Rex Burkhead joined the list of the 2017 Bengals’ departures. On Tuesday, the running back signed with the New England Patriots, ending a four-year reign in Cincinnati.
Burkhead was one of the questionable Bengals’ free agents. He only has 87 career rushes to his name, with 74 coming in 2016 when Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill went down with injuries.
Burkhead’s first contract was only for $2.2 million over four years. The Nebraska product was a fan favorite in Cincinnati, but ultimately the reigning Super Bowl champions came callin’.
Burkhead made his first NFL start on New Year’s Day, rushing for 119 yards and two touchdowns in a win over Baltimore.
Cincinnati seemed willing to negotiate to bring Burkhead back, but New England saw something in the 26-year-old. It makes you wonder how Bill Belichick, widely regarded as the best coach of all-time, plans to use Burkhead, with the Patriots’ history of duel-threat running backs, like James White, who scored three touchdowns in Super Bowl LI.
In 2016, the duo of White and Dion Lewis combined for 77 receptions for 645 yards.
Lewis and White are both under contract until 2017. Meanwhile, LeGarrette Blount, who totaled 19 touchdowns (postseason included) last year, is currently an unrestricted free agent.
The Bengals now could target a running back in the draft. A few of the dozen-plus mocks had Cincinnati taking prized runner Leonard Fournette ninth overall. Fournette, a 236-pound bruiser, ran the 40-yard dash in 4.51 seconds earlier this month in Indianapolis.
It’s a wonder if running backs would find comfort in Cincinnati’s current offensive line. Just one week ago, the Bengals said goodbye to their two best linemen, Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler.
With those two in the lineup, the Bengals front-five still struggled all around in 2016. Jeremy Hill regressed again, suffering a second straight sub-4(YPC) mark.
Plus, Andy Dalton was sacked 41 times, seventh most in the NFL. The Bengals did start rebuilding the unit, re-signing veteran tackle, Andre Smith. He was Cincinnati’s first-round pick in 2009 and spent seven seasons in stripes.