The Green Bay Packers could be letting both of their top running backs walk when next month’s free agency period begins, but a veteran free agent who has made his career with the New England Patriots seems like he might be interested in filling the void next season.
According to Eli Berkovits of Packer Report, Patriots free-agent running back James White has expressed “serious interest” in signing with the Packers this offseason, a move that would keep Green Bay’s backfield well-stocked for the 2021 season in the likely event that Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams sign elsewhere in March.
The 29-year-old White is set to become a free agent for the first time in his career after spending his first seven seasons in New England as the Patriots’ primary passing back. During that span, he has caught 369 passes for 3,184 yards — more than 400 receiving yards in five different seasons — and 25 touchdowns while also chipping in for another 1,240 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground as a secondary rushing option.
In Green Bay, White would offer a dangerous complement to the power-rushing AJ Dillon in addition to providing an excellent mentor for a young Packers running backs room, which currently has no players with more than two years of NFL experience signed for next season. He also has some prior ties to Wisconsin as a former Big Ten Freshman of the Year and three-time Big Ten champion with the Badgers from 2010-13.
White could also end up being one of the more affordable rushing options on the market this offseason with other, younger choices — Jones and Williams included — available for teams that are interested in substantially upgrading their running game. According to the latest Spotrac market projections, White is only expected to earn about $3 million per season on his next contract, which could fall into the Packers’ price range.
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Packers’ Backfield Would Be Set With White
With the Packers likely to move on from Jones and Williams in the next month, it is difficult to predict how Green Bay’s backfield will look for the 2021 season. Dillon is the only tested running back on the roster, rushing 46 times for 242 yards (5.3 yards per carry) and two touchdowns as a rookie. The rest of the group — Dexter Williams, Patrick Taylor and Mike Weber — have either never or barely seen the field.
While the 6-foot, 247-pound Dillon projects as a promising No. 1 option for next season, adding someone like White — who presents a different archetype at 5-foot-10 and 205 pounds — could keep the Packers from losing too much experience and versatility in their run game. An affordable veteran signee like him would also buy them time to develop younger options for the long-term future. After all, Taylor and Weber haven’t even taken offensive snaps yet for the Packers.
White would have obvious value in Matt LaFleur’s offense given his penchant for getting his running backs involved in the passing game. Jones and Williams have made a combined 166 receptions for 1,402 yards and 12 touchdowns over the past two years in his offensive system, and White has proven consistent in that department over a much longer period of time. He also touted a career-high completion percentage (79%) in 2020.
Cheaper RB Route Available in 2021 NFL Draft
The Packers could move some money around and find a way to sign White for the 2021 season, just like they could do the same with Williams or — if really determined — Jones. But with Dillon already in place, they may find it wiser to seek out rushing help in the upcoming 2021 NFL draft, especially after some previous success with Day 3 picks.
The Packers landed Williams (fourth round) and Jones (fifth round) on the third day of the 2017 draft and, like that year, are once again expected to receive multiple Day 3 compensatory picks, allowing them to take risks with some of their spare assets. Even if they were only to invest in one promising fourth-round rusher, it could change the current dynamic of their backfield — and reduce the need for a veteran signing.