New England Patriots: James White on the 53-man roster bubble?

FOXBOROUGH, MA - DECEMBER 29: James White #28 of the New England Patriots (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
FOXBOROUGH, MA - DECEMBER 29: James White #28 of the New England Patriots (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images) /

As New England Patriots experts start or continue to predict the team’s 53-man roster, a question can be asked whether or not James White will make the final cut?

The running back room has been discussed in this space and elsewhere, and it’s a vital issue if the Patriots are actually going to be a ground-and-pound offense this upcoming season

If so, the running backs, along with the offensive line, will be carrying a heavy load in 2021, and they’d better be successful if this team is to get back to where it should be.

The question here is, will long-time New England Patriots pass-catching back James White be part of the equation? It’s a question worth evaluating as others already are.

Let’s take a look at some aspects of this intriguing question and see if there’s a plausible answer.

Will James White be on the New England Patriots in 2021?

This question may seem foolish to some, arguable to others, and spot-on to yet other observers and commentators on the red, white, blue, and silver of the New England Patriots.

Whatever the viewpoint, it’s being asked and commented upon. James White is the latest in a series of outstanding pass-catching backs who have recently toiled for the Patriots.

The expertise at pass-catching running back can be traced almost linearly from Kevin Faulk to Shane Vereen to the current occupant, James White.

It is a shortlist of excellence at that specialized position. Not that these backs couldn’t run either. They all could.

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Yet, it was their ability to catch passes from Tom Brady that stood out and helped make Brady and New England great for two decades.

James White had a “down” year (for him) catching the ball in 2020. He caught “only” 49 passes last season.

As previously noted, that’s a banner season for mortal running backs, but the previous two seasons with No. 12 under center, he caught 87 and 72 passes respectively.

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Greg Bedard, the eminent Patriots writer and analyst, had a very interesting take on White and his odds on making the roster in June, 2021 on the Greg Bedard Patriots Podcast.

Note: no one ever synthesized a Patriots’ pre-season practice like Bedard. His reporting of those particular events was amazing.

Bedard conjectured that White could be traded before the season in an early 53-man roster prediction. OK, that’s provocative.

He had the Patriots at that time (and this is, of course, is subject to change), keeping Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson, Sony Michel, Brandon Bolden, and J.J. Taylor as their backs.

That’s an interesting thought and it comes down to roster formulation and how many people are allocated to each position. E.g., in this case, how many backs and who will be on the roster?

Why James White will make the team

The team did not exercise the fourth-year back’s 5th-year option on former first-round pick Sony Michel. It’s a telling sign.

Michel can be very good, or not so effective. He’s also had a string of injury issues over his career.  In his three years in New England, he’s been dinged up a lot.

In 2020 he only played in nine games, starting six. Michel is on the bubble and he also could be a viable trade option. This space feels that keeping White and trading Michel is the better option.

One reason for that sentiment is the Patriots’ fourth-round draft pick, Rhamondre Stevenson. He’s a keeper and can do things that no other back on the team can.

Stevenson is a bruiser, a bulldozer with a fifth gear. This space noted previously that no less an observer than Louis Riddick thinks he’s a “home-run-type-hitter”.

Stevenson should be the third and fourth-down back and goal-line back from the get-go. There’s absolutely no question at all here about that.

He can also catch the ball out of the backfield. He’s a keeper. Brandon Bolden is a favorite of the coach, expect him to remain. Then there’s second-year man, J.J. Taylor.

Taylor, though a small back, is another favorite here. He seemed explosive last season when he was used and that was too infrequently and it cost the team and its offense. It was a mistake.

So who goes if one has to go? It’s a tough choice but it says in this space that while White is entering his eighth year at age 29, he goes nowhere. He makes the roster. He’s just too good.

If White is traded and the Patriots don’t have a proven safety valve receiver out of the backfield, it’s a real issue for Cam Newton and the offense. It’s not a good thought.

Also, envision a scenario where he is released and picked up by an AFC East rival, e.g the Buffalo Bills or the Miami Dolphins, or by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers? That would be a nightmare.

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With all that in mind, the most logical, realistic, and frankly sensible strategy, is to keep White and Taylor and trade Michel. That’s the optimal move.

If they can possibly land a third or fourth-round pick for him, though that might be a pipe-dream at this point, it would be a very positive outcome.

So there are a few thoughts on James White in 2021. What do you think of White staying or leaving the Patriots this offseason? We’d like to hear your views.