New England Patriots Should Trade Damien Harris—Potential Landing Spots for Star RB

Brent SobleskiAugust 17, 2022

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The New England Patriots should dust off that old breakup excuse: "It's not you. It's me. I need to work on myself for a little."

This time, Damien Harris should be on the receiving end.

The Patriots under Bill Belichick have a long history of moving on from players sooner rather than later. Lawyer Milloy, Richard Seymour and Chandler Jones immediately come to mind. As the team transitions under a new-look configuration of coaches, Harris could easily find himself as the odd man out of the backfield rotation.

When asked if the Patriots should consider trading their leading rusher, Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer responded, "I think it’ll depend on how the young backs are coming along. Rhamondre Stevenson, as I see it, has established himself as a starting-level player. ... But really, to me, much of it probably connects to the two guys New England spent draft picks on— Pierre Strong Jr. and Kevin Harris.

"If one or both take a big step forward, then that’ll give the Patriots flexibility. And thereafter, it’d really come down to New England’s getting something significantly more valuable than it might in a comp pick if the team lets Harris leave after next year."

Another factor comes into play.

Josh McDaniels isn't calling the plays anymore, and the Patriots offense is expected to look quite different under the combined supervision of senior football advisor Matt Patricia and offensive assistant Joe Judge. It's an odd setup to say the least, especially because Patricia hails from a defensive background, while Judge's focus has been special teams. Change begets change, though.

"The Patriots are really installing a zone-blocking scheme out of nowhere under apparent new play-caller Matt Patricia," NFL Network's Gregg Rosenthal noted. "This is a huge departure from their more traditional (and successful!) gap-heavy power rushing attack."

Damien Harris led the Patriots in rushing yards in each of the last two seasons, but he's a primarily a physical downhill runner. Granted, all teams employ basic zone and man-gap principles. How much they rely on either approach determines the run game's identity. Harris isn't the type of back to excel in a wide-zone system.

Besides, injuries have been an issue for the 25-year-old ball-carrier, and his grasp on a starting spot began to loosen last season when rookie Rhamondre Stevenson flashed.

From the start of December until the end of the season, Harris and Stevenson split carries. Both missed one game during that stretch. Comparatively, the former carried the ball 57 times for 316 yards, while the latter managed 65 carries for 282 yards.

The 230-pound second-year back can provide the same type of physical presence as a runner while also serving as an every-down back after James White's retirement. According to ESPN's Eric Moody, Stevenson is getting reps as the team's third-down back. Belichick himself acknowledged the sophomore's contributions in this area.

"Rhamondre has done a real good job improving his pass-game skills," the head coach told reporters Tuesday.

Trading Harris would decrease the quality of New England's backfield depth, but he is entering the last year of his rookie deal. The team also has veteran Ty Montgomery, who's a capable runner and receiver, and drafted Strong in this year's fourth round. The last move is particularly interesting since Strong thrives as a zone-runner with 4.37-second 40-yard-dash speed to perfectly complement Stevenson.

Three potential landing spots seem to be logical fits for Harris if the Patriots seriously consider trading the back.

Las Vegas Raiders

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While the Patriots may be averse to trading a proven starter within the conference, the Raiders are the perfect landing spot after hiring McDaniels as their head coach. McDaniels knows exactly what type of player the team would get. Basically, Harris can serve as a tone-setter for the entire offense.

"Damien is the kind of guy, there may or may not be a hole, but he's going to make one," the former Patriots coordinator said in November.

The Raiders aren't in need of a running back, per se, although the team doesn't appear entirely sold on Josh Jacobs. Las Vegas declined to pick up the 2019 first-rounder's fifth-year option this offseason. He also played in the Hall of Fame game when multiple other starters didn't, though McDaniels tried to rationalize Jacobs' presence on the field.

"I always think it’s good for backs to carry the ball in the preseason," McDaniels said. "There's a lot of things that happen when you're getting tackled and hit that you can't simulate in practice."

A move for Harris doesn't automatically mean he'd replace Jacobs. Instead, Harris can become a complementary piece and possibly be signed long term to pair with rookie Zamir White as the Raiders' two-headed rushing attack.

New Orleans Saints

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A potential suspension is looming for Saints running back Alvin Kamara. Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio reported in June that Kamara and his representation were "bracing for a suspension of at least six weeks."

Kamara was arrested and charged with felony battery after he, Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Chris Lammons and two other men allegedly physically assaulted a man inside a Las Vegas casino in February 2022. In an interview with police, the running back admitted to throwing punches.

The court granted an extension of 60 days in August after the defendants' lawyers asked for more time to review the the case, per David Charns of 8 News Now. As such, league discipline could be delayed. According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, "There's a real chance that the status of that case is not going to affect his availability this season."

New Orleans can't be so sure and should be prepared for Kamara to miss time at some point this year. Harris presents a different skill set, of course, but backup Mark Ingram turns 33 years old in December and is not as effective as he once was.

Harris can be a short-term Kamara replacement if need be, and a long-term complementary option as the thunder to the five-time Pro Bowler's lightning.

Atlanta Falcons

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The Falcons simply need help at all levels, and the team clearly lacks a true lead back.

Cordarrelle Patterson proved to be a wonderful offensive weapon out of the backfield last season. The then-30-year-old led the squad with 618 rushing yards and finished his first season in Atlanta with 1,166 total yards from scrimmage. Head coach Arthur Smith and his staff will continue to deploy him in a variety of ways, but beyond Patterson, the pickings are slim.

Damien Williams didn't play in 2020 and carried the ball only 40 times last season. Tyler Allgeier is a fifth-round rookie with some potential, particularly as a runner between the tackles. The front office waived Qadree Ollison last September, and the 2019 fifth-round pick then spent the majority of last season on the Falcons' practice squad.

Harris can step in and immediately serve as Atlanta's RB1.

Granted, Harris to the Falcons isn't an ideal schematic fit, as noted earlier. Smith's success as the Tennessee Titans' offensive coordinator came in a heavy zone scheme where Derrick Henry thrived.

Then again, Henry was known as more of a downhill runner before the transition. Harris isn't on Henry's level, but the twosome came out of the same collegiate system at Alabama. Smith can find ways to work around potential shortcomings in order to improve the Falcons' overall level of talent.

Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @brentsobleski.


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