What’s Going On
The Patriots placed an infrequently used unrestricted free-agent tender on LeGarette Blount last Tuesday, the final day of compensatory pick calculations. LeGarrette Blount is currently a free agent with interest from multiple teams outside of the Patriots organization.
What this Means
The unrestricted free-agent tender has been so rarely used (some reports say it has never been used before) that it’s natural for confusion to occur over what the move means. Essentially, there are three parts to the deal. The first, and most surprising, is that LeGarrette Blount has until July 22nd to sign with another team or his contract becomes exclusive to the New England Patriots. If Blount doesn’t sign by the 22nd, he can either play for the Patriots in 2017 or sit out of football. The second aspect of the deal involves Blount’s salary if he signs the tender. His contract is worth $1.1 million in base salary, with reports having up to $2.1 million in incentives. Meaning, at worst, Blount can sign with the Patriots for a guaranteed contract of $1.1 million, an increase over the $1.025 million total he made last season. So it does amount to a pay increase for Blount with his former team.
The final part of the deal is that signing Blount will count towards compensatory pick calculations. Traditionally, moves for free agents players following the May 9th deadline would not count towards a team’s compensatory pick formula. The highest value players still go early in March at the start of the free agency period because they are worth far more than a 4th/5th/6th round compensatory draft pick. Players like LeGarrette Blount, who have talent but may not be worth losing out on a pick, are usually signed to contracts following the close of the compensatory free agency period (we saw it happen to Michael Floyd being signed by the Vikings May 10th). However, due to the tender the Patriots placed on Blount, any team who signs the former Patriots running back will have his contract count against their compensatory selection. It may not amount to much, but for some teams, having to potentially give up an extra late-round draft pick to sign an injury-prone, over-30 running back may no longer be worth the original deal.
Why All the Outrage
The publicity surrounding the Blount tender has been unanimously negative and borderline hostile. Cold-blooded. Callous. Even Patriots related media has described the move as “brutal”. But what’s all this outrage really about? The media is going to sensationalize stories. Particularly when they pertain to a divisive team like New England. Half of football watching America is convinced at this point that every move the Patriots make is either a bending of the rules or a reflection of the abrasive nature of Bill Belichick.
In regards to the LeGarrette Blount tender, it’s neither.
While the tender is rarely extended (although sure to be used in the future as teams scramble to copy-cat the Patriots), New England made a free agency move that was perfectly legal and within the confines and what is allowed by the Player’s Association. It’s undeniable that the Patriots have everything to gain from this move: they either get exclusive rights to signing their former Super-Bowl winning powerback, or they receive compensatory pick calculations in their favor. But LeGarrette Blount has as much to gain:
- He’s Guaranteed a Job. Lost in all the talk of callous and cold-hearted Belichickian moves is the fact that the Patriots guaranteed Blount a job for the 2017 season. While there are reports that multiple teams were interested in signing the power-back, he now has a roster spot with his former team should he decide to sign the tender.
- He’s getting a pay increase. The contractual details are always murky, but the initial understanding is that Blount will make a base salary of $1.1 million with the potential of nearly doubling that. LeGarrette Blount led the league in touchdowns with 18 last season and helped the Patriots on their way to another Super Bowl victory. I’m sure Blount feels that he is worth more than $1.1 million. And it’s hard to return to a former team who has given big-money contracts to two new-comers in the off-season (Gillislee and Burkhead). But the contract still amounts to an increase over last season and values his services with other over-30 running backs around the league
- It draws attention to his value. Despite floating around free agency for most of the off-season, having a tender placed on him increases the perception of his value. The Patriots are not willing to lose their starting running-back for nothing, and perception can be everything for an aging rusher who has a record of injuries.
I can understand people feeling that this move limits the options of a player (Blount) to the sole benefit of his former team. The purpose of free agency is that a player has the right to shop around their talents to the highest bidder. But consider this: the exclusive-rights period for Blount does not start until July 22nd. If Blount had not signed with a team through late July, it’s unlikely he would be playing football at all next season. Secondly, if a team is scared away from signing due to the (small) impact he would have on their compensatory pick calculation, they probably did not value his services highly to begin with. We are talking about a known quantity in Blount, a veteran of seven seasons who led the league in touchdowns last year. If the loss of a 6th-round pick is enough to give a team pause, they probably were not that interested in the first place.
In the end, it’s up to LeGarrette Blount to decide how he feels about this move.
Update: LeGarrette Blount was signed by the Eagles just as this post was going into publication. Congratulations to Blount on getting a new contract. Best of luck in Philadelphia.