Two Super Bowl rings in three years with the New England Patriots. An NFL-high 18 rushing touchdowns in 2016. Over 1,000 rushing yards added to a career in which he boasts a 4.4-yards per carry average. These are the numbers that LeGarrette Blount believed would translate into one last payday in NFL free agency.
Instead, he’s the most accomplished NFL player from last season still unemployed.
It’s been a particularly rough existence for 30-year-old running backs in free agency this offseason. Jamaal Charles will reportedly get his first free-agent visit this week when he sees the Denver Broncos. Reggie Bush‘s career appears to be over. Even Adrian Peterson had to wait around for six weeks just to land one contract offer. Then there’s Blount, who has been boxed into a category of the two-down running back best suited for a traditional under-center quarterback. There aren’t many of those left in the NFL. That reality – along with Blount’s age and character/effort history – left him in a chilly market.
But the thaw appears to have finally arrived.
League sources said at least two teams are squarely in play for Blount now that the draft has ended: The Detroit Lions and New York Giants, two franchises that are still mulling the addition of a bell-cow running back to eat up some early-down and short-yardage carries next season. The Lions failed to draft a running back despite a deep class at the position, while the Giants still have the need for a big back to shoulder some of the load from younger, less experienced players.
The Lions may be the most obvious fit, with a stable of running backs who don’t bring the same physical mentality to first or second down. Detroit also has general manager Bob Quinn who was in the New England personnel ranks during Blount’s tenure with the Patriots. It means something to have Quinn calling the shots, especially after he watched Bill Belichick add Blount to the roster twice.
Beyond knowing the player, what might intrigue Quinn most is that Blount wasn’t booted from New England. The Patriots were interested in retaining him. The sticking point was cost. Belichick wasn’t anywhere close to paying Blount a deal with solid guaranteed money. Not with him turning 31 next season – and most certainly not after Blount showed the penchant for showing up overweight and ending up in the doghouse. New England saw Blount as a useful player, but only at the right price.
Now things have changed. With the draft wrapped, Blount’s market is as thin as it is going to get. That should soften his position on price and put both the Lions and Giants in a position to hammer out a team-friendly deal. The expectation is that Blount will find a team in the next few weeks, and most-certainly not later than the resumption of organized team activities following rookie minicamps.
Here are a few other free-agent players whose future is still up in the air …
Jason McCourty, CB – His biggest sin was not performing well enough to justify the $7 million base salary that was on the books. That doesn’t mean he can’t be a serviceable No. 2 cornerback for someone. He turns 30 in training camp and still has the goods to be a starter. That will get him some looks from teams that still have money to spend in free agency and didn’t address the corner spot in a deep draft at the position. More than any other player still on the market, McCourty cuts the image of a quality late-offseason addition for someone. But he’s also not going to be dirt cheap.
Ryan Clady, OT – Clady has missed 23 games in two years, but he also played in four Pro Bowls and there are executives who remember him being a very worthwhile player. This occasionally happens with offensive tackles, who fall off or struggle with injuries for a few seasons and then rebound to string together a few more years on the positive side of the ledger. Michael Oher appeared to be one of those guys before running into a concussion issue last season with the Carolina Panthers. Clady will get a look from a team that needs some talent and competition at offensive tackle and has little downside in taking a look (hello, Giants).
Jamaal Charles, RB – It all boils down to his health and that has failed him for two straight seasons. He’s also going to turn 31 late in the season. Charles continues to be remembered as a dynamic player with the ball in his hands. The Broncos are bringing him in for a workout and Charles will get other looks if that doesn’t pan out. He’s likely a situational player from here on out, but a team will eventually sign him with the idea of getting Charles 10-15 touches a game both running and receiving. Depending on the team, that could be very valuable.
Anquan Boldin, WR – Yes, he’s getting really old. Soon to be 37. That said, Boldin likely still has one year left and he brings the added value of presence in a wide receiver meeting room and in practice. Boldin is still tough as nails and can bring a veteran worker’s mentality to a group and offense. That’s worth a price in the NFL – particularly if the player can offer something as a third wideout. Boldin can still do that. But it will almost certainly be a one-year marriage. After that, well, how many guys line up at receiver at 38?
