Rex Burkhead pay cut keeps his versatility on the Patriots roster

Versatile Patriots running back Rex Burkhead agreed to a substantial pay cut.

New England Patriots running back Rex Burkhead agreed to take a pay cut this week. According to Field Yates, Burkhead agreed to lower his base salary from $2.5 million to $1.05 million and lowered his roster bonus availability from $500,000 to $400,000.

For agreeing to the restructured deal, Burkhead did get an additional $550,000 upfront as a signing bonus. Although Burkhead is giving up more money long-term, he does get the additional guaranteed bonus right away.

Before wondering why Burkhead might give up the extra money in his contract, we have to remember it wasn’t guaranteed. His base salary and roster bonuses would not have meant much to him if he were cut from the opening 53-man roster.

Perhaps he was given a choice of the reduced pay or taking his chances in free agency. He is also helping the team out by freeing up salary cap space, most likely aiding in the Cam Newton contract.

Although their backfield is not highly decorated, the Patriots have a crowded running back depth chart with Sony Michel, Damien Harris and James White — all virtual locks, barring injury, due to either their importance via production or the fact they are on cheap contracts.

Burkhead had to see the writing on the wall and, with Brandon Bolden also fighting for a spot on the roster at running back, he might have preferred his chances with the reduced salary rather than standing his ground with the contract.

Burkhead follows a long line of players such as former Patriots player Danny Amendola and current teammate Patrick Chung who have also reworked deals to help the team with their salary cap situation.

He was considered to be on the roster bubble before the restructuring and he may have saved himself this week. His financial sacrifice will surely not be overlooked and it should guarantee Burkhead his place on the team for opening day. In fact, there is a good chance there is a handshake agreement on this being the case.

Rex Burkhead had his best statistical season for the Patriots in 2019.

Burkhead does provide value to the Patriots. Last season, he combined for 581 yards from scrimmage and led the team with 4.6 yards per carry. He played on 23 percent of the teams’ offensive snaps, which was pretty good for the third back on the depth chart.

He was the most versatile running back during games as he showed as a dual-threat while White was mainly used as a pass-catching back and Michel was used mainly as a rushing threat. Defenses were able to eliminate possibilities for plays with those two on the field, but not as much with Burkhead. His main problem has been durability. Burkhead has yet to play a full 16 games as a member of the Patriots.

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Burkhead is also a valuable member of the team’s special teams kicking and punt units. This is undoubtedly the key to coach Belichick’s heart. He had five tackles in 13 games on special teams last year and, while he is not quite the gunner Bolden is, his increased value on offense already had given him a leg up on the latter. It is possible this contract restructuring could mean the end of the line for Bolden and the Patriots.

With Michel having undergone foot surgery, Burkhead could once again see an increased role on offense. Michel does not stranglehold on the lead back job by any means. Harris would be the other main competition, but he was only active for four games as a rookie last season.

He would have to take a huge step forward if he were able to phase out Michel and/or Burkhead. Harris also did not show the receiving prowess at Alabama or during last year’s preseason that has been displayed by Burkhead so far.

Rex Burkhead is the jack of all trades running back for the Patriots. With his contract restructuring, he all but guarantees his place on the opening kickoff roster. He contributes to the team in the running game, the passing game, and also on special teams. He is one of a few players on the team with such a diverse impact.

If he can stay healthy in 2020 and with a little luck, he could be the team’s most valuable running back.