It took three seasons for Dion Lewis to develop from Bill Belichick’s latest redemption project and into the Patriots’ most important running back. That hard work — and New England’s 32-4 record with him in the lineup — paid off in the form of a four-year deal with the Tennessee Titans, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN.
The deal is an affirmation of Lewis’s talent and newfound resilience. The 5’8 tailback was part of a solid lineage of NFL-bound tailbacks at the University of Pittsburgh, but struggled to make an impact after being selected in the fifth round of the 2011 NFL Draft. He failed to crack the Eagles’ starting lineup in his first two seasons as a pro before being traded to the Browns in 2013. A broken leg kept him from the field that season, and he’d be cut by both Cleveland and Indianapolis before signing a future/reserve contract with the Patriots.
That low-risk gamble paid off. Though injuries limited him to just 14 regular season games in his first two seasons in Foxborough, Lewis’s impact as a dynamic threat out of the backfield helped keep New England atop the NFL hierarchy. He played his first 16-game season in 2017, setting career highs in rushing yards (896) and total touchdowns (nine) while upping his asking price as free agency loomed.
His latest deal will far outpace the two-year, $2.6 million contract he’d signed with the Patriots prior to the 2016 season. [His absence will sting for the Patriots, who watched him grow from a lottery ticket into one of the game’s biggest bargains while pushing the team to Super Bowl 52 this winter.]
What it means for the Titans
The Titans parted ways with one-time rushing leader DeMarco Murray, but have power back Derrick Henry to pair with Lewis. Henry has a ton of upside, and pairing him with a shifty, versatile back like Lewis could make for a potent combination.
Marcus Mariota will be more than happy to have a back like Lewis, who can catch as well as he runs. Mariota’s quick release and Lewis’ twitchy running should give opposing defenses nightmares, especially if they’re already hurting from running into Henry over and over again.
What makes Lewis worth a four-year deal?
Lewis is a versatile runner and receiver who thrived in Belichick’s often unpredictable running back rotations. His ability to contribute in the running and passing games as well as on special teams what was brought him to New England, but his 180 carries last fall — 161 of which came in the final 11 games of the season — were proof he can be a No. 1 running back for a winning team.
The veteran is an efficient contributor, as proven by his 4.8 career yards per carry mark (5.0 in 2017). He’s also been an important asset as a receiver, making 85 receptions the past three seasons (30 games) while catching nearly 92 percent of his targets from Tom Brady last fall.
Though he’ll turn 28 late next season, Lewis has relatively few miles on his odometer. That’s good — but it’s also a product of the injuries that have followed him throughout his career. Signing Lewis presents a major injury risk, and he’ll have to be flanked by other runners who can step up in case of catastrophe, as the Patriots did with their Mike Gillislee-Rex Burkhead-James White-Brandon Bolden lineup last fall.
While losing a step is a concern with any back, his ability to run through contact and gain yards after breaking tackles suggests he’ll be more effective than his 195-pound frame suggests should he begin to slow down.