LeGarrette Blount has just had back-to-back record-breaking performances for the New England Patriots. First, he set a franchise-record with 331 all-purpose yards in Week 17. Then, the four-year veteran miraculously followed that up in his first ever playoff game by tying a team playoff record for rushing yards (166) and tying the NFL playoff record for rushing touchdowns with four.
Blount’s ascension has been remarkable considering he came to New England in a trade for a seventh-round pick and Jeff Demps from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He was never even Bill Belichick‘s top choice at running back for the duration of the regular season, but after Stevan Ridley was benched for continuous fumbling issues, Blount really got going and finished a respectable 22nd in the league in rushing (772).
The predicament with Blount is really not about his lack of production, it is about too much production. The Patriots have a history of letting running backs walk into free agency and never looking back. Two years ago, the Patriots had their most consistent back since Corey Dillon in BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Green-Ellis rushed for over 1,000 yards in 2011, scored double-digit touchdowns twice, and never fumbled in four seasons.
However, when his contract ended, the Patriots’ brass let him walk and watched as he got a three-year, $9 million deal with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Last year was Danny Woodhead‘s turn. He was a fan favorite in Foxborough, but was not deemed valuable enough to stick around. In turn, Woodhead signed a two-year, $3.5 million deal with the San Diego Chargers. Like Green-Ellis, he is doing fine with his new organization.
With Blount, it is more of a problem with running backs in general in today’s NFL. Running backs are easily replaceable in today’s pass-happy league and are too injury-prone, which often makes GMs look like suckers when they invest in backs for the long term. Blount will walk and command a top-50 contract for the position, which is something no current Patriot has but guys like Green-Ellis and Woodhead have earned.
New England demonstrated this year how balanced their run game can be without going over the top for lavish ball-carriers. The Patriots were ninth in the NFL in 2013 on the ground at 129.1 yards per game, and that was with no one in the unit making more than $865,288 (Shane Vereen). Take a look at the at the top 50 most expensive backs in the NFL, and you will find some very poor return on investments.
Trent Richardson is the 14th-highest paid running back and did not miss a game, but finished 36th in rushing yards (563). On the injury front, the Carolina Panthers‘ Jonathan Stewart is currently the seventh-highest paid running back at $7.3 million, but has combined for just 15 games in the last two years.
For the Patriots to devote valuable money to a middle-of-the-road running back like Blount would be a mistake, especially given the way the running game is treated in today’s NFL.