Signed: Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, James Develin, Brandon Bolden
Free Agent: LeGarrette Blount
The bad news is LeGarrette Blount is a free agent. The good news is if Blount leaves, the Patriots still have a 1,200-yard back to turn to.
Blount came to New England in a trade with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for running back/kick returner Jeff Demps and a seventh-round draft pick. Expectations for Blount were low as he barely played as Doug Martin’s backup.
Blount first established himself as New England’s best closer in the fourth quarter. By the end of the season Blount started five of the final six games.
In his final four games, Blount ran for 437 yards on 6.3 yards per carry and six touchdowns. Included in those performances were runs of 30, 35, 36 and 73 yards, the last three for scores.
Blount should be New England’s second priority this offseason after cornerback Aqib Talib. Blount is the bull in the backfield the Patriots have lacked since Corey Dillon.
If Blount reaches free agency, there will be competition for his services. Several teams (Atlanta Falcons, Cleveland Browns and St. Louis Rams to name a few) would love to add the brute to carry their ground game.
Franchising Blount wouldn’t be sound. For a team that prefers a two-pronged rushing attack, paying a running back like an elite back is poor cap management. The best way to ensure Blount remains a Patriot is to sign him by March 11.
Losing Bount won’t be the end of New England’s rushing attack. In his second year Ridley ran for 1,263 yards and 12 touchdowns. Ridley should have solidified himself as one of the league’s top backs in 2013 but he couldn’t hold on to the ball.
There’s no denying Ridley’s talent, though. After being benched, Ridley was complimenting Bount well, increasing his rushing yards between Weeks 14 to 16. If Ridley regains the coaches’ trust, he will likely be the Patriots’ top back again.
Depth behind Ridley is solid with Shane Vereen fulfilling the third down role and Brandon Bolden adequately filling in where needed. If Vereen can avoid injuries (he played in just eight regular season games), he will have the explosive season that was expected of him in 2013. Bolden is well-rounded and able to carry the load or play third down back when called upon, though he lacks consistency.
As for the fifth back, New England can shop for an inexpensive veteran or add a rookie. Or the Patriots could entertain the idea of giving fullback James Develin more carries. The 6’3” 251-pound former Ivy League player could fulfill the short yardage back role. Develin has the desire, as evidenced by his one-yard touchdown run in Week 13 against the Houston Texans.
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