The New England Patriots will look to replace both Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead in the backfield this offseason as both seem to be headed out the door.
There’s a chance that at least one of them returns, but in New England, Bill Belichick has shied away from overpaying running backs. Both players should be able to secure a solid payday elsewhere in the league. Of course, the Patriots will still have James White, Mike Gillislee, and Brandon Bolden on the roster, but that won’t be enough. James White will clearly be the #1 option, but Gillislee struggled to get on the field in a crowded group last season and Bolden is viewed as more of a special teams player. The Patriots will likely want to bring in at least one other player for the running back group, and some familiar faces are available.
Former Patriots Danny Woodhead, Stevan Ridley, and Shane Vereen are all available. Woodhead was released by the Baltimore Ravens on Tuesday, and Ridley and Vereen were already set to be 2018 free agents.
Last season, Shane Vereen was the only player in the group to play in all 16 games for his team. For the New York Giants, he had 164 yards on 45 carries. He also added 253 yards receiving. Vereen had a lot more success in New England, as he posted 838 total yards in 5 total touchdowns in 2014. In 2015, his first season in New York, he came close to those numbers but fell off over the last two years. A return to New England could help redefine his career while adding another dynamic pass-catching back to the mix. Vereen should come fairly cheap too.
When healthy, Danny Woodhead can be an electric player on any offense. The issue is that he’s played just 10 total games over the last two seasons. He played 8 in 2017 for the Ravens and had 256 total yards. Just 56 of those yards came as a runner. Just a few seasons ago though, Woodhead had a career-high 1,091 total yards for the San Diego Chargers. While with the Patriots from 2010 to 2012, he had over 500 yards in each season. In 2010 he burst onto the scene with over 900. He’s heading into his age-33 season, so New England could likely take a chance with a one-year deal for Woodhead to prove he still has some gas left in the tank.
The last player in this group is Stevan Ridley. His career has really slowed down after leaving the Patriots as he has spent a season each with the Jets, Falcons, and Steelers. In that time, Ridley has played just 12 games, with 205 rushing yards and a single touchdown. That’s a far drop from his 2012 Patriots season when he led the team with 1,263 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns. Ridley likely won’t have many options in free agency, and he may not be worth it for the Patriots. If he’s available around the time training camp is set to begin though, they could give him a call.
All in all, it seems like Danny Woodhead or Shane Vereen could once again be a fit in New England. The Patriots will surely miss Dion Lewis, as there aren’t many players in the NFL that can make an impact as a runner, receiver, or returner all in one game. Woodhead or Vereen could step in and help to ease the burden left on James White. The market for running backs in free agency is always tough to gauge, but the Patriots always find a way to make it work. Right now, fans are clamoring for Woodhead though, and that reunion would be a lot of fun.