By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Tennessee Titans running back Dion Lewis is getting settled in to his new football home, facing reasonably high expectations for the first time in a long time. But before Lewis fully begins his career as a Titan, he was willing to talk with The Boston Globe’s Ben Volin about his departure from the Patriots.
Lewis sounded like someone who was not at all pleased with the way his Patriots career ended.
“I’m happy with the decision, and this is the decision I would’ve made even if [the Patriots] did offer. If they wanted me, they could’ve had me,” Lewis told Volin this week. “But obviously, they didn’t want me, they didn’t think I was good enough to be there. I just had to move on and do what’s best for me.”
Lewis’ assessment is moderately accurate, based on the way the Patriots moved on this offseason without seemingly ever really making an attempt to re-sign the undersized running back. Considering athletes use such slights as motivation all the time (Tom Brady is still miffed about being drafted 199th overall), Lewis’ picture of the situation is to be expected.
It does, though, overlook the salary cap factor, and it does disregard the general way the Patriots have always done business under Bill Belichick. The short version of it is quite simple: Find underutilized or undervalued players, sign them for cheap money, maximize their value, then let some other team pay big bucks to the players after they’ve contributed significantly to the Patriots.
That’s what happened with Lewis. When he joined the Patriots in 2015, he had 171 rushing yards, two rushing touchdowns, three receptions and 21 receiving yards to his name. Total. In four years. He had battled injuries and being overlooked, but the Patriots found him. He promptly contributed with 622 yards from scrimmage and four touchdowns before tearing his ACL. In 2016, he returned from that injury to make a moderate contribution to the Super Bowl-winning Patriots. And then last season, Lewis had a career year: 1,110 yards from scrimmage (896 on the ground) and 10 total touchdowns — including one on a kick return.
For Lewis, like any professional athlete, he believes he can take that 2017 performance and keep it rolling in to 2018 and beyond. The Titans think so, too. That’s why they’re paying him $6 million this year.
The Patriots, though, believe they maximized the value on Dion Lewis. The Patriots paid him less than $6 million for all three of his seasons in New England combined. They moved on.
Such is life in New England. It’s not always the nicest way to treat athletes, but there’s not always room to be nice when you’re the most successful organization in the cutthroat business known as the NFL. People like Wes Welker, David Givens, Danny Woodhead, Mark Anderson, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and several others learned that lesson over the years. Even franchise greats like Willie McGinest, Richard Seymour and Vince Wilfork were allowed to move on and spend their final days of big money-making elsewhere. Now Lewis, as well his Tennessee teammate Malcolm Butler, along with Nate Solder in New York and Danny Amendola in Miami, know this as well.
For now, though, we can all agree that the best thing to do is watch Lewis’ touchdown catch-and-run against Dallas in 2015, because it was one of the most amazing plays in NFL history and is, by itself, worth about $6 million: