Why Is LeGarrette Blount Still a Free Agent?
The market for running backs in the NFL may be at an all-time low. Perennial stars like Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles spent weeks on the free-agent market before being signed. Teams are unwilling to spend a large portion of their payroll on the position.
LeGarrette Blount is a prime example of the current running back market -- or lack thereof. Blount is the first running back to rush for 18 touchdowns in a season since Peterson did it in 2009, and he is one of only 10 running backs to rush for 18 or more touchdowns in a season since 2000. So why is the bruiser still looking for a gig?
From NESN: "The tender is a one-year deal worth $1.1 million, or 110 percent of Blountâ€™s 2016 salary. If Blount signs with a team before July 22, the tender means he counts against that teamâ€™s and towards the Patriotsâ€™ compensatory draft pick formula, which could make another squad hesitant to add him. Unrestricted free agents who sign with teams after May 9 donâ€™t count in the comp pick formula when not tendered. If Blount doesnâ€™t sign with another team before July 22, then he only can sign with the Patriots from then until November."
But those aren't the only numbers making teams nervous.
Let's Be Blount
I previously noted how Blount was one of only 10 running backs to score 18 or more rushing touchdowns in a season since the turn of the millennium. That may sound impressive, but some basic stats and some advanced analytics tell us he was just about the worst of those 10.
Blount ranked last in rushing yards, yards per carry, and total Net Expected Points. Only Peterson's 2009 season was statistically worse on a per-play basis.
|Running Back||Year||Age||Rushing Attempts||Rushing Yards||Rushing Touchdowns||Yards Per Carry||Total NEP||Rushing NEP Per Play|
If we expand the list to any running back who scored 15 touchdowns or more in a season since 2000, Blount finished 26th of 28 players in total rushing yards and 27th of 28 in yards per carry, demonstrating his inflated touchdown number was a bit fluky.
Forget the past -- how did Blount rank among players in 2016?
I took a look at his counterparts who had 150 or more carries. Out of those 27, Blount ranked 19th in Total Net Expected Points, finishing behind the likes of Terrance West, Ryan Mathews, and Frank Gore. Blount's lack of use in the receiving game hurt his overall NEP numbers, but even using Rushing NEP only, he ranked 12th out of 27, relatively average stuff.
Age Against the Machine
And then there's that whole 30-years-old thing. According to Pro Football Reference, since 2000, only 11 running backs who were 30 or older have carried the ball 299 or more times in a season. And aside from Curtis Martin and Lamar Smith, those thirtysomethings performed even worse in the following year. The first table looks at rushing attempts.
|Name||Year||Age||Rushing Attempts that Season||Rushing Attempts in Following Season||Change +/-|
Next, we'll look at the change in rushing yards.
|Name||Year||Age||Rushing Yards that Season||Rushing Yards in Following Season||Change +/-|
To be fair to Blount, he has fewer career carries than most players on these lists, but it is unlikely that he will get near this amount of carries, yards, and touchdowns ever again.
What's the Scenario?
The Patriots signed running backs Rex Burkhead and Mike Gillislee in the offseason, adding them to a crowded backfield that already includes Dion Lewis and James White. If Blount were to sign somewhere before that July 22 deadline, he would likely fall into some sort of timeshare on an offense less talented than the Pats. If he remains unsigned through the deadline, he could only play for the Patriots and would be one of five running backs vying for carries.
The NFL is a passing league, and Blount rarely contributes as a receiver. At age 30, coming off of a high-usage season during which he was distinctly average -- inflated touchdown total notwithstanding -- teams have good reason to pass on Blount.