The Patriots will enter the beginning of the 2018 league season with several important decisions to make in regards to free agency. Among the veterans looking for a new deal are Nate Solder, Danny Amendola, Malcolm Butler, Dion Lewis, Rex Burkhead, Nate Ebner and Matthew Slater. There are other veterans such as Brandon Bolden, James Harrison, LaAdrian Waddle and Cameron Fleming who have played significant roles at times and have been limited at others.
While the team has a limited amount of cap space, right now… they should be retooling a few contracts or cutting their ties with some players soon which will create more cap space.
We’ll be doing profiles on each of the free agents in the upcoming days and give you our take on whether they return or move on. One of the key players facing free agency is running back Dion Lewis. Lewis put it all together in 2017 and proved that he can withstand the rigors of a 16-game season as well as three playoff games and at 27 years old, is in the great position to cash in on free agency. He’s won a Super Bowl and now he wants to get paid.
Lewis’ situation is a bit different than other notable free agents as he’s missed so much time due to injury in the past, it will be interesting to see if there is a great demand for his services on the open market.
But as always, the question remains, who does the team feel is one of their priority free agents? Will Lewis be one of the guys that the Patriots feel like they must re-sign him?
Why Lewis Will Return: The Patriots settled on Lewis in the second half of the season as their go-to back and he didn’t disappoint. He carried the ball 180 times for 896 yards with six touchdowns. He added 32 receptions for 214 yards and three more touchdowns.
But the bottom line was, once they went with Lewis, the offense was much more difficult to stop. Opponents had to respect the run as well as the pass and his versatility was on full display. As we mentioned above, Lewis showed he can stand up to being a feature back. His previous career high for carries was 64 in 2016, this season he nearly tripled that.
Lewis displays the willingness to run the ball between the tackles and for a smaller back, showed remarkable ability to carry would-be tacklers for yards after contact. He also has the innate ability to make people miss in the open field.
Lewis is a well-respected player by his coaches and teammates and they know what he can bring to the table.
Why Lewis Won’t Return: There are a couple of considerations to think about here in regards to Lewis and his tenure here. First, the Patriots have never highly valued the running back position. So, will they pony up the kind of cash that they’ll have to, to keep Lewis in the fold? That is the big question. It will all come down to how much?
Lewis isn’t going to sign anything quickly here. He’s earned his payday and will want to test the waters to see what he can bring in during free agency. The Patriots have allowed Dont’a Hightower and Julian Edelman to test the waters of free agency in the past with the stipulation that the player gives them a chance to match any offer out there. You can expect the same with the Patriots.
Will another team try to wow Lewis away from New England with a big money contract offer? That is a distinct possibility. Other teams could see the potential with him and with the run/pass option he presents. He could easily be a fit with several other teams out there. It all comes down to money and the amount others are willing to spend. I could easily see the Patriots wish Lewis the best and wave goodbye this spring.
Bottom Line: The Patriots, do, however, recognize what they have in Lewis and the dynamic playmaking ability that he possesses, especially in the open field. Does that mean, the Patriots will break their mold and pay top dollar for a running back? That part is doubtful.
Bill Belichick has always been especially reluctant to pay big bucks to a running back, and one with an injury history like Lewis’.So have most other teams. The NFL really doesn’t value the running back position like in days of yore.
The Patriots have always eschewed the idea of a “feature” running back with the exception of Corey Dillon and have relied on a running back by committee with the likes of BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Stevan Ridley, and Antowain Smith. But this year was a bit different. Although they still used a committee, Lewis was the main guy down the stretch and he was equal to the task.
So what would it take to sign him to a new deal? Several sites have been throwing around the numbers of a three-year deal in the neighborhood of $15 million dollars. If the Patriots are willing to pay Lewis that kind of cash, then I think the deal could definitely work.
Reliability? He caught 32 passes on just 35 targets in 2017, that is a 91 percent completion percentage when the ball is thrown his way. That isn’t good, that is outstanding. And of course, there is the little stat that the Patriots are 32-3 when Lewis is in the lineup and just 13-7 when he’s not.
So, the chances are good, better than 50/50 that Lewis returns to the Patriots for the next three years on a new contract. But it is far from a sure thing. He’s turned enough heads for other teams to look long and hard. And then Lewis will have to decide what is in his best interests for the long term before coming to a decision, but he’s earned that right. If the money is right, he’ll be back. If not, wish him well elsewhere.