The New England Patriots on Thursday declared the season over for their leading rusher Stevan Ridley, and with three straight wins quieting the rumors about Tom Brady’s future in New England, speculation now shifts to how the Patriots will fill the backfield void left by Ridley’s absence.
One surprising name has emerged already, with about two weeks left before the NFL’s October 28 trading deadline — surprising mainly because it would mean trading with the Patriots’ leading AFC East divisional rival.
Ridley went down with a knee injury in the third quarter of last Suday’s game against that very team, the Buffalo Bills. At the time, things didn’t look good for Ridley, with the running back pounding the ground in frustration as the New England training staff examined him on the field, as if Ridley knew at that moment that his Patriots season was over.
New England Head Coach Bill Belichick confirmed what Ridley and Patriots fans feared, placing the 25-year-old running back, the Patriots’ 2011 third-round draft pick, on the injured reserve list Thursday, meaning Ridley is no longer eligible to play in the 2014 season.
Even without Ridley, the Patriots were able to edge the New York Jets 27-25 in the NFL’s Thursday night game, as Shane Vereen filled in admirably. But even Vereen admitted after the Thursday game that “you can’t replace Stevan. He’s a great player, a great runner — a great running back.”
But will the Patriots even try to replace him? Despite turning his season around since his shaky first four games, Tom Brady has nonetheless played inconsistently at best this season, and at 37, he’s not getting younger. That places more responsibility on the running game to balance the offense and open up opportunities for Brady’s aerial attack.
“In other words, failing to find a fill-in for Ridley looks like it would be a serious error by Belichick and the Patriots. So where do they look?”
Current rumors are surprisingly focused within the Patriots own division. The Bills are reportedly looking to unload running back C.J. Spiller, who has averaged an impressive 4.9 yards per carry since entering the league in 2010.
But Spiller has seen his playing time reduced in Buffalo, in favor of highly-touted rookie Sammy Watkins. And Spiller is in the final year of his contract, making him a free agent after the 2014 season.
With all of those factors to consider, the Bills can’t be looking for much value in return for Spiller — and the Patriots are not likely to offer much value. A third-round draft pick, coupled perhaps with another pick in a lower-round could do the trick.
The Patriots have another motivation for going after Spiller. As long as New England continues its play of the past three games, rather than reverting to the level of the Patriots’ first four, they appear destined for another AFC Championship showdown against the Denver Broncos.
The Broncos are also believed to be eyeing Spiller. Taking a weapon out of the Broncos’ potential arsenal may be enough for Belichick and New England to put C.J. Spiller in a Patriots jersey before October 28 is over.