It's Now or Never for New England Patriots' Stevan Ridley

By Connor Fulton
Stevan Ridley New England Patriots
Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Patriots have a love-hate relationship with running back Stevan Ridley. While the team loves his burst at the line of scrimmage and fearless style of running, they hate his fumbling issues. If Ridley can’t secure the ball in 2014, it will very likely be his last season in New England, even though he is a talented runner.

Let’s start with the good — in three seasons, Ridley has amassed 2,477 total rushing yards and 20 touchdowns. His 4.5 yards per carry average in 46 career games is impressive as well. Ridley thrives off of physicality, often catching defenders by surprise with his willingness to lower the shoulder. When it comes to squeezing out an extra yard while being brought down, Ridley is one of the best in the NFL.

The problem with Ridley is that he struggles mightily to hold on to the ball. He’s fumbled four times in each of the past two seasons, and frequents Bill Belichick’s doghouse more than any other Patriot. By the time the playoffs roll around, Ridley has usually lost the trust of Belichick, and doesn’t see many carries, which hurts the team because he truly is a valuable player when he has the ball.

For Ridley, 2014 is a contract year. The former LSU Tiger will have to prove himself if he wants to cash-in during the offseason, either with the Patriots or another team. Fumbling more than three times could be what separates Ridley from literally millions of dollars. He must display productivity and ball security throughout the season, or else he may have trouble finding a home in 2015.

Interestingly, all of the Patriots’ returning backs, including Ridley, Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden, will be free agents after the season. Not all of them will return in 2015. Expect Belichick to give Ridley first crack at being the main guy in the Pats’ backfield to start the season. But if he struggles, don’t be surprised if Belichick tries the other two guys, as well as rookie James White, to see who is the best fit.

More than anything, the Patriots hate turning the ball over. But if Ridley is able to fix his fumbling problems and maintain his burst, 2014 will be a very good year for him, and free agency in 2015 will be even better.

Connor Fulton is a Patriots writer for RantSports. Follow him on Twitter @Connor_Fulton_, or find him on Google

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