LeGarrette Blount wasn’t a free agent for long.
The 6-foot, 250-pound veteran running back, waived by the Pittsburgh Steelers one day after leaving field early in frustration over his role, was in Foxborough Thursday morning signing a two-year, veteran minimum contract with the New England Patriots.
Blount, 27, signed two-year, $3.85 million contract with the Steelers in March, but played only one snap on Sunday. It marked the first time this season he did not handle a single carry, all while second-year back Le’Veon Bell handled 33 for a career-high 204 yards and a touchdown.
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin released a statement along with the release of Blount shortly thereafter.
“We believe the decision to release LeGarrette is in the best interest of the organization and wish him the best of luck,” Tomlin said.
It has been a well-traveled road for the East Mississippi College and University of Oregon product. After missing all but three games due to a suspension during his final year in Eugene, Blount signed with the Tennessee Titans as undrafted rookie in 2010. He was waived by Tennessee that September and proceeded to spend three years with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he notched a 1,000-yard campaign before being traded to the Patriots for sprinter Jeff Demps and a seventh-round pick.
Expectations were that he would compete for a spot on the Patriots’ 53-man roster that summer. He did so, carving a purpose on the kickoff unit as well as in the offensive backfield.
Blount went on to play in all 16 regular-season games and both of the team’s playoff games. Through all 18, he finished with 944 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns.
Much of it came over a two-game span in which he averaged 7.3 yards per attempt. Blount powered ahead for 189 rushing yards and two touchdowns against the Buffalo Bills in the Week 17 finale. And he followed that performance up by amassing 166 yards and four touchdowns against the Indianapolis Colts in the divisional round.
The Perry, Fla., native’s one-cut running style, build-up speed, and rediscovered pad level earned him a place on the cover of Sports Illustrated last January. But it remains to be seen if it will earn him a place in the rotation from this November forward.
With Stevan Ridley on injured reserve, the Patriots have invested early downs in former practice-squad player Jonas Gray, who became the third Patriots back two ever rush for 200 yards in one regular-season game and the first to rush for four touchdowns only last week.
Blount accomplished the latter feat 10 months ago – also against Indianapolis – in the playoffs. But as the Patriots set sights on December, January and February football, the picture painted is that both will be utilized as big backs in big-personnel sets.
Receiving back Shane Vereen, as well as fourth-round pick James White, figure to continue as the change-of-pace alternatives. And Brandon Bolden, whose contributions have come on special teams this season, figures to continue as a core component in the kicking game.
New England’s halfback depth chart now stands at five, with Blount, White and rookie Tyler Gaffney – currently on injured reserve – under contract through 2015.
To make room for Blount, the Patriots announced the release defensive tackle Casey Walker, as ESPN Boston’s Mike Reiss first reported.
Walker, 24, was signed off the Carolina Panthers’ practice squad on Sept. 27, as starter Sealver Siliga was placed on injured reserve with a designation to return. The 6-foot-1, 340-pound defensive lineman played in five games with New England, recording seven tackles and one sack.
Siliga has since returned to the Patriots in some capacity. And now, so has Blount.