The Patriots have retained starting center Ryan Wendell, according to media reports, while running back LeGarrette Blount has opted to pack his bags for Pittsburgh.
Both players received two-year deals, with Wendell reportedly getting a maximum of slightly more than $6 million, if all incentives are met. Blount's contract figures were not immediately available as of late Friday afternoon.
New England's interior offensive line, anchored by Wendell, struggled at times in pass protection throughout 2013, and the run blocking was inconsistent. It was thought, therefore, that center could be a position where the Patriots may have wanted to upgrade via the free agent market. It's possible they could still select a rookie at that spot in May's NFL Draft, but this signing seems to assure that Wendell retains a grip on the starting job. At least for now.
Blount's departure, meanwhile, is not entirely surprising. He came on very strong late in the 2013 campaign, particularly after erstwhile starter Stevan Ridley was struggling with ball security issues. While he didn't appear to have a flood of offers to leave Foxborough, the Steelers had been rumored to have considerable interest in him over the past week.
By allowing him to leave, the Patriots seem to have given a tacit vote of confidence to returning veterans Ridley and Shane Vereen. Talented but unreliable third-year man Brandon Bolden, who has spent time in the Bill Belichick doghouse, nonetheless has a chance now to play a more prominent role in the team's offense. Newcomer Jonas Gray, signed to a futures contract immediately following the playoff loss to Denver in January, is also in the mix this spring.
New England typically prefers to take the committee approach when it comes to running the football, so, don't be stunned if another ball carrier is added to the mix in the upcoming draft.
The Patriots still have four free agents from last season who remain unsigned: DE Andre Carter, WR Austin Collie, TE Matthew Mulligan, and OL Will Svitek.