By: Steve Balestrieri
LaGarrette Blount had a fantastic second half of the season for the Patriots. (USA TODAY Images)
The New England Patriots made a great deal last spring trading KR Jeff Demps to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for RB LaGarrette Blount as well as a 7th round draft pick although at the time it registered little on the radar for the media and the fans.
Blount was considered a malcontent with a questionable work ethic and his production had slid far below his rookie campaign. He was considered only about even money to make the roster out of training camp. Many considered Blount to be too slow and too ineffective to be a factor in the rushing game.
Worse, the big (6’0, 250) running back was considered a poor short-yardage runner who couldn’t gain that extra needed yard to move the chains. But all of that would change during the fall as Blount gradually worked himself into a great position in the Patriots offense.
After a solid but indistinguishing first half of the season, Blount really took off in the second half of 2013 averaging over 5 yards per carry and supplanted Stevan Ridley as the go-to back and finished the season strong with a combined 330 yard rushing/returning against Buffalo. He then followed that with a 166 yard, 4 touchdown effort against the Colts in the divisional round of the playoffs.
Much of that had to do with his vision improving when hitting the holes at the line of scrimmage. Earlier in the season, he was patient, perhaps overly so and was often bottled up at the line. In the second half of the season he was hitting the holes with confidence and once in the second level with a head of steam, proved to be very tough to bring down.
Now the question is, will the Patriots keep Blount on the roster for 2014 or will he walk in free agency. Much like the cases for Julian Edelman and Aqib Talib, it won’t be an easy answer and will likely be decided by outside influences.
Other Free Agents Available: There are a few other notable free agent running backs on the market this season including but not limited to, Maurice Jones-Drew, Darren McFadden and Donald Brown available. So Blount may not be the first choice for many of the teams looking to upgrade.
While his 772 yards may not turn many heads, it was on only 153 carries and his 5.0 yards per carry is pretty impressive. He and Ridley were a true 1-2 punch with 773 and 772 yards respectively.
Why Blount May Go: Money…the Patriots have never been overly fond of paying big money for running backs and a look at Ridley’s contract who will make just over $775K this season as well as Shane Vereen who makes just under $750K makes a point.
Blount gained the confidence of both the coaches and his teammates in 2013.
(USA TODAY Images)
Blount took a discount ($680K) to play here in 2013 and will be looking for a well-deserved raise. Some teams may look at Blount’s production down the stretch and be willing to fork over much more than the Patriots would. Rumors are abounding that the Dolphins are interested in him as their big feature back, something they’ve lacked.
The Patriots may ultimately decide that Ridley and Vereen are still the future of the team and opt to keep them, let Blount walk and replace him with a less expensive veteran for depth.
Why Blount May Stay: Blount really turned some heads down the stretch and Bill Belichick, normally fairly conservative in his praise of players consistently touted the talents and work ethic of Blount during the season.
Perhaps the coaches now believe that he rather than Ridley is the team’s feature back and that his big play capability gives them a better option at the running back position.
And the numbers prove that out Mike Petraglia of WEEI wrote after the Colts playoff game that after December 1, Blount carried the ball 98 times for 594 yards and nine touchdowns. Those are pretty impressive numbers down the stretch.
The work ethic, locker room problems seem to be in the past, much like Talib after he left Tampa, Blount appears happy with Belichick and the Patriots and the coaches and his teammates have complimented him on being a solid presence in the locker room
One thing to remember is that Blount is only 26 years old and if given a 3-4 year deal would be able to take advantage of his talents at his peak. And there is little wear and tear on his body at this point.
His last two seasons in Tampa he wasn’t used very much and even this season only had 153 carries. With 579 career carries, Blount hasn’t had the beat-down that many of the big backs seem to suffer through their career.
Bottom Line: The Patriots will make an attempt to keep Blount in a Patriots uniform in 2014. But if they do, it will probably be for less money than he’s going to get from elsewhere. The ultimate question will be how much more will he get offered.
Blount has made it clear that he’d love to return and his performance and especially the way he finished down the stretch has to give the folks at Patriots Place confidence that he can get the job done.
Of course, the flip side is, his performance down the stretch will also make him more attractive to other teams and the Dolphins, rumored to be interested have plenty of money to spend under the salary cap.
But the bucolic nature of Foxboro is far different than the trappings of living in the glitz and glamor of South Beach. How would that affect him and his play may also come into question. If someone ponies up $3 million+ a season for Blount, I think it is safe to assume that he’ll be playing elsewhere next season. If the Patriots can sign him for less than that amount, I think he’ll be back.