Running Back Dion Lewis Is the Perfect Patriot
One of the best offensive players in football so far this season went two years without playing a single snap in the NFL. Dion Lewis has emerged as one of Tom Brady’s most dangerous weapons, and it couldn’t be more perfect. He’s the kind of guy upon whom this Patriots dynasty is built.
Next to Brady, arguably the biggest reason for the Patriots’ success in the Bill Belichick era is their ability to adapt and embrace change. Belichick seldom holds on to veteran players for too long, and routinely plucks guys off the scrap heap who can produce for a fraction of the cost. Lewis is the latest example of that.
Lewis, 24, is fourth in the NFL in yards from scrimmage through the first two weeks of the season, ahead of Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles. He also has more receiving yards than star wideouts Calvin Johnson and A.J. Green.
Like many players who find success in New England, Lewis was cast aside early in his NFL career. The Eagles selected him in the fifth round of the 2011 Draft out of Pittsburgh University, where he broke Tony Dorsett’s Big East freshman rushing record as a freshman. Lewis also finished third nationally in rushing that season.
But despite his impressive collegiate resume, the undersized Lewis, who stands at five-foot-seven, struggled to find the field in Philadelphia. He only amassed 36 carries in two seasons with the Eagles before signing with the Browns prior to the 2013 campaign.
Cleveland supposedly had big plans for Lewis, but he was placed on season-ending injured reserve at the end of training camp due to a fractured fibula. He never wound up playing for Cleveland, as the Browns cut him before the start of the 2014 season.
Lewis signed on with the Colts last September, but was released less than 10 days later. He spent the rest of the season unemployed before the Patriots inked him to a contract on New Year’s Eve.
This offseason, the Patriots decided to cut bait with halfback Shane Vereen, who led the team in receptions in the Super Bowl. The Giants signed Vereen to a three-year, $12.5 million deal in free agency, and New England seemingly had little interest in matching. On to the next one.
The “next man up” mantra has been a theme for the Patriots at the running back position over the years. The man whom Vereen replaced, Danny Woodhead, was also signed off the discarded pile. The Jets released him in 2010, and he wound up amassing 2,181 yards from scrimmage in three seasons with the Pats. But then the Chargers signed Woodhead to a multi-year deal in 2012, and that was the end of his Patriots career.
Belichick pays for top talent when necessary. He made left guard Logan Mankins and nose tackle Vince Wilfork the highest-paid players at their positions, and also gave Devin McCourty the most guaranteed money a safety has ever received this offseason. But he has a knack for finding undervalued talent in a hyper-competitive landscape, and often knows when to cut bait with players when their salaries outgrow their production.
Brady, of course, is the most famous example of Belichick molding a late-round draft pick into a superstar. The 2000 sixth-rounder set the record for slowest quarterback time ever at the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, but the Patriots took a flier on him anyway. Suffice to say, they haven’t been disappointed.
Two of Brady’s favorite targets over the years, receivers Troy Brown and Julian Edelman, were eighth- and seventh-round draft picks, respectively. Edelman, who never caught more than 37 passes in his first four seasons, leads the team with 219 receptions ever since he was deemed to be Wes Welker’s replacement in 2013.
This year the Pats are tasked with replacing Wilfork and Darrelle Revis, just as they had to replace Mankins last season. Two years ago it was Welker, six years ago it was Richard Seymour, seven years ago it was Asante Samuel, nine years ago it was Adam Vinatieri, 10 years ago it was Ty Law, and 12 years ago it was Lawyer Milloy. The revolving door in Foxborough never stops.
Odds are, Lewis’ stay in New England won’t be long. He’ll probably be in line for a lofty payday soon, at which point Belichick will bring the next Dion Lewis aboard.
It’s the Patriot Way.