The New England Patriots made a surprising move Wednesday when they released recently signed veteran running back Joseph Addai. Addai was signed in May to a one-year contract which included a $75,000 signing bonus and $50,000 workout bonus. His signing was seen as a way to add some NFL experience to a Patriots backfield which it otherwise lacks.
With the departure of Addai the Patriots backfield now consists of Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Danny Woodhead, and Brandon Bolden. Ridley and Vereen are both 2011 NFL draft picks who were given the reigns following the departure of free agent BenJarvis Green-Ellis. Woodhead started his career with the New York Jets before the Patriots picked him up in 2010. Signed through the 2012 season, Woodhead is a running back but some saw him as more of an over-achieving slot receiver playing a role once occupied by Wes Welker. The newest running back for the Patriots is Bolden who was signed as an undrafted free agent this offseason.
Other than Woodhead, none of the Patriots running backs have more than a year in the NFL. That’s where Addai’s addition seemed to fit. A first round pick in the 2006 NFL draft by the Indianapolis Colts, he was selected to one pro bowl, won two AFC championships, and won Super Bowl XLI. As the Colts starting running back in those years, Addai’s experience gave him the ability to give invaluable information to the young backs the Patriots have. It wasn’t just his production at the position the Patriots were looking for but to teach the young backs how to be starting running backs on a winning team.
The Patriots now have multiple options if they want to fill the role of mentor for Ridley and Vereen. One option is to sign a free agent veteran running back that has had NFL success such as Ryan Grant or Chester Taylor. Another option would be to use tight end Aaron Hernandez as a running back. Hernandez was only drafted one year before Ridley and Vereen but has been an integral part of the Patriots passing game since being drafted. While he’s not actually a running back, he was briefly used by Bill Belichick in that role during last year’s playoffs. As for losing a tight end if the Patriots decided to do that, the team signed free agent veteran tight end Visanthe Shiancoe Tuesday to back up Hernandez and all-pro tight end Rob Gronkowski.
It’s unclear whether the Patriots plan on bringing someone in to replace Addai, plan on moving someone from another position to running back, or are satisfied with the inexperienced corps they currently have. The only fact known now is that Addai will not be the mentor to Ridley and Vereen that many thought he had been signed to be.