By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — LeGarrette Blount has been one of the Patriots’ most productive players in recent seasons – and also one of the most polarizing. There’s no denying that Blount was a monster down by the goal line, punching in 18 rushing touchdowns – which was his combined TD total in his previous three seasons.
However, the most recent memory that Patriots fans have of Blount is from Super Bowl LI, when he played a major role in the team’s first-half deficit. He fumbled the football away to the Atlanta Falcons when the Patriots were nearing the red zone, reversing the momentum in the Falcons’ favor and sparking an Atlanta run that snowballed in a hurry. Going against a fast, athletic defense, the lumbering Blount looked like he was playing the game at a different speed from everyone else – and not in a good way.
Blount has had plenty of good moments in a Patriots uniform, though, and has long proved to be a solid fit for the Patriots’ early-down running game. He’s especially excelled when wearing defenses down with his punishing style late in games. As he appears set to enter free agency, there may be teams out there willing to overpay in order to chase the 18 touchdowns. Otherwise, there’s a good chance that the Patriots bring him back if it can be for short money. Bill Belichick may want to make an upgrade over Blount or save money with an even cheaper option, but he also may not want to try to fix what isn’t necessarily broken.
OTHER PATRIOTS FREE AGENTS: Dont’a Hightower | Martellus Bennett | Logan Ryan | Alan Branch | Michael Floyd
Here’s a look at Blount’s situation as free agency approaches:
What did he make in 2016? Blount’s cap hit totaled $1.025 million in 2016, including a tiny $760,000 base salary.
What’s his value on the open market? Considering Blount’s 2016 numbers, he could be in for a raise if a team in need of a power back is willing to take the plunge. If a team gets silly, looks at the stat sheet and offers Blount a deal with a cap hit in the range of $5 million – like the Saints did for Mark Ingram or the Jets did for Matt Forte – that is when the Patriots (hopefully) push away from the table. Heck, even $3 million could prove too pricey for Blount’s services.
What’s his value to the Patriots? Although Blount has produced in his role better than others have for the Patriots, like BenJarvus Green-Ellis or 2015 replacement Steven Jackson, he’s still far from a must-keep asset. Belichick could also look toward the draft to find the next guy, as the 2017 class is reportedly one of the deepest in a long time at the position. But if they can re-sign Blount on a one-year deal for under $2 million, he could be back.
Why wouldn’t the Patriots keep him? Because of Blount’s aforementioned 18 touchdowns, he could become stupidly expensive on the open market. If a team seriously believes that Blount is as great as his 18 touchdowns suggest, the Pats will look elsewhere.
Conclusion: Blount’s future depends entirely on what the market presents to him. Nobody should begrudge Blount for going to a team that’s willing to grossly overpay for what they believe he could bring to the table – did I mention that he scored 18 touchdowns? But if the Patriots can approach the best offer he gets on the open market, then get ready for another season of Blount carrying the rock.
Matt Dolloff is a writer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect that of CBS or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Have a news tip or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.