncos, he had 5 carries for a paltry 6 yards.
It's also a high-turnover position, with few players having long careers and lots of rookies joining the league annually. In just the last two years, the Patriots let BenJarvus Green-Ellis depart to the Bengals, and weren't willing to match Danny Woodhead's two-year, $3.5 million deal with the San Diego Chargers.
The Patriots also have to consider what to do with their other three running backs—Vereen, Ridley, and Brandon Bolden—all of whom are free agents at the end of the season. Vereen seems the likeliest to get an extension, since he did have over 40 receptions in just eight games. Whatever the Patriots might give Blount in a contract would probably serve as a floor for Vereen's contract, and that might mean spending more at the running back position.
Finally, while Ridley's fumbling concerns (four fumbles on 178 carries) were dissected ad nauseam during the regular season, it should be pointed out that Blount's stats were not vastly better (three fumbles on 154 carries).
The wild card
I think definitely an assist on this one has to go to our assistant pro personnel director – [Aqib] Talib – who I talked to before we traded for LeGarrette and everything he said about him was absolutely right. He’s a good football player who loves to play, works hard and is a team player; great guy for the team in the locker room. He’s been all those things.
Cornerback Aqib Talib was Blount's teammate in Tampa Bay before the Bucs traded him to New England in 2012. If the Patriots can extend Talib (which may not be an easy matter itself), that could make keeping Blount easier. On the other hand, if Talib walks, that might make it harder for the Patriots to keep Blount.
What should New England do with Blount?
Blount had a very strong late-season run—at least until the wheels fell off the Patriots offense in Denver in the playoffs. Does he want to cash in on that success, and take his abilities elsewhere, or would he rather stay in New England, and likely take less?
In the end, it'll almost certainly come down to money. If the Patriots can keep Blount for less than about $2 million a year, they probably will. If he gets offers higher than that, it's unlikely the Patriots will match.