Saturday, February 1, 2014

Reloading the Musket: Part 4 - Patriots should roll with Blount

If the Patriots resign Blount, the most talented backfield in the NFL will return intact.  photo credit: David Silverman
The New England Patriots have zero need to delve into free agency to improve the running back position - nor the draft for that matter - because between LeGarrette Blount, Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen, Belichick has three starting-quality running backs already on the roster.

That said, there is one universal truth for the New England Patriots going into the the 2014 season, and that is that there is no way that they let LeGarrette Blount, himself an unrestricted free agent, walk.

Brought to the Patriots in a draft-day trade for a disinterested Jeff Demps and a third-day draft pick and agreeing to a large slash in his pay rate to do so, Blount did everything that he had to do to revive his career that had been left for dead on Tampa Bay's depth chart - outperforming the meager contract that the Patriots worked him under.

Belichick has always been effusive in his praise for the player he traded for during draft - sometimes going out of his way to make sure that he ackowledged the effort - and Blount, in kind, gave Belichick full effort, endearing himself to the both the coaching staff and to the team's fans.

Blount relished the opportunity to revive his career in New England, did everything that was asked of him and came within one yard of being the Patriots' leading ball carrier, taking the starting job by force - Blount force - late in the season, racking up 431 yards on the ground in wins over Baltimore and Buffalo to end the regular season as well as a divisional round win over Indianapolis in the playoffs.

He has earned his payday.

It's not as if he's going to break the bank, as he's going to command a two or three year deal with money in the range of three million per, and according to Ian Rappaport of NFL Network, Blount wishes to stay with New England, where he and coach Bill Belichick have built a strong relationship.

Part of that - well, actually, most of it - is due to Blount's attitude.  Percieved as a problem child as defined by an incident in college for which he was suspended, the Oregon product agreed to a salary that paid him half of what he was scheduled to earn sitting on Tampa's bench - in fact earning less than everyone in the Patriots' backfield with the exception of seldom-used Brandon Bolden...

...and he earned every penny, and then some.  In fact, Blount's value to the team goes far beyond his cap hit and his even protracts beyond his on-field performance, though the attitude he carries with him toward the game translates to his running style.

Angry?  Yes.  And truth be told, that's one of the things that endears the 27-year-old running back to his coaches, both now and in the past - in fact, when Jeff Fisher was still the bench boss at Tennessee, he brought Blount in as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2010 specifically for that reason:

"He's very competitive." Fisher said after Blount was involved in a brief skirmish in training camp. "He apologized, and I said he didn't have to apologize, it's football. It's training camp. His past is his past. Is that the first punch you've seen in camp this year? No. I'm not disappointed whatsoever. I have great confidence in the young man - That's why we brought him in here is to watch him run the football like that."

And that's why Belichick traded for him, to watch him run with the football like this:

Some may argue that there are greater needs on the offense besides the "luxury" of having three starting-quality running backs on the roster, but it's time for the Patriots to start investing in the future of the unit.

Last season, the five Patriots' running backs combined hit the salary cap for just over $4 million - a grand total of just three percent of the entire cap, so with Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Brandon Bolden and fullback James Develin all coming into contract years, coach Bill Belichick has some decisions to make...

...and he can make things a lot easier on himself by locking up the 250 pound wrecking ball for the next two or three or four years.

Blount is easily a thousand yard back - even with splitting carries - and both he and Ridley have already rushed for over a thousand in a season in the recent past.  Vereen splits his touches between the rushing game and passing game as the third down back while Develin is a huge battering ram that opens holes for the trio and has good hands coming out of the backfield in the pattern... with Ridley and Blount rushing for 773 yards and 772 yards respectively, a greater sense of balance in 2014 could make them the first set of 1000 yard rushers since since Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams accomplished such in 2006 for the Carolina Panthers.

But a championship is what the Patriots are all about, and Belichick knows that his team can reach that goal with his dynamic running game setting the table.

Usually in this spot in the series, you would see videos of the top three running backs that the Patriots would have a tangible opportunity to select in the draft, and also a list of the unrestricted free agents in the NFL that would be the best fit in the Patriots' backfield.

But you're not going to see any of that.  Oh sure, there's guys like Houston's Ben Tate and Denver's Knowshon Moreno - over-rated and over-hyped backs that will probably be over-paid as well, particularly since the draft class for running backs is the weakest in - well - forever, the top back in the class, KaDeem Carey of Arizona, is projected to be selected no earlier than the middle of the second round.

Instead, here's what your running back corps will look like for 2014:

So as was noted earlier, it makes zero sense to consider going after a free agent or to waste a draft pick on a position that is well covered for the Patriots, three times over.

Resign Blount and hit the 2014 season running.

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