In an offseason littered with splashy free agency moves, the Patriots bringing back James White was one that flew under the radar for many but was every bit as important as those that garnered all the headlines. White's importance to the team is almost impossible to quantify as a three-time captain and key on-field contributor who remains one of the best pass-catching running backs in the NFL, while also being one of the locker tone-setters.
"Free agency is really strange, honestly, day-to-day everything changes a little bit," said White on Tuesday about his experience in free agency. "It's a lot of worrying what's gonna be next and where are you going to be at next. Obviously, the Patriots were in the mix the whole time and it's good to be back, to get back with these guys, just find a way to improve and it starts now."
2020 was a challenging season for everyone, but no one more so than White, whose parents were in a car crash early in the season that took the life of his father. White said on Tuesday that his mother continues to make progress in her recovery. But that recovery might've enjoyed a nice boost last weekend when White delighted his mother by finishing his degree at Wisconsin, graduating after undertaking his final courses in secret in what was originally an effort to surprise his parents before tragedy struck.
That, along with some significant changes by the Patriots, helped put a firm end to 2020 and its challenges.
While his position group didn't undergo a total overhaul, Rex Burkhead's departure and rookie fourth-round pick Rhamondre Stevenson's arrival will give the room a new feel, but expectations remain the same. The Patriots have once again composed a talented backfield that presents a variety of problems for opposing defenses.
"We have a good group of guys," said White of the running backs. "Everybody has their own unique style and I think that's really cool. We always have different style running backs in our group and, like I said every time, everybody knows we're not gonna play 100% of the snaps. We all just work together, have fun and make the most of the opportunities. It's a lot of capable guys to compete and have fun."
After an exciting phase of team building, the team is now building the foundation for the 2021 season. As is to be expected inside the walls of Gillette Stadium, White was tempering his expectations maintaining a one-day-at-a-time approach, even in the depths of the offseason.
"Only time will tell," said White of the 2021 Patriots' chances. "It doesn't necessarily matter how many guys you have stay, how many guys you have coming back, how many guys do you have coming in and all that stuff. It's all about how you perform each and every week and it's a long time before we get out there for a preseason game or regular-season game. Each day everybody's working to improve and put their best foot forward to build team camaraderie and hopefully everything comes together by the time those games count.