It looked initially like Mike Gillislee would remain a Buffalo Bill.
There was only a week left before the deadline for NFL teams to sign restricted free agents to offer sheets, and he hadn't heard from any of the 31 other teams. So, the running back went back to Orchard Park to begin offseason workouts with the team he played for the past two seasons.
Then, his agent called and said the Patriots were interested in bringing him to Foxborough to talk. He came to Gillette Stadium, where he met with running backs coach Ivan Fears, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, and head coach Bill Belichick. They left it by saying they'd get back to him, and before he knew it, he'd been offered a two-year contract worth $6.4 million.
"Yeah, it was a surprise," the 26-year-old admitted Tuesday, in his first public appearance as a Patriot. He'd never had any contact with the Patriots, not even during the pre-draft process in 2013, when he first entered the league.
Buffalo had about a week to match New England's offer, but elected not to, waiting until literally the very last minute to announce the decision.
"Just waiting it all out was the hardest part. Just worried about what my next step in the journey was going to be," continued Gillislee. "It all worked out… it all worked out great. And I ended up with the best here, a winning squad. No offense against Buffalo."
A standout at the University of Florida, Gillislee was drafted by the Miami Dolphins, but barely saw the field there and was released two years later. After a brief stint on the Arizona Cardinals practice squad, he joined Buffalo's practice squad in November 2015. Eventually, Gillislee was called up to the active roster.
He enjoyed a productive 2016 season as the backup to LeSean McCoy and now finds himself in what has traditionally been a backfield-by-committee situation at running back in New England.
"If you look at my history, that's pretty much [how it was] everywhere I went," he added, "there was always competition. So, I'm used to it and look forward to competing. Every day is competition. We have a great group of guys here. I'm looking forward to competing. I've been here a week and still getting to know everybody. I've watched film of all the [running backs]. All the guys have different things they bring to the table. Hopefully, I can bring my end of the table."
Most analysts see Gillislee as a younger version of LeGarrette Blount, the aging back who set a Patriots record for rushing touchdowns (18) in 2016. Gillislee, however, downplayed any comparisons between the two of them.
Though he's only been with the Patriots for about a week, he already seems to understand that he will have to continue to earn every on-field chance he gets and that his job is not a guarantee.
"You see why these guys win games. It's serious around here. You can't take a break. You have to come to work if you want to win a job," Gillislee told reporters. "It's all about opportunities. I was blessed to come here and get another opportunity."