By Sterling Pingree
On Wednesday, LeGarrette Blount signed with the Philadelphia Eagles. This news was met with a collective yawn and at most a curious inquiry about whether or not the Patriots would get compensatory draft choices from the Eagles. This ending seemed inevitable with the Patriots making a long term commitment to Super Bowl hero James White and signing free agent running backs Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead. But when you consider what Blount has done as a Patriot and the historic season that he just had in New England, it is strange that his departure hasn’t met with more acrimony or fan apprehension.
LeGarrette Blount came to New England via Tampa Bay for running back Jeff Demps, whose biggest claim to fame is that he won an Olympic gold medal in 2012 for being a part of the US relay team. There were times during Blount’s first preseason in New England that he looked unstoppable, but there were no expectations because here was a guy who had rushed for 1,000 yards as a rookie and hadn’t rushed for 1,000 yards combined over his last two seasons. As the 2013 season wound down without Rob Gronkowski, a curious thing happened and Blount became a legitimate offensive threat. In week 17 against Buffalo, in the pouring December rain, Blount amassed 189 yards on just 24 carries with 2 touch downs. Two weeks later in the divisional round of the playoffs, Blount torched Indy (with those same 24 carries) for 166 yards and 4, yes 4 touch downs.
The following week’s AFC Championship game in Denver would see Blount only carry the ball 5 times for a whopping 6 yards. His run in New England was over when in the off season, Blount signed with the Steelers. The short version of his time in Pittsburgh is that he got busted for pot with Le’Veon Bell and walked off the field during a game. The Patriots signed him that week, and with his apparent bad attitude towards Coach Mike Tomlin, Pats fans knew that Blount in New England worked. Most fans remember his decimation of the Colts in the 2014 AFC Championship game but most forget that he only managed to rush for 1 yard the week before vs Baltimore and in the Super Bowl averaged 2.9 yards per carry on his way to 40 yards vs Seattle.
This past year, Blount was at his absolute best. That should be amended because not only was 2016 LeGarrette Blount’s best season, it is the best season by a Patriots running back EVER. Blount rushed for 1,161 yards and scored 18 touch downs, setting a team record for rushing touch downs, smashing Curtis Martin’s old record by 4, yes 4 touch downs. Blount was the bell cow for the league’s best offense, he set records and personal bests.
None of that was enough for the Patriots to bring him back for next season, but it also wasn’t enough for other teams to clamor for his services either. I wonder why that is? With every team in the NFL trying to emulate the success of the Patriots, why is it that a key cog in the Patriots machine was available on the open market for over two months and there wasn’t a single team that would take a chance on him. Maybe teams viewed him as a system guy, someone who could only function in the Patriots system. Perhaps they saw him as one of those foreign luxury cars, like an Austin Healey, that you have to be specially trained to know how to drive and repair if you want to own one. Maybe teams thought it was a trap set by Belichick, because if the Hood doesn’t want him anymore then he can’t possibly have anything left in the tank. Maybe it’s as simple as the ill-fated fumble in the Super Bowl?
At the same time, how telling is it that with no interest in Blount on the open market, that a week after the Patriots place a little used tender on him that the Eagles then offered him a deal? The Patriots ostensibly said “If nobody wants him, we will gladly take him back on our terms if we so choose.” By doing this, the Patriots will get compensatory picks back in return now that such a major part of their team has departed. Somehow the Eagles agreed to this, when just a week ago, they could have signed Blount to a contract and not have had to give up anything but money.
What does this say about the New England Patriots, Bill Belichick and the tremendous amount of equity that they have built up with this fan base that they just let their starting running back walk out the door for a little over $2 million and fans aren’t batting an eyelash over it? If someone who produced at the level that LeGarrette Blount did in 2016, left the Sox, Celtics or even the Bruins (okay, probably not the Bruins) for a bargain contract after sitting next to the phone for 2 months, then there would be riots in the streets. But it happens in Foxboro and the collective thought is along the lines of: “Well, Bill must really see something in White long term and I’m sure Gillislee will work out.” The Patriots have made optimists out of perhaps the most cynical fan base in sports.
There is an eerie precedence for this sort of thing though; in 2004 the Patriots let Antowain Smith walk after being the lead back on two Super Bowl championship teams in 3 seasons, which is exactly what Blount has been in New England. The difference being that the team had just traded for Corey Dillon who anybody would say was a big time upgrade over Smith, who like most participants on those Patriots teams did their job with little individual acclaim or fanfare. There is no Dillon this time around however to take Blount’s spot. Gillislee may be good, but up to this point he does not have the track record that Dillon had when he came over from Cincinnati.
LeGarrette Blount will be remembered as an important piece to the Patriots during this latest run to two Lombardi trophies but where does he go from here? He’ll go to Philadelphia and we’ll see what happens, his last trip to Pennsylvania was of the round trip variety. Maybe Blount will find his way back to New England, probably he won’t but stranger things have happened before.
Sterling Pingree (@SterlingPingree on Twitter) is a co-host on The Drive, weekdays 4pm to 6pm on 92.9fm The Ticket and streaming live at DriveShowMaine.com. Follow us on Twitter, @DriveShowMaine and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine.