It’s been a rather quiet couple of weeks for the New England Patriots as we approach the NFL Draft. There’s been much less to talk about since the team gave up their first and second round picks to acquire Brandin Cooks and Kony Ealy, respectively. However the last week has seen some moves that are a good sign for the future, and help lay out a potential draft strategy for the team.
– Danny Amendola restructured his contract for the third year in a row. This was not an unexpected turn of events, as Amendola was set to see a cap hit of $6 million. While New England fans know the value that Amendola has had in big moments, the numbers he put up last year were certainly not worth that kind of money to the Patriots. His options were to restructure, or let the Patriots cut him and try to sign with another team. This was a great option for both sides. While Amendola is more talented than his numbers would suggest, he would most likely have only received a minimal contract from another team, whereas he is still making upwards of $1.5 million this season. It is a benefit for the Patriots because they retain a talented receiver who has complete familiarity with their system.
– The Patriots signed running back James White to a three year contract extension. The Super Bowl hero was entering the final year of his rookie contract, but will now be a member of the Patriots for the next four seasons. White played an impressive supporting role throughout this season, serving as the main pass catching back for the Patriots. He gained fame for his record-setting Super Bowl performance that could have earned him Super Bowl MVP if there wasn’t some other guy named Tom Brady playing for the Pats. Extending White was a practical move that most will overlook. With the value of running backs at an all-time low (look how long it’s taken Adrian Peterson to get signed), extending White now enabled the Patriots to get that issue out of the way at a minimum cost. He is not a feature back, but he is a valuable part of an offense that prides itself on diversity and playing to an opponents weakness.
– The Bills declined to match the Patriots offer sheet to running back Mike Gillislee, making him the latest Buffalo Bill to transfer across the division to the Patriots. The Patriots gave up a fifth round pick in this years draft to sign Gillislee to a two year, $6.4 million deal. This helps seal the fate of LeGarrette Blount, who will almost definitely not be returning to the Patriots now that they have already signed two running backs to $3 million per year deals (Gillislee, Burkhead). While that is a sad day for some Patriots fans, it was only a matter of time before Blount was replaced, and while he did have a stellar season last year, I am not convinced in any way that he is irreplaceable. Gillislee rushed the ball 101 times last season for Buffalo, totaling 577 yards and eight touchdowns, which are solid numbers when you consider that he was on the same team as Lesean McCoy. He has solid speed around the outside edge, and bursts up the field quickly through holes. He will most likely be considered the Patriots “feature back”, filling the role that Blount vacated. However, this is a rather ambiguous term because with White, Burkhead, and Dion Lewis on the roster, the Patriots will continue their tradition of running back-by-committee. Gillislee will most likely see a lot of first and second down opportunities, as well as goal line situations. He does not have the same size as Blount, but he is a hard runner and will be able to work well behind fullback James Develin.
-These moves make it clear that the Patriots are not planning on selecting a running back in the draft. With five currently on the roster (the four previously mentioned, plus special teamer Brandon Bolden), it is extremely unlikely that the Patriots will use another selection on a running back. They most likely have their eyes on some defensive players in the third round that they like, and decided they’d much rather use a fifth round pick on a veteran rather than a third round pick on a rookie. While this is slightly disappointing because of the affinity I have for Pitt running back James Conner, I understand New England’s logic and can’t argue with their decision.
With only a few days left until the draft, it is a waiting game to see if the Patriots make any more moves. Their two biggest pieces still (potentially) left on the board are Malcolm Butler and Jimmy Garopollo. There have been rumors floating around that the Saints had a deal in place to sign Malcolm Butler if the Patriots would be willing to trade him, but as of now that still has not gone anywhere. At this point in time, I am willing to bet that Malcolm Butler remains a Patriot heading in to next season. Jimmy Garopollo is a rather strange case. It is hard for me to imagine Bill Belichick choosing not to make a draft pick until the third round, and Jimmy G is his best way to make sure that doesn’t happen. However, just this week Adam Schefter doubled down on his assertion that Jimmy G will not be traded under any circumstance. This would certainly leave many scratching their heads, especially with the uncertain of the future with Tom Brady, but would also not be altogether surprising.
Alas, for now it is a quiet time for New England. Just how we like it.
Until next time- B$
PS. The death of Aaron Hernandez highlights one of the more tragic situations the Patriots have ever been (slightly) connected to. Hernandez’ had incredible talent that was wasted on a life of crime. This was a sad situation for his victim(s), as well as his family, including a daughter who will grow up without a father, all while knowing who her father was and what he did. Just a terrible situation for everyone involved.