2 Patriots Starters Are in Danger of Losing Their Jobs

Getty Damien Harris

The starting roles for the New England Patriots’ Damien Harris and Malcolm Butler aren’t set in stone, according to NFL.com’s Eric Edholm.

Harris, the Patriots’ leading rusher the past two seasons, and Butler, a returning Super Bowl hero, both have something to prove in training camp this summer, Edholm wrote in an August 3 story on first-stringers who could lose their jobs.

Rhamondre Stevenson Could Unseat Damien Harris as the Team’s No. 1 RB

For Harris, the primary threat to take his job is Rhamondre Stevenson. The second-year running back out of Oklahoma showed flashes of greatness as a rookie, rushing for 606 yards on 133 rushes and 5 TDs. Harris still paced the Pats in both categories with 929 and 15, respectively, but it’s not hard to imagine Stevenson equaling or eclipsing those totals if given the opportunity.

“In my eyes, it’s more about what Rhamondre Stevenson can do than what Harris cannot,” Edholm wrote. “When Harris saw his workload slip a little bit down the stretch last year, it opened the door for Stevenson to stand out with his big-play ability. Harris still figures to have a role, but he might be ceding the leading one to his younger counterpart.”

Edholm suggested the Patriots’ decision to draft not one, but two running backs (Kevin Harris and Pierre Strong Jr.) this spring, “cast doubt” on Damien Harris’ long-term fit with the team. When you also consider Stevenson may have the higher ceiling as a big-play back and a receiver, there is even more reason to believe Edholm may have a point.

“Predicting how the Patriots will utilize their running backs is almost always a fool’s errand,” Edholm wrote. “However, if Harris doesn’t lose his starting gig early on this season, he appears likely to at some stage.”

There may even be a scenario where Harris, who is in the final year of his four-year deal, is traded to an RB-hungry team ahead of the trade deadline. If Stevenson plays well and finishes the preseason healthy, Strong proves he’s capable of taking on a workload similar to what Rhamondre carried in 2021 and Ty Montgomery proves fit to be the replacement for the injured James White, Harris could be moved for draft assets. If the Patriots could grab a fourth and a fifth-round pick for Harris, it would have to be considered a strong deal.

Malcolm Butler’s Struggles in Training Camp Could Lead to a Demotion

In Butler’s situation, a demotion could be based on the quality of play during training camp. According to reports referenced by Edholm, Butler, who sat out 2021 during a temporary retirement, has been torched by the Patriots’ new No. 1 receiver, DeVante Parker.

“Considering how thin the Patriots’ CB depth chart appears, plus Butler’s name value alone in New England, he’d been projected to start by many entering camp,” Edholm wrote. “The early days of practice could have people rethinking the idea.”

There may be some rust or slippage in Butler’s game. In any case, strong play from Terrance Mitchell, Jalen Mills, rookie Jack Jones, Johnathon Jones, Joejuan Williams, and even rookie nickel back Marcus Jones could be bad news for Butler’s snap counts this season.

Don’t put it past Belichick to trade or release Butler. However, that seems less likely, considering New England’s biggest question mark is likely at cornerback. Butler is more apt to be demoted than outright traded or released.

“Bill Belichick has no place for nostalgia, so Butler will have to rebound over the coming weeks to earn his starting job,” Edholm wrote.

Patriots Notes and Quotes

  • Mack Wilson Sr.: “I see why the organization has been so successful.”

Mack Wilson Sr., a former Cleveland Browns linebacker who was traded to New England in exchange for Chase Winovich, has been performing well during training camp, but he seems enthused about playing for the Patriots.

During an August 4 interview with NFL.com’s D’Angelo Hall, Wilson said, “I see why the organization has been so successful.” Wilson has a great chance to make a mark in a new-look Patriots defense.

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