The New England Patriots might not have a first round draft pick to work with this year, but they also do not have that much re-tooling to do in the offseason. After taking care of contracts during the season, the team enters free agency with just nine unrestricted players to worry about. The biggest issue for the Patriots is the run game with a majority of their rotation hitting the market. Who will New England chase to run the ground game next season?
LeGarrette Blount is a question market for New England. After being the workhorse for the team over the past two years, Blount ended his season early with a hip injury that did not end up requiring surgery. However, an expiring contract to his name could mean he is playing elsewhere in 2016. According to ESPN's Bill Barnwell, chances seem slim that Blount returns next season. While he may still have a lot of tread left on the tires, the Patriots look ready to retool the rotation. Head coach Bill Belichick likes the type of runner Blount is, but he is not versatile enough on the field. Unless he agrees to take minimal money, the Patriots could look elsewhere.
New England could find a top rusher in the second round of the NFL Draft. Both Derrick Henry and Ezekiel Elliott are expected to be available in the second round. The Patriots could go younger and select a player that will be around for multiple seasons rather than someone like Blount who might earn a one-year deal. The free agency market holds a lot of talent as players like Lamar Miller, Chris Ivory, Alfred Morris and Matt Forte are available. However, they will all command larger contracts that New England never seems keen to hand out. Getting a sure-fire rookie like Henry or Elliott could be the better move.
According to MassLive.com, the Patriots have a few key rushers returning that give them flexibility at the position. Dion Lewis will return from his torn ACL while James White has another season with the team. They are primarily passing-down running backs which means the Patriots just need a heavy-hitting down-field rusher. Blount can fill that role, but his contract demands will be the x-factor in determining whether or not New England brings him back.
Belichick told the media that he is not worried about the lack of draft picks for the Patriots this year. With very few holes to fill outside of the run game, the team should have no issues getting real talent in later rounds. With four other compensatory draft picks coming their way, New England could get a young running back and wide receiver along with secondary help and pass rusher. They have options especially with how Belichick scouts talent.
"We never really worry about where we are or aren't located initially, unless you're picking in the top 10, which we rarely are but we've had a couple situations where that was the case; I think you evaluate the players a little differently [in that situation]," Belichick said, via ESPN.com. "We have draft choices and we've moved up, we've moved down. So I think you still have to evaluate all the players."