The Bengals are starting to see how sizeable the free agent market truly is for Rex Burkhead, a player who has spent his entire career with the Bengals.
Unfortunately, that’s almost exclusively been as a third or fourth string running back and his talent was widely wasted in Cincinnati. Saturday, he was reportedly visiting the Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons have a fairly crowded running back position, so it was surprising he was even there in the first place. But, he must have left Atlanta without a deal, because he is now heading to Foxborough on Monday, visiting with the New England Patriots.
Source: former Bengals RB Rex Burkhead is at Gillette Stadium visiting the Patriots today.— Field Yates (@FieldYates) March 13, 2017
There is no such thing as 4th string on the #Patriots. Unless your last name was Dobson. https://t.co/VwjNlza1Tv— Charles Robinson (@CharlesRobinson) March 13, 2017
Burkhead put together the best performance of any Bengals running back in 2016. Granted, Jeremy Hill is the established starter and Giovani Bernard isn’t going anywhere as one of the best complementary backs in the NFL. But, Hill saw another down year in 2016 and Burkhead did what he could to make up for the slack once Bernard went down with a torn ACL in Week 11. Some would argue he deserves a reward for his hard work toward the end of the season, whether that comes by re-signing in Cincinnati, or joining a new team.
If the Bengals are not willing to give him a reasonable amount of money and a commitment for more snaps, another team will. His visit with the Falcons didn’t appear to make any significant waves, but a move to the Patriots could make more sense.
In Atlanta, the Falcons already employ two reliable running backs in Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Essentially, it would be like sitting behind Hill and Bernard all over again, except with less chance that the starter is going to lose his job.
In New England, the Patriots are infamous for unexpectedly moving away from talented players and finding new guys, seemingly out of nowhere. Guys like James White, Dion Lewis, and James Develin weren’t expected to do much before coming to New England, but they have all managed to contribute in their own way, simply because head coach Bill Belichick deemed it so.
Burkhead could easily jump ahead of White and Lewis on the depth chart, if he sufficiently impresses. Making things a bit easier and more likely for Burkhead to fit in New England, LeGarrette Blount, the team’s top running back from 2016, is a free agent and is not expected to re-sign with the Patriots.
Figuring out what the Patriots are going to do next is a fool’s errand than can frustrate even the most expert fan or analyst. For that reason, it’s hard to guess if the Patriots will truly sign Burkhead, simply because the Patriots are already loaded at running back. But, if he sufficiently impresses, Bill Belichick will likely find room for him on the roster and the Bengals will definitely need to find a new running back in the 2017 NFL Draft.
As the above Tweet from Charles Robinson suggests, there are no fourth stringers in New England. The team finds a way for all of its worthy players to find playing time.