The New England Patriots intend to continue running with a three-man running back rotation like they did in 2013, but after losing one player in the ground game attack, they are left to look at remaining free agents for help before the NFL Draft. LeGarrette Blount will not be returning to the Patriots, putting the run game on Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley, but is there a veteran about to join the mix?
Getting little attention over the weekend, Blount opted not to return to the Patriots and signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers where he will join up with second-year pro Le'Veon Bell as the two featured running backs. The Patriots will now be without their lead back who put up a career-high season in 2013 and are left with uncertainty on the roster.
Vereen and Ridley had their share of struggles last season. Both players had issues with fumbles and were often benched. Ridley is not a reliable red zone target because he created so many turnovers last year. Vereen spends more time out wide showing good hands at the arm of quarterback Tom Brady. That puts a hole on the field where Blount once was and now the Patriots are trying to fill the void.
The team is bringing in veteran Michael Bush, as reported by the NFL Network. The running back spent last season with the Chicago Bears, but failed to have his talents utilized after a successful run with the Oakland Raiders. The short-yardage back was released after earning a four-year deal worth $14 million in 2012. He would be an excellent replacement to Blount as both backs have similar qualities. Bush would thrive on contact and be an excellent change-of-pace player for the offense.
Bush might still be available because of his contract demands. Coming off a high-paying salary, the veteran likely wants something similar and he simply will not get it with the current state of the market. That could cause the Patriots to look elsewhere.
Chris Johnson will soon be the best available running back on the market. The veteran is preparing to be released by the Tennessee Titans some time before the end of the week. Unless they pull of a last minute trade, Johnson will be a free agent sooner rather than later, hoping a team is willing to give him a second chance. The Patriots could use a running back like Johnson who has not missed a game in his career.
The team could certainly target the draft for help, but those players might cost more than someone like Bush or Johnson who could be convinced to sign a one-year deal as the draft draws closer.