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Bill Belichick was interested in Rex Burkhead before end of 2016 season

Belichick used his connections with another former Bengals player to pick up information about Burkhead.

Baltimore Ravens v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Losing Rex Burkhead was one of the most disappointing parts of the Cincinnati Bengals’ 2017 offseason. Before 2016, he was one of the Bengals’ best kept secrets, only recording 13 carries for 31 yards and a touchdown, in addition to 17 catches for 143 yards and a touchdown in his first three seasons. Then, he broke out with 74 carries for 344 yards and two touchdowns in addition to 17 catches for 145 yards in 2016, despite only starting in the Bengals’ final game of the season.

Needless to say, Burkhead’s performance in the final game of his rookie contract drastically increased his value heading into free agency. There was talk about the Bengals trying to retain him, but ultimately he chose to sign a one-year, $3.15 million contract with the Patriots. That said, according to Andy Dalton, the Patriots may have had their eye on Burkhead long before he broke out against the Ravens in Week 17.

“I remember talking to a tight end who was with us, Matt Lengel, he ended up with the Patriots this past year. They picked him up off our practice squad,” Andy Dalton told Pardon My Take podcast. Lengel said he’s had a couple of conversations with Bill Belichick since arrive in New England, and one of the conversations was asking about Rex.

Dalton began to explain what he felt like Belichick was trying to do.

“I kinda felt like...” Dalton began.

“He was sniffing around,” One of the hosts chimed in.

Dalton laughed and seemed to agree. If true, it means Belichick may have realized Burkhead’s potential long before his breakout game, which launched his status as a free agent from ‘extremely low-profile’ to ‘potential starter’. There is a good chance the Patriots would have pursued Burkhead this offseason whether he had a chance to break out or not.

“This was in the middle of the year,” Dalton said. “Once he got to free agency, I think Rex fits perfect for what they do.”

Although the Bengals and their fans were disappointed to see Burkhead go, it was hard to see him ever reaching his full potential in Cincinnati. Even so, the Patriots have an extremely crowded backfield and if they can find playing time for him, couldn’t the Bengals have done the same? Instead, the Bengals brought in Joe Mixon and Brandon Wilson through the draft and signed some talent at the position after the draft was finished.

With a revamped running back unit in Cincinnati, Bengals fans can be happy for Burkhead as he receives a new opportunity with the Patriots.

“Rex is one of my good buddies,” Dalton said, refusing to say anything negative about losing him to an AFC foe.

Hopefully, Burkhead moving on to New England will be a good thing for him and a good thing for the Bengals as the addition of Mixon should power Cincinnati to possess a top-ranked running back unit.