The Patriots filled another roster spot after eight players opted out by signing veteran running back Lamar Miller to a one-year deal. The 2018 Pro Bowler suffered a torn ACL in his third preseason game last year against the Houston Texans. Miller was in the final year of his 4-year/$26,000,000 with the organization. He spent the first four seasons of his career with the Miami Dolphins, who drafted Miller in the fourth round of the 2012 draft. The 29-year old veteran has reportedly recovered well from his ACL surgery and is ready to go for the 2020 season.
Although he was a Pro Bowler in his last full season, Miller’s best year came in 2014 with the Dolphins, rushing for 1,099 yards on 216 carries and producing a 5.1 Y/A. His presence in the passing game will make him a great fit for New England’s offense, which requires their backs to be able to catch the ball out of the backfield. Miller has recorded 209 receptions for 1565 yards over his 7-year career. His ability as a blocker in pass protection could also help keep New England’s new quarterback healthy, with hopes that Newton will not have to undergo his fourth surgery in as many seasons. Miller should have no problem absorbing the playbook after spending the last four seasons with former Patriots’ Offensive Coordinator Bill O'Brien in Houston.
The Patriots will enter the 2020 campaign with six running backs, sparking an intriguing storyline to follow as Bill Belichick will have to trim the roster down from 80 players to 53. With James White looking to be a feature back in his contract year, the move should put the rest of the depth chart on notice.
Rex Burkhead recently agreed to a contract restructure, saving the organization roughly $1 million while they sat at the bottom of the league in available cap space. The team has since been freed from cap jail after settling two grievances and their players opt-out. Burkhead enters the final year of his contract at age 30, traditionally the last year of any running back’s prime. His willingness to take the pay cut may assist with securing a roster spot, but don’t be surprised if he is chosen as one of the six potential veterans assigned to the practice squad if Miller can produce, or even picked up by another team.
New England used their 87th overall pick in the 2019 draft on Alabama running back Damien Harris, who saw a mere four carries in his first year in the NFL. Although the team carried a crowded backfield and may have wanted Harris to spend his first year with the team learning the offense, it is hard not to question if Belichick has been disappointed with Harris, who won two National Championships under Belichick’s close friend, Nick Saban. Harris may be subject to a trade if he cannot earn a roster spot on the team in his second year while Miller returns to his best form.
Sony Michel has proven he can be an effective back when the offensive line is at his best but has been disappointing overall for a first-round pick just two years ago. His three-game stretch in the Patriots’ most recent title run helped the offense control the clock and take some of the load off Brady’s shoulders, rushing for 336 yards with a 4.7 Y/A. Michel’s six playoff rushing touchdowns set a record for rookie running backs. He struggled at times last year while the team battled injuries on the line and at the fullback position, only posting a 3.7 Y/A. Michel showed potential to be a multipurpose back while at Georgia but has been largely irrelevant in the Patriots receiving game. Michel had surgery in May to relieve discomfort in his foot and is currently listed on the team’s PUP list.
The Miller signing could just be the Patriots’ yearly preseason flyer for a veteran with a solid track record, but there's nothing left in the tank. If Miller has truly recovered well from his surgery and is ready to go, the Patriots have the potential to be the most dynamic and talented backfield in the NFL.
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