I know, I know, I sound like a 98.5 Sports Hub caller right now. (Or a host from 2-6pm.) But I truly don't mean to troll. The Derek Rivers news today leaves our DE position in tattered rags and I'm just exploring the idea if Dion Lewis could be traded. I don't want to trade Dion, or Didi, as I call him thanks to the great nickname creator, autocorrect. I love Didi. But I feared for his status this year before everything that has transpired the last few weeks. So just hear me out, will ya?
Since the coveted days of Corey Dillon, the faithful fans of New England have longed to see a Patriots backfield with a power house back that opponents have nightmares about. Well I have news for you. Those days aren’t here, so keep dreaming.
Once again Jedi Master Bill Belichick has crafted a Frankenstein monster of backs who will all work together to move the rock. There's no bell cow on this roster. Instead there's a wolf pack. This year, however, is more interesting than years past. There are new faces and veterans, all with more talent than we’ve seen in a long time. The most intriguing aspect of the stable lies on the slender shoulder's of Dion Lewis. Not because it could be a breakout year, but because the shifty and elusive back that Pats fans were obsessed with just a season and a half ago could find himself being the odd man out.
We don't need to get into early touches or short yardage. It's going to be Mike Gillislee unless he proves he can't do it. And as far as touching the ball goes, we can be happiest when Brandon Bolden is bagging them after a practice, so for purposes of this conversation we’ll leave him at his Special Teams post where he belongs.
But passing we can talk about. Passing out of the backfield is where we look at James White and Dion Lewis. From the beginning of the Brady era, we had Kevin Faulk. When we lost him, we held back our fears because of Danny Woodhead. When we lost him, we stifled our tears because of Shane Vereen. After the debacle that was his departure, out of the clouds came Dion Lewis. Dion Lewis’s first 7 games in the 2015 campaign were the definition of electricity.
On the ground or through the air, he was the most elusive threat in New England Patriots memory. In 7 games, he had 4 collective tuddies, 4.8 yards per carry and 10.8 yards per catch. He could not be stopped. That is until the good old turf tore his ACL off his body.
From there we turned to James White. In 2015, he was serviceable, but he didn’t look like the guy. He couldn't make an over the shoulder wheel route catch even if Junior Floyd from Little Giants was throwing him rolls of toilet paper, and he was nothing close to the threat Lewis was on the ground. Headed into the 2016 season fans were frothing at the mouth for the return of Lewis, only to find out that he’d be sidelined until week 9. The disappointment quickly subsided because the newest hit on TV was the James White show. Once given the leading role of primary pass catching back, White hauled in 60 receptions for 551 yards and 5 tuddies. He became Brady’s guy out of the backfield, and to add another element of surprise, Belichick pulled a stunning move by handing White a contract extension of 3 years worth 12 million dollars plus 3 million in incentives. Seeing Belichick shell out that kind of deal to a back means he clearly likes White in his role.
The battle between White and Lewis was put to rest in the playoffs, but not to the untrained eye. People will remember Didi's 3-touchdown performance against the Houston Texans. What they won’t remember is the fact that he only had 2 catches and fumbled the ball TWICE. A big no-no for Bill. The distance was put between the two in the Super Bowl when White was responsible for TWENTY points on 14 catches for 110 yards, and the game winning touchdown.
So I say again, is Didi expendable? A betting man would be smart to put his money of James White being the guy Brady looks to throw to first. Rex Burkhead is no bum. At the end of the year he showed great ability to make plays in the air, get down field and make defenders miss. Then there's DJ Foster. You won't find a bigger DJ Foster guy than me. I mean the dude cried on the phone with his grandma when the Pats signed him.
Is he enough insurance if James White were to go down? I'm not so sure this year, he still needs a little polish. And even I have to admit he's got a slight case of fumblitis himself.
The final nail in Lewis’s potential coffin is his injury issues. This past season, Gillislee, White, and Burkhead played 15, 16, and 16 games respectively. Lewis has played 14 in the past 2 seasons. Put this on top of his fumbling problem, and we could be seeing a lot less of number 33 on the field. Instead of letting him walk for free, let's pull a Belichick trademark and bail a year early rather than a year late. I was going to write this piece anyway and pitch we could get a mid round draft pick in return. But with the injuries already piling up in the pre-season I have my eyes on more pressing matters.
I don't know how the rest of the league views Didi's value, but I do know how reluctant most teams are to trade with Bill, so this is probably all for not. It could be a good thing, because my biggest fear in the world is that Didi just needed a year to fully recover, similar to the recoveries of Tom Brady and Wes Welker. Not everyone can be Adrian Peterson. I would hate to pass up on some old school Didi, especially considering the Pats are a stunning 17-0 when he plays. And he's only 26. But if it gets me an impact Defensive End, I just might do it. This roster is in WIN NOW mode. We can't have one thin position derail this train when we have a surplus at another.