By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Patriots signed free-agent running back Rex Burkhead on Tuesday, a signing that on the surface appeared to be a replacement for free agent Brandon Bolden as a key special teams player and backup running back.
The specifics of Burkhead’s deal are out, and they indicate that the Patriots envision a role for Burkhead that’s much bigger than that.
ESPN’s Field Yates tweeted the details of Burkhead’s contract with the Patriots on Wednesday. It’s a one-year deal with a $1.8 million base salary, $1.1 million signing bonus, and $250,000 in per-game roster bonuses – a total cap hit of $3.15 million.
That’s no special-teamer.
The Patriots’ signing of Burkhead has the potential to be the replacement for free-agent back LeGarrette Blount. At 5-foot-10 and 214 pounds, Burkhead’s frame and skill set would certainly make him a candidate to carry the ball on early downs and in goal-line/short-yardage situations. He can also catch the ball, reeling in 17 of 20 targets for 8.5 yards per catch in 2016.
But what makes him even more of a candidate for that role is, again, that $3.15 million cap hit. According to Mark Daniels of the Providence Journal, Burkhead is the first Patriots running back to be paid more than $2 million since Fred Taylor in 2010. It’s possible that Burkhead earns his keep by taking Blount’s early-down running role and assuming Bolden’s role on special teams; Mike Lombardi described Burkhead on Twitter as “the perfect four-down back for the Patriots.”
Whatever Burkhead’s role turns out to be, it’s clearly going to be more than a minor one. Bill Belichick loves versatile players and Burkhead can certainly deliver in that department. Belichick might literally never take him off the field.
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 email@example.com.