With training camp for the Patriots less than three weeks away, we are slowly approaching the football season. And boy, it couldn't come fast enough. But as NFL teams and players are not participating in anything football related, this seems like a good time to examine one potential storyline that will be gaining more steam with the coming weeks. The Patriots did little to address a seemingly uninspiring running back depth chart during the off-season.
They re-signed LeGarrette Blount, and signed Donald Brown from the Chargers, but did little else. Both Blount and Dion Lewis are coming off major injuries that ended their 2015 seasons prematurely. Blount suffered a hip injury in Week 14 that landed him on IR but avoided surgery. He has yet to make an appearance on the field for the team this off-season as he sat out OTAs and mini-camp. As for Dion Lewis, he suffered a torn ACL in 2015 during Week Nine and missed the rest of the season. He too has yet to make an appearance this off-season as he recovers.
Behind Blount and Lewis, the Patriots have Donald Brown, Brandon Bolden, James White and Joey Iosefa among those notable to list. Simply put, the team would be in even more trouble if Blount and/or Lewis went down with injury in the regular season as the roster stands right now. But, enter Arian Foster (potentially). Foster is coming off a major Achilles injury that he suffered in 2015 that eventually required surgery while with the Texans. He was released during the off-season but has yet to sign with a team while he tries to recover fully before signing.
Per ESPN's Jeremy Fowler back on June 20th, Arian Foster "expects to be ready" for training camp. By the time training camp does indeed roll around, Foster will have been about six to seven months recovered from his Achilles injury, so he may not be "100% ready" at the start of training camp. Nevertheless, Fowler also mentions that three teams "recently inquired" on Foster back on June 20th. Foster was seen in Boston in late May, but ESPN's Mike Reiss says that the Patriots never met with Foster during that time.
Back in late May, right after the Foster sighting in Boston, Reiss also wrote: "so is there a fit if he checks out medically? Sure, but at this point there's little momentum from the team to make it happen". Fast forward to now, over two months later, Foster could indeed interest the Patriots due to his pass-catching ability and knack for "taking the trash from other teams and utilizing their strengths" (see Blount with the Steelers, Danny Woodhead with the Jets, Dion Lewis with the Browns). But there are several factors to keep in mind here. Arian Foster will be 30 years old by the time week one of the regular season hits. Also, he has missed a combined 23 games over the past three seasons due to various injuries. Health has become a big issue for Foster in recent years and could detract a few teams from pursuing him if he can't prove he is over his most recent injury.
In terms of money, the team may have a hard time finding cap room to sign Foster. That's not even mentioning a potential "bidding war" if other teams try to sign him. The Patriots currently have about $8.77 million dollars in their top 51 (during off-season, team's cap space is only reflective of top 51 contracts as opposed to entire roster) but actually is almost 10 million dollars over the cap with their total cap space. Between now and the start of the regular season (when their cap will become reflective of the contracts from their entire 53 man roster), the team will have roster cuts when they trim their roster down.
Not to mention the team could agree to contract extensions with the likes of Dont'a Hightower, Jamie Collins, Jabaal Sheard, Malcolm Butler and even Logan Ryan that could lower their cap hit(s) as well. But even still, the Patriots are probably going to still be embroiled with other teams throwing money at Arian Foster to sign with them. If the "bidding war" gets rather expensive for an injury-prone, 30 year old running back, the Patriots may lose whatever interest they have in signing him (assuming they're interested).
The Patriots do have pedigree on their side as one of the most dominant NFL franchises since 2001. Using that to try and entice Foster while giving him the best shot at having a solid role in their offense as a change-of-pace runner should convince him to sign. Plus, Foster would actually be able to contribute in the run game as well as a very functional runner in-between the tackles who is equally effective running on the outside.
Foster may not be the best fit for the team as he works best in a zone-blocking scheme and the Patriots are known to run several different run schemes, but they still use zone-blocking in their game plans. He wouldn't be expected to be anything more than a change-of-pace running back for the Patriots while sharing early down rushes with Blount and receiving targets with Dion Lewis. But, he could be another talented running back to add into the mix who would be used just enough to make a difference while not being used too much.
Overall, the Patriots have made veteran signings in the past that may not look like "good scheme fits", but they usually found a way to utilize them. The two biggest factors for the team will be Foster's health and his price tag. As mentioned, other teams in the league have shown interest and could take the Patriots out of their price range if they were to ever "bid" for him (assuming they're interested). And with Foster's health obviously a huge factor as he is coming off Achilles surgery, that will something to monitor very closely as well. For a team needing some running back depth on paper, Foster could be a good fit to help try and solidify the position for the team.