Jay Cutler, QB – He’s probably older than most realize (34) and had a rough 2016 with the Chicago Bears. There’s a legitimate question of how much his heart is still in the game (or some would argue whether it ever really was). But Cutler has two things the NFL needs as soon as there are any worries at the quarterback spot: an arm and tons of experience. While teams have stayed away in free agency, some franchises will fish for a backup quarterback with experience following the draft. And his talent will put him at the top of a lot of lists if there is a training camp injury. One way or another, Cutler still has the talent to play in the NFL and will eventually be given another opportunity. Maybe not as a starter, but almost certainly as a talented insurance policy for a worst-case scenario.
RECOGNIZABLE NAMES WITH CAREERS TEETERING
Robert Griffin III, QB – Maybe this one will shock some people. Maybe it won’t. But don’t be surprised if Griffin ends up sitting out the 2017 season and mulling the state of his career a year from now. At the moment, there appears to be zero – zero – free-agent interest in him. And this is after there was basically no interest in him last season beyond the Cleveland Browns (no, the New York Jets leverage visit doesn’t count). It’s a real possibility (maybe even a probability) that Griffin doesn’t make a single free-agent visit before training camp. And it might take a spate of quarterback injuries to land him as a backup somewhere. He doesn’t look anything like the player he was in 2012 and carries immense injury baggage. It’s stunning to consider how far he has fallen since his historic rookie campaign in 2012. It can’t get much lower than this. If there’s a guy who has a future “30 for 30” documentary, RG3 is it.
Colin Kaepernick, QB – Like RG3, the market is comatose. Also like RG3, there is a chance Kaepernick won’t make a meaningful free-agent visit until a quarterback injury occurs. The chief reason: Kapernick’s game and build have appeared to significantly regress over the past few seasons. His national anthem protests last season and the emotions that roiled fan bases across the NFL can’t be discounted. Bottom line, if he were still considered an upper-echelon player, he’d be on a team right now. But he’s been billed as a low-tier starter or backup for over a year now, and that puts any perceived baggage squarely in play when it comes to a signing. Right now, he’s not worth it for teams. But should there be a sudden need to fill a backup slot due to injuries, he could get another chance. Even that’s not guaranteed.
Reggie Bush, RB – He’s 32 and hasn’t had an impactful season since 2013. A litany of injuries have caught up to Bush, who never panned out as a durable, consistent NFL running back. If Peterson, Charles and Blount are struggling to get a contract offer in this market, what does that spell for Bush? Most likely, it will eventually spell retirement after he doesn’t catch on anywhere. His position is oversaturated and he doesn’t appear on the radar anywhere. Much like Vince Young before him, one of the most dynamic and exciting players in college football history will be largely remembered for his time before the NFL – if Bush isn’t there already.
Chris Johnson, RB – Like Bush, he’s aging and the athleticism isn’t what it once was. Johnson will turn 32 soon and his position is saturated with young, fast players. A string of running back injuries will almost certainly open up a low rung of some depth chart, but he’s headed for a role as a bit player at best. He believes he still has something close to his sub-4.3-second 40-yard dash speed, and he’ll likely get a workout or two to show if that’s true. Regardless of where he’s headed, the end is near.
Darrelle Revis, CB – He turns 32 in July, but his game has hit a wall. The Jets didn’t see the athleticism or even some of the technically sound mechanics that used to be there. Revis has made a ton of money and would need to work harder than ever to survive at a position that is swelling with talent in recent drafts. It’s going to be hard for him to justify what it takes for money that isn’t going to be all that great in the NFL. And if he’s not “all-in” every day, he’s liable to get torched to the point where teams can’t keep him in the fold. The move to safety gets a lot of play, but there is skepticism amongst former coaches that Revis can – or wants – to buy in to that transition.
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