Are the Patriots taking a risk by investing in RBs Rhamondre Stevenson, Antonio Gibson?

NFL

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — When free agency began this year, the Patriots’ first move was signing Washington Commanders running back Antonio Gibson to a three-year, $11.25 million contract, which included $5.3 million guaranteed.

And, now, the team has doubled down at the position by agreeing to a four-year extension with Rhamondre Stevenson worth $36 million, which includes $17 million guaranteed.

Stevenson has been a big part of the Patriots’ offense since being drafted in the fourth round in 2021. He has totaled 2,265 rushing yards on 499 carries with 14 touchdowns. Sam Cunningham is the Patriots’ all-time rushing leader with 5,453 yards. With a four-year extension, Stevenson should have a chance to challenge that record.

The Patriots entered the offseason with approximately $85 million in salary cap space and Stevenson is the sixth player to receive a new contract. Safety Kyle Dugger (four years, $58 million), OT Mike Onwenu (three years, $57 million), TE Hunter Henry (three years, $27 million), WR Kendrick Bourne (three years, $19.5 million) and LB Anfernee Jennings (three years, $12 million) round out the list.

This deal in particular, though, sparks a question: Are the Patriots overinvested financially at running back before they need to be?

Stevenson ranks seventh among current running back contracts in guaranteed money, behind the Saints’ Alvin Kamara ($34.3 million), Colts’ Jonathan Taylor ($26.5 million), Eagles’ Saquon Barkley ($26 million), 49ers’ Christian McCaffrey ($24 million), Falcons’ Bijan Robinson ($22 million) and Lions’ Jahmyr Gibbs ($17.8 million).

Add in the $5.3 million guaranteed for Gibson and that puts the Patriots in the upper half of the league rankings in guaranteed money for running backs — a position with a high injury rate and one in which history shows players can tail off quickly.

The Patriots are banking on Gibson (25 years old) and Stevenson (26) bucking that trend, and likely backloaded Stevenson’s contract to provide themselves with a level of financial insurance.

But considering Stevenson was already under contract for the 2024 season, set to earn a modest base salary of $3.116 million, the Patriots’ willingness to extend Stevenson represents a notable shift from the way business was mostly done under former coach and de facto personnel chief Bill Belichick.

Signing Stevenson now shifts more of the risk to the team’s side one season before that risk needs to be taken — something Belichick didn’t like to do — with one burning question on the table: Will he make it through the 2024 season healthy?

Of course, that approach sometimes backfired under Belichick (Jakobi Meyers leaving and signing with the Raiders as a free agent, for example) — leading, in part, to a talent drain that contributed to last year’s 4-13 campaign and the Patriots and Belichick ultimately parting ways after 24 seasons.

It’s clearly a new era in Foxborough under first-year coach Jerod Mayo and first-year executive vice president of player personnel Eliot Wolf.

The Patriots, with cash to spend and an abundance of salary cap space at their disposal, have shown they are open for business for long-term investments at any position — including running back, a spot some teams have been burned in the past with big investments.

As for what’s next, Stevenson and Gibson form the 1-2 punch at running back, and then there will be a competition to see who fills out the depth chart behind them, with Kevin Harris and pass-catcher JaMycal Hasty among those vying for spots.

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