Based on the Patriot’s track record with running backs drafted by Bill Belichick, it is likely we have seen the last of James White in a Patriots uniform.
Throughout each of the past seven seasons, James White has been as dependable as they come. In fact, White established himself as one of the best receiving running backs in the NFL.
The Patriots drafted White in the 4th round (130th overall) of the 2014 NFL Draft. He played his college ball at Wisconsin. Head Coach Bill Belichick did not give White a lot of playing time his rookie year because he sat behind Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen on the depth chart. White did, however, see the field a lot more in his second season with the Patriots. In 2015, he caught 40 passes for 410 yards, and four receiving touchdowns. White’s numbers would only show considerable improvement from there.
Check out James White’s career stats as a pass-catching running back via Pro Football Reference.
After a couple of really good seasons in 2015 and 2016, White signed an extension entering the 2017 season on the final year of his rookie deal. He signed a three-year, $12,000,000 contract with the Patriots, including a $4,000,000 signing bonus.
Fast forward to 2021, after three Super Bowl championships, including the game-winning score in that epic comeback in Super Bowl LI, White is set to enter free agency for the first time.
“I’m still very young. Still have a lot of good football left in me,” White told Mark Daniels of the Providence Journal in January.
“I didn’t play my first couple of years so it kind of knocked two years off of my career shelf life. I still have plenty of good football left in me. Wherever my future takes me, I’m excited about it and I’m excited about being more productive next season.”
White does make a compelling point. Running backs don’t typically have a long shelf life because of the consistent hits their bodies take. White was never a three-down back though. As a matter of fact, White has never had a game with 15 or more carries. The closest he ever came to that was in 2019 against the Houston Texans. In that game, he had 14 carries for 79 yards along with eight catches, for 98 yards, and two receiving touchdowns.
Looking back at some of the running backs Belichick drafted before White, none of them received extensions or new contracts after their original rookie deals. Guys like Laurence Maroney, who was a first-round pick in 2006, Shane Vereen, who was a third-round pick in 2011, and Stevan Ridley, who was also a third-round pick in 2011. If you really want to go back in time, how about old friend J.R. Redmond? He was a third-round pick back in 2000 who also never received an extension. At least for White, he broke that streak and already earned himself one contract extension. It’s hard to imagine he gets a second contract extension though.
The 2020 season was undoubtedly a challenging one for White off the field. White understandably missed two games after he learned that his father, Tyrone White, was tragically killed in a car crash in Florida on September 20th. White’s mother, Lisa White, was also critically injured but fortunately survived and returned home after being hospitalized.
“I didn’t necessarily have the production I necessarily wanted to have, but that happens sometimes,” White said. “Use it as motivation for next season to find ways to improve and find a way to be more productive.”
Even if White’s numbers were down in 2020, it certainly wasn’t because he’s washed up. The Patriots offense as a whole struggled under Cam Newton. Teams will look at White’s resume in New England and fall in love. For example, White’s production in 2018 was excellent. White put together one of the most remarkable seasons for a receiving back in Patriots history. He shattered his own previous record for most receptions in a season with 87. In 2016, White held that record with 60 catches, and before that, the record was held by Kevin Faulk, with 58 receptions. White also broke the record for most receiving yards by a running back with 751. The only thing missing was a pro bowl selection. White did, however, serve as a team captain from 2018-2020.
“Honestly, I don’t know what the future holds,” White said. “I’ve never been through free agency before, so this is my first time, so I’m not even sure what to expect. I’m not ruling anything out. For right now just be relaxed for a couple of weeks, get back to training, get my body back feeling right and see what happens. I’ve never been through this process before, so I’m excited to see what it’s all about.”
At this moment in time, the Patriots have four running backs under contract heading into the 2021 season with Damien Harris, Sony Michel, Brandon Bolden, and J.J. Taylor all on the depth chart.
The Patriots may already be preparing for life without White. According to Justin Melo of The Draft Network, the Patriots are one of several teams who have met virtually with University of Buffalo running back Jaret Patterson.
Patterson put up video game numbers last season. In just six games, he rushed for 1,072 yards and 19 touchdowns. If he is a possible James White replacement, it should be noted that Patterson can also catch the ball out of the backfield. In his three seasons in college, he caught 20 passes, for 271 yards, and one touchdown.
It still remains unknown where White will be lacing up next season. We will get answers soon though because the 2021 NFL league year and free agency start on March 17th.
–Kevin Tame Jr. is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage Sports Media and covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin_Tame