As the 2022 season quickly approaches, the Patriots have collected one of their deepest running back rosters in a handful of years. This has made their RB roster near the top of the best in the league.
Although Mr. Reliable, James White, announced his retirement before the start of preseason, the team is confident with who they do have in Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson. They added even more talent this past draft when selecting Pierre Strong Jr. and Kevin Harris, creating a competitive push amongst them all to make the team throughout the summer.
But one of these players stands out from the rest this season.
Damien Harris is entering his fourth year in the league and the final year of his rookie contract. There has been a lot of speculation about whether Bill Belichick will decide to re-sign him long-term or if he will let him walk in free agency after the end of the season. And although the Patriots appear to be in good hands at the position, it would be a bad decision to let Harris sign elsewhere.
What has Harris done for the Patriots since being drafted?
Despite beginning his NFL career in 2019, Harris would only play in two games totaling four rushes for 12 yards for the entire year. His role would become much more prominent in 2020, but his progression would see an unexpected but not entirely negative setback.
The Patriots were looking for a quarterback after Tom Brady left following the 2019 season and they would eventually choose to sign Cam Newton. As one of the best running quarterbacks in the history of the league, his presence on the team would indirectly hinder Harris’ production on the field during the year.
Because Newton could easily incorporate running the football himself, whether it be by design or due to what he saw during a play, he would take a significant part in rushing the football himself. At the end of the year, he would total 137 carries for 592 yards and 12 touchdowns; compared to Harris’ 2020 stats which were 137 carries for 691 yards and two touchdowns.
The Patriots had a lot of good running backs during that time including James White, Sony Michel, and Rex Burkhead. But the 2021 season would prove to be Harris’ year and his first season being crowned the RB1.
Finally given the keys as the starting running back, Harris would have his most productive season to date. Totaling 202 carries for 929 yards and 15 touchdowns, he would end his year in the top 10 of running backs in the NFL for the year.
With the upcoming season starting in under two weeks, Harris is still on track to remain New England’s starter. But he will face some possible competition for carries as Stevenson appears to have taken big strides with his game throughout the summer.
Damien Harris’ stats 2019-2021
27 total regular season games played
343 carries for 1,632 yards (averaged 60.4 yards per game)
17 rushing touchdowns
23/28 receptions for 184 yards
Why should the Patriots re-sign Harris?
Some will say that running backs are an easily replaceable position in the NFL, and to some extent they’re not incorrect. However, consistently productive and improving players are not.
Harris is a proven talent and has shown to be the definition of a real Patriot. His connection with Mac Jones is evident, as the two played together in college, and his mentorship to younger players will become more valuable through the years.
His pairing with Stevenson has already been a significant advantage over opponents, especially as Stevenson has improved his passing game this past offseason. And with time it will only get better.
The biggest obstacle the team will face in re-signing Harris will likely come down to money. If he is hoping to become one of the highest paid running backs in the league, Belichick will let him walk. Although they have plenty of money to spend next year, the coach is not known for paying any player above what he deems to be their value.
But if Harris is willing to take a fair yet team friendly contract, expect him to remain a Patriot. It’s tough to say which way Belichick will decide to go, especially since drafting two running backs just this past year. But when you find a player like Harris that fits the mold of what you want on your team, you should do what you can to retain him.
Featured photo credit to The Associated Press