The Patriots have decided to part ways with one of the running backs who may have been in competition for time as one of the team's "big backs" in 2017.
The team announced on Monday that it had released Tyler Gaffney, who had been with the Patriots off and on since 2014. The 6-foot, 220-pound running back spent most of last season on the Patriots practice squad, joining that 10-man unit in October and starting a second stint in November that lasted for the remainder of the season.
Gaffney was originally picked up by the Patriots after he was waived by the Panthers following a season-ending injury in training camp in 2014. He came back to the Patriots in 2015 but suffered another season-ending injury in training camp that summer. Back again in 2016, he was released during final cuts last but came back to work on the practice squad on Oct. 17.
During the season, coach Bill Belichick praised Gaffney's work as a vital member of what's commonly referred to as the "look squad."
"He’s done a good job for us . . . Sometimes it’s a ball-security thing we talk to him about like ‘This back kind of swings the ball around a little bit,’ and even though he shouldn’t do that," Belichick said in December, "he’ll do it to kind of help our defense prepare for it.
"Or, ‘This is the way [an opposing running back] runs a certain type of route.’ Again, there are a lot of little things. And [his teammates] do a good job with him, too. The linebackers – they’ll say ‘Hey, he’ll cheat on this,’ or ‘He’ll cheat on that when he’s got protection or a certain route. He lines up deeper on certain plays or closer to the line on certain plays,’ just as we go through the week to sort of help each other there.
"But yeah, he does a great job. Tyler – he’s a smart guy, very team-orientated. If you ask him to do something he’s going to give you a great look. There’s nobody that takes more punches than he does. He must get punched in the stomach 10 times a day. The defense is trying to take the ball out. That’s his role. That’s his job. But they’re slapping at the ball, they’re pulling at it, they’re trying to punch it, half the time they miss. He does a great job."
Gaffney's release in mid-March, about a week-and-a-half into the league's free agency period, gives the fourth-year player an opportunity to latch on with another team as clubs around the league build their rosters.
Gaffney has never had a regular-season carry, but he had an impressive preseason in 2016 as he ran 35 times in four games for 152 yards (115 of which came after contact) and one touchdown.
Had he remained on the roster this summer, Gaffney likely would have competed with Rex Burkhead for snaps as the team's "big back." But Burkhead, who signed a deal with New England for one year and $3.15 million, would have had a relatively clear upper-hand in any competition given the financial commitment the Patriots were willing to give him.
Burkhead, who checks in at 210 pounds, is currently the only player on the roster who would qualify as a contender for the role that has been vacated by free-agent LeGarrette Blount. Special-teamer and hard-charding runner Brandon Bolden is also on the market looking for his next deal. Dion Lewis, James White and DJ Foster round out the depth chart at the position.