FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft has described the team’s offseason approach as balancing “known value” over “not being sure,” and the official signing of Bills restricted free-agent running back Mike Gillislee on Monday is another example of it.
Essentially it comes down to this: In a year that the running back draft class is considered deep, the Patriots weighed a two-year, $6.4 million offer sheet to Gillislee against the type of player they might draft at the No. 163 overall pick in the draft and have under contract for four years at cheaper rates.
Known value won out again, just as it did with the team’s trade of a first-round pick (No. 32 overall) to the New Orleans Saints for receiver Brandin Cooks, and to a lesser degree, with the club moving down eight spots in the draft in a swap with the Carolina Panthers for defensive end Kony Ealy.
The Patriots aren’t paying Gillislee more than $3 million per season to be a backup, so the expectation is that he will essentially fill LeGarrette Blount’s role. Blount remains a free agent, and it is hard to see a spot for him on the roster with Gillislee now in the fold.
Rex Burkhead and passing back James White are also locks to make the roster, with Dion Lewis rounding out the top four slots on the running back depth chart. Second-year player D.J. Foster and six-year veteran Brandon Bolden will also compete for roster spots, and there's still an outside chance the club still selects a running back in the draft.
Gillislee turns 27 in November, and one of his most productive games in the NFL came against the Patriots in October, when he rushed for 85 yards on 12 carries (7.1-yard average) with one touchdown. So that puts him into a similar category as receivers Wes Welker (2007, Dolphins) and Chris Hogan (2016, Bills), two restricted free agents who ultimately joined New England after having success against them.
If Gillislee works out the same way Welker and Hogan did, the Patriots will be thrilled.