Patriots’ New Coordinator Just Offered Sneak Peek Into Free Agency Plans

Antonio Gibson is a potential Patriots target as Alex Van Pelt seeks to reconfigure the offense.

Getty Antonio Gibson is a potential Patriots target as Alex Van Pelt seeks to reconfigure the offense.

It is a short introductory-type video that cropped up on the Patriots’ website, featuring new coordinator Alex Van Pelt, hired by New England onto Jerod Mayo’s staff to replace the since-departed Bill O’Brien. But in the video, Van Pelt said something that stood out, and that reveals a thing or two about where the Patriots will look as they seek to spend the significant trove of cap space the team has amassed.

“I think running the ball in this league wins games, wins championships, being able to do that late into the season,” Van Pelt said on the clip.

That could be typical coach-speak pablum, of course, but with Van Pelt, there’s some evidence to back up that philosophy. In four seasons running the offense in Cleveland, from 2020-23, the Browns ranked third, fourth, sixth and 12th in rushing yardage, dropping in 2023 largely because of an injury to star back Nick Chubb.

The Browns were still fourth in rushing attempts, even without Chubb, and always ranked in the Top 9 in attempts under Van Pelt.

Patriots Need a Running Back in Free Agency

The Patriots will enter 2024 with some big question marks at running back, where Rhamondre Stevenson struggled to stay healthy last year and Ezekiel Elliott is a free agent. That tandem led a rushing game that combined for 1,627 yards on 415 carries, both 26th in the NFL. That partly reflected the team’s general offensive malaise, but it also reflects a need to upgrade the Patriots’ talent level at the position.

Inadvertently, perhaps, Van Pelt might have tipped the Patriots’ free agent-plans.

Derrick Henry, Tony Pollard, Josh Jacobs, Austin Ekeler and DeAndre Swift are among the top running backs that should be available in free agency this offseason, but Henry wants to win a championship and Jacobs is likely to return to the Raiders. Of the high-profile backs, Pollard—who is a good receiver out of the backfield—would have to be the most likely to land with the Patriots.

The Patriots could rebuild the ground game around Stevenson, focus on developing Kevin Harris as the backup and seek a pass-catching third-down back to round out the group. MassLive beat writer Marc Daniels suggested the Patriots seek to sign Commanders free agent Antonio Gibson, a former third-round pick who rushed for 1,823 yards and 18 touchdowns in his first two NFL seasons but has tailed off since.

Alex Van Pelt: ‘Play to Their Strengths’

Van Pelt, though, said that he will not come to the Patriots as a set-in-his ways coordinator, that he won’t look to apply his system on the team no matter who’s on the roster. That’s probably a good thing because the Pats are wide open at quarterback, offensive line, tight end and wide receiver—you know, pretty much every spot on the field.

“I think a good coordinator does what’s best for his players,” Van Pelt said. “I think a lot of guys will have a scheme they understand and they have familiarity with as coordinators, but if it doesn’t fit the player, then how good is the scheme, really?

“A good coordinator will often take the strengths of the players that he has, play to their strengths, while at the same time being able to protect them from their weaknesses.”


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