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If Dion Lewis departs, Patriots would need to reinvent themselves at RB

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots gave running back Dion Lewis the chance he was seeking to revive his career on Feb. 6, 2015, and to his credit, Lewis took full advantage of it. Now, coming off a career year, Lewis is primed to cash in as a free agent.

That could still be in New England. But as the Patriots have shown in other situations, they generally stay true to their financial discipline and if the market rises to a level they aren’t comfortable, they move on.

Whether that happens with Lewis will likely become clear in the next day or two.

Lewis has earned whatever he has coming to him. In turn, if not for the Patriots, he might not be in this position.

And so if Lewis does depart, Lewis’ own story is one indication that the Patriots will probably find a way to reinvent themselves at the position. After all, they found a diamond in the rough in Lewis, whose signing hardly registered a ripple at the time he joined the club.

Furthermore, and perhaps even more relevant, is that there are multiple examples of teams doing the same in the draft. Most recently, Kareem Hunt (Chiefs) and Alvin Kamara (Saints) were third-round picks. In 2015, David Johnson (Cardinals) was another difference-making third-round running back.

Then consider that the Patriots haven’t drafted a running back since nabbing James White in the fourth round in 2014. In some ways, they’ve let the running back draft party pass them by, and do they really want to do that again?

This year’s draft is seen as strong at running back, especially in the middle rounds. Lions general manager Bob Quinn said at the combine that it’s a solid group in the often-overlooked area of pass protection, so perhaps the Patriots broke their three-year streak of being running back-less.

As it stands now, the club has Mike Gillislee and White under contract at running back, with Lewis and Rex Burkhead hitting free agency. Whether Lewis and Burkhead both return (unlikely) figures to be contingent on how the market unfolds, but the odds seem to favor it being one or the other, or neither.

Losing Lewis’ production -- as a rusher, pass-catcher and kick returner -- wouldn’t be an easy void to fill after he took over the team's lead role in the seventh week of the 2017 season. But there are enough examples around the league, including right here in New England with Lewis himself, to support the thinking that the team would be able to sufficiently do so if that’s the way it unfolds.