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The Rhamondre Stevenson Extension Breaks a Time-Honored Belichickian Tradition of Not Paying Running Backs

Mark the date: June 20, 2024. That was the day when, to me, it felt like Bill Belichick's presence was truly gone from 1 Patriot Place. For decades, it was a known fact that the New England Patriots weren't exactly in the business of paying running backs, well, traditional bell cows anyway, elite money. That all changed yesterday when Rhamondre Stevenson, now the secondary prize of the 2021 draft class, inked a big four-year $36,000,000 pact.

On the surface, that doesn't sound big, but Mondre's new deal ranks sixth in the league in total value, average annual value ($9,000,000), and then seventh in practical guarantees ($17,000,000) among running backs. The shift in philosophy when it comes to paying running backs was well documented once free agency opened up in March, but the Patriots have been a team in this boat for decades. They ultimately never got a fair shot to re-sign Curtis Martin, but since then, they've treated that bell cow spot on the depth chart as a revolving door, and you can't deny the results of that through the 2000s and 2010s. That's just not in New England, by the way, but league-wide. Super Bowl winners have consistently not dedicated big money to the running back position for years. The 49ers this year would've been a significant aberration to the norm, but they, too, fell short of hoisting a Lombardi.

Now, despite everything I just said, I'm ultimately a fan of this extension, and here's why.

Right on the Threshold

Personally, I agree with the notion that paying running backs gigantic amounts of money is not in the best interest of building a title-contending NFL. Still, there's obviously a limit to that. Once you get into the eight-figure per year range, that's where you lose me. Toddy Gurley's Rams deal, Zeke Elliott's Cowboys deal, and Alvin Kamara's Saints deals are the more notable of such deals that feel like a hindrance to their respective teams at the time more than anything else (The recent CMC extension is a bit misleading since it mainly spreads his cap hits out and sets him up as a cut candidate post-2026, but I digress).

Not only is this Stevenson deal under eight figures annually, but the amount of cap space this deal takes up (as of the time of signing) is notably less than the five deals superseding his. On that basis, he's far closer to guys like James Connor, Joe Mixon, and D'Andre Swift than guys like Jonathan Taylor, CMC, or Kamara. The same case applies to the guaranteed money front, and on that note, this isn't a deal that made me want to pass out upon seeing the numbers.

Glue Guy

Another reason this is a good move for all involved parties is because Stevenson has done everything right since he was drafted. Allowing someone who's been a good teammate, a good player, and just someone who's homegrown and does things the right way to walk in free agency might not have been the best look for the franchise. Luckily, we don't have to worry about that now, as is the case with every new-gen Patriots player who got some dough this year.

I'm sure some may point out Stevenson's struggles last year as a runner and receiver, but there are clear, outlined reasons why his production dipped. Even then, once they got Sidy Sow in the mix-up front, 'Mondre had a very good six-game stretch until he got hurt in Week 12. Just take a look at these two charts compiled by Taylor Kyles.

Staying healthy will be a big part of the equation, of course, but 'Mondre has shown he can be a very good NFL-level running back, and I think he'll benefit from running in a scheme that did wonders for guys like Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt.

A Chance to Reset the Record Books

Another thing to note about this extension is the future historical implications for Stevenson. Right now, he's 18th on the all-time team rushing yards list, and assuming he breaks the 1000-yard mark that he did in 2022, he could realistically leapfrog as many as 12 spots by the end of the year. Hypothetically speaking, should that happen, that would only put Kevin Faulk, Curtis Martin, Tony Collins, Jim Nance, and Sam "Bam" Cunningham between himself and the Patriot's All-Time Rushing Record.

5453 is the magic number, which by most team's standards isn't a ton, but think of all the great running backs who've donned a Patriots uniform, just not for long stretches. Stevenson now has time on his side, with five years to accumulate 3188 yards, and smart money would suggest he does so with time to spare. It feels weird talking about Stevenson in this all-time context, but he's undoubtedly a great talent with a genuine chance to cement himself as one of the first Patriots legend in the post-Brady era. Great job by Eliot Wolf and co.

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