Patriots free-agent outlook: Running backs

Patriots free-agent outlook: Running backs

In the third part of a five-part series, Phil Perry and DJ Bean take a look at potential free agents New England might have interest in. Today: running backs.

PATRIOTS FREE AGENCY: Curran on Pats' plans, plus position-by-position breakdown


It'd be hard for a season to break better for Patriots running backs than last year's did. They had their big back in LeGarrette Blount, who put together a career year and ran for a franchise record 18 touchdowns. They had their sub back in James White, who showed reliable hands throughout the season and came through with the game of his life in Super Bowl LI. All-purpose dynamo Dion Lewis spent most of the year on the physically unable to perform list, but he came back to give the offense an added dimension and dominated in the Divisional Round win over the Texans. All roles were filled. All were healthy when it mattered. Two of the three will be under contract for 2017, with Blount expected to attract plenty of suitors once the legal tampering period begins on Tuesday. DJ Foster will also be on the roster next season after what was essentially a red-shirt rookie campaign. Brandon Bolden, a core special-teamer, is scheduled to hit free agency. Blount is the wild card here, and if he takes a big-money deal elsewhere -- though the 250-pounder's preference is to remain with the Patriots -- Bill Belichick will be looking for another bruiser either in the draft or free agency.


Adrian Peterson, 31, Vikings: On the wrong side of 30. Played in 20 games in the last three seasons. Played in three games last season, when he averaged 1.9 yards per carry. One year removed from 4.5 yards per carry and a rushing title. Would have to take the big-back role in New England and be OK with a) a significant pay cut, and b) standing on the sidelines whenever the plan is to have Tom Brady throw 50 passes. 

Jamaal Charles, 30, Chiefs: Perhaps the most dynamic all-purpose back in the league when healthy, one would think Charles will have to show his next employer that he can remain healthy before he secures any kind of multi-year mega-bucks deal.

Eddie Lacy, 26, Packers: Lacy has a frame that would allow him to take on the big-back role in New England, but it's been difficult to predict exactly what that frame will look like from year to year. He played in just five games last season before undergoing season-ending ankle surgery but averaged 5.1 yards per attempt on 71 carries. Prior to that, he missed just two games in three years.

Latavius Murray, 27, Raiders: Not a bad option for teams looking for a runner with a little less wear on his tires. The 225-pounder has enough power to serve in a big-back role, but he's been used in Oakland's potent passing game as well, seeing 53 and 43 targets in each of the last two seasons.

Danny Woodhead, 32, Chargers: Devastating leg injuries limited Woodhead to three games in 2014 and two games last season, but might he be healthy enough to provide the Patriots with some measure of Dion Lewis insurance at an affordable cost?

Christine Michael, 26, Packers: A violent runner who has bounced on and off of five different clubs in four seasons -- including two stints with the Seahawks and a cup of coffee with the Redskins practice squad -- Michael (5-foot-10, 220 pounds) is built more like BenJarvus Green-Ellis than Blount. 

Reports: Patriots among NFL teams taking a look at Manziel

File photo

Reports: Patriots among NFL teams taking a look at Manziel

Johnny Manziel said 10 days ago, "I'd go to New England in a heartbeat," when asked about the Patriots as a potential landing spot.

That seemed like wishful thinking at the time, but they're taking a look at him...along with 12 other NFL teams, according to ESPN's Eric Williams. 

Tom Brady's current backup Brian Hoyer is, like Manziel, an ex-Cleveland Browns quarterback. Manziel would again be competing with Hoyer for the Pats' No. 2 job should New England take a chance on "Johnny Football", the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner from Texas A&M, who's been out of football the past two years because of substance abuse and emotional problems.

FOX Sports' Bruce Feldman had it at 12 teams watching Manziel work out at the University of San Diego and said the Patriots gave Manziel a weigh-in.


Patriots re-sign offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle

Patriots re-sign offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle

The Patriots have agreed to re-sign offensive lineman LaAdrian Waddle, his agent Scott Casterline confirmed on Twitter.  Waddle hit unrestricted free agency when the new league year began and made a visit to the Cowboys earlier this week. In the end, though, he chose to return to the team that claimed him off of waivers at the end of the 2015 season.

Waddle, who turns 27 in July, appeared in 12 games last season for the Patriots. He was the first right tackle the Patriots turned to when Marcus Cannon suffered an ankle injury mid-season against the Chargers. He ended up playing 51 snaps against the likes of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram without allowing a sack. He then started the next three games against the Broncos, Raiders and Dolphins and held star rushers Von Miller, Khalil Mack and Cameron Wake -- all of whom rush primarily off of the offensive right -- without a sack. 

Injuries forced Waddle (380 snaps on the season) to split the right tackle position with Cameron Fleming (543 snaps), but he was the primary backup when healthy. Waddle started the Divisional Round playoff game against the Titans but suffered a knee injury and was removed for Fleming. 

Both Fleming and Waddle visited the Cowboys this week, and the fact that Waddle has re-signed with the Patriots may impact Fleming's decision moving forward. 

The Patriots went to great lengths to build tackle depth last season, and adding Waddle to the roster helps them retain some of that depth after losing their left tackle, Nate Solder, to the Giants via free agency. Waddle could be an option on the left side, but the vast majority of his work since entering the league as an undrafted rookie in 2013 has been on the right side. 

The Patriots now have Fleming, Marcus Cannon, Cole Croston, Tony Garcia and Andrew Jelks on their depth chart at tackle. Croston, Garcia and Jelks are all headed into their second years as pros. Croston remained on the 53-man roster all season -- an indication that the Patriots liked him enough not to expose him to the waiver system -- but did not see meaningful snaps. Garcia and Jelks both missed the entirety of the 2017 season on reserve lists. 

Once the Patriots lost Solder to the Giants, it seemed to be of paramount importance that the Patriots re-sign either Waddle or Fleming. Behind Cannon, there were simply too many question marks not to have one return. The Patriots could opt to draft a tackle, but this is considered an average year at that position in that there are few ready-made NFL players and several developmental types.

Before the Super Bowl last season, I asked offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia how the team was able to manage offensively with backups at right tackle for much of the season. 

"It's not like [Fleming and Waddle are] not good players," Scarnecchia said. "They are good players. Their skill set seemed to fit that position pretty well. They have the traits that we covet. And they're both really smart guys, very willing learners, and they're both driven to be good and they want to play good. And I think all those things have manifested themselves when they've been out there playing. And we've been very, very pleased with what they've done for us this year, essentially splitting that position."

Asked about the aspects of the game the Patriots worked on with both Waddle and Fleming last year, Scarnecchia said, "For us it transcends everything. Obviously run-blocking and pass-blocking. They're both good at those things. Are they great at those things? No. But they've been able to steadily improve over the last two years to the point where we put them out there and no one's worried. And it's been that way the whole season after Marcus got hurt. Yeah they've done a nice job for us."