Rex Burkhead’s Deal Signals Major Role With Patriots

BOSTON (CBS) — The Patriots signed free-agent running back Rex Burkhead on Tuesday, a signing that on the surface appeared to be a replacement for free agent Brandon Bolden as a key special teams player and backup running back.

The specifics of Burkhead’s deal are out, and they indicate that the Patriots envision a role for Burkhead that’s much bigger than that.

ESPN’s Field Yates tweeted the details of Burkhead’s contract with the Patriots on Wednesday. It’s a one-year deal with a $1.8 million base salary, $1.1 million signing bonus, and $250,000 in per-game roster bonuses – a total cap hit of $3.15 million.

That’s no special-teamer.

The Patriots’ signing of Burkhead has the potential to be the replacement for free-agent back LeGarrette Blount. At 5-foot-10 and 214 pounds, Burkhead’s frame and skill set would certainly make him a candidate to carry the ball on early downs and in goal-line/short-yardage situations. He can also catch the ball, reeling in 17 of 20 targets for 8.5 yards per catch in 2016.

But what makes him even more of a candidate for that role is, again, that $3.15 million cap hit. According to Mark Daniels of the Providence Journal, Burkhead is the first Patriots running back to be paid more than $2 million since Fred Taylor in 2010. It’s possible that Burkhead earns his keep by taking Blount’s early-down running role and assuming Bolden’s role on special teams; Mike Lombardi described Burkhead on Twitter as “the perfect four-down back for the Patriots.”

Whatever Burkhead’s role turns out to be, it’s clearly going to be more than a minor one. Bill Belichick loves versatile players and Burkhead can certainly deliver in that department. Belichick might literally never take him off the field.

Rex Burkhead (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Bengals lose Rex Burkhead to Patriots, could eye RBs in draft

CINCINNATI -- Former Cincinnati Bengals running back Rex Burkhead has signed with the New England Patriots, the Pats announced Tuesday.

Burkhead was a core special-teams player in Cincinnati but was ultimately buried on the depth chart behind Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill. He did not start his first game until his fourth and final season in Cincinnati.

Burkhead took on a more significant role in the final six games of the season after Bernard tore his ACL. He averaged 4.6 yards per carry, the highest among Cincinnati's running backs, carrying the ball 74 times for 344 yards and two touchdowns. He averaged 8.5 yards per reception, catching 17 passes for 145 yards.

Burkhead has lined up as a slot receiver and kick returner, and his versatility likely intrigued the Patriots. If the Patriots don't re-sign LeGarrette Blount, Burkhead will compete at running back with Dion Lewis and James White and would probably have more potential to move up than he did with the Bengals.

Burkhead was clearly stuck down the depth chart in Cincinnati. Although he looked the part in 2016, it was probably going to be hard to re-sign him without the potential for a bigger role.

The Bengals also had concerns about Burkhead's durability as a lead running back, a role currently occupied by Hill, who had injury problems of his own last season with a shoulder/chest issue and a knee ailment.

Hill, the Bengals' 2014 second-round pick, is entering the final year of his rookie contract.

Although Bernard and Hill have shared running back duties for several years now, that won't stop the Bengals from exploring their options at the position. The Bengals hold the No. 9 pick in the draft and have shown interest in former LSU running back Leonard Fournette, who is projected to go early in the first round.

The Bengals have also visited twice with former Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon, meeting with him privately before his pro day and also hosting him in Cincinnati for a visit.

Mixon was not invited to the NFL combine because of his off-the-field conduct relating to a 2014 incident in which he struck a female Oklahoma student, breaking several bones in her face.

The Bengals will need to at least bring in another backup now that they are down to Bernard, Hill and practice squad running back Tra Carson on the roster.

Running back Cedric Peerman, who played mostly on special teams, is an unrestricted free agent. His special-teams role was also occupied by Burkhead when Peerman was on IR for half of the 2016 season.

Patriots give new RB Rex Burkhead a contract for a starting running back

The New England Patriots signed former Cincinnati Bengals RB Rex Burkhead to a contract and ESPN’s Field Yates has the details. Burkhead is receiving starter money and could be the replacement for LeGarrette Blount.

Burkhead is receiving $1.1 million out of the gate as a signing bonus and has a $1.8 million base salary. He can achieve an additional $250,000 in per-game roster bonuses. His cap hit should be $3.15 million because he was active for all 16 games with the Bengals in 2016.

This is big money for the Patriots to give a running back. Last year, RB LeGarrette Blount earned $1.75 million after he reached $750,000 of incentives in addition to his $1 million base salary. RB Dion Lewis signed a 2-year, $2.6 million contract which means that Burkhead is making more in one season than Lewis will in two.

In other words, Burkhead is expected to be the Patriots top running back heading into 2017. Burkhead can run between the tackles, he can catch out of the backfield and line up at receiver, and he can contribute on special teams.

The Patriots treat the running back position different than most teams and NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport notes that Burkhead “left a lot of money on the table” to join the Patriots.

It’s rare for any individual running back to exceed 2.0% of the salary cap, with players like Kevin Faulk, Corey Dillon, and Fred Taylor the only exceptions. Burkhead will account for 1.9% of the salary cap and will be the first running back since Faulk and Taylor to receive more than $2 million for a single season. For comparison, Lewis and James White will account for 1.4% of the salary cap combined.

New England will have three running backs entering their final contract year in Burkhead, Lewis, and White. It’s a slight surprise that Burkhead didn’t sign a multi-year deal with this potential departure of Lewis and White in mind.

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