According to Mitchell Hansen of NFL Spin Zone, the Patriots would be better off not giving any of that cap space to veteran running back and long-time team captain James White. If you’ve been a fan of the Patriots over the past 10 years, that might not sit well with you.
White is one of the most beloved players on the roster and a consummate leader. However, this is a business and Hansen makes some points that suggest it’s the right move for the organization.
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A Better Usage of Cap Space?
The Patriots had arguably the best running back group in the NFL in 2020–especially when it was 100% healthy. Sony Michel and Damien Harris proved to be effective 1st and 2nd-down options while Rex Burkhead and James White, were do-it-all types. They excelled as receivers out of the backfield with the occasional successful run. Rookie J.J. Taylor chimed in a bit as well.
Unfortunately, this group was almost never healthy at once, and while the Patriots ran the ball well throughout 2020, their success was more about depth than anyone guy’s performance. Their 2,346 yards were fourth in the NFL, and they scored 20 TDs on the ground, although 12 of them belonged to QB Cam Newton.
Harris and Michel spent time on injured reserve with the former having two stints. Burkhead tore his ACL and missed the final 6 games. White missed two games after the tragic loss of his father. Quite obviously, the team’s depth at the position came in handy, but Hansen argues the money that would go to White and perhaps even Burkhead, could be better spent elsewhere.
This offseason, there are a few players among that rushing group that is set to hit free agency, and one thing the patriots should do is let White — and potentially Burkhead — walk while turning the ground game over to Harris, Michel, and company in 2021. White, who turns 29 years old in February, is a talented running back but has increasingly become more one-dimensional over the last year or two in Foxborough. As a running back, White catches more passes out of the backfield while the other players have mainly handled the ground game. In order to improve things offensively, New England should focus on bringing in receivers this offseason while handing the rushing duties to Harris and Michel who had good seasons in 2020. The money that would be used to retain White could be better utilized by bringing in a wide receiver or tight end (or both) this offseason either via free agency, the trade market, or the NFL Draft.
One, But Not Both
There is no reason to bring both White and Burkhead back, but I’d argue subtracting both men–who are well-liked in the locker room–would be a little too much from a chemistry and depth standpoint.
Taylor is smallish and limited because of his stature, and he also had some ball security issues with dropped passes. It might not be wise for the Patriots to put themselves in a position to depend on him to carry too heavy of a load.
Also, there may be more transition at quarterback. Having experienced leaders on that side of the ball can’t be devalued. New England could draft a running back anywhere from the 4th-7th round but coming back with Harris, Michel, and White or Burkhead would make more sense.
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