The Patriots have interest in former Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew, according to a report from the New York Daily News.
Jones-Drew, who spent the first eight seasons of his career with the Jaguars, has interest from the New York Jets, Miami Dolphins, and Pittsburgh Steelers as well, according to the Daily News report. He visited the Steelers a week ago but left without a contract offer.
This comes at a time when Patriots free agent running back LeGarrette Blount has also drawn interest from the Steelers. He was scheduled to make a visit with the team on Friday, but it was pushed back until after the league's annual meetings, which started Monday in Orlando, Fla.
Jones-Drew, 29, is coming off his worst season in the NFL. He averaged 3.4 yards per carry on 234 attempts, totaling 803 yards and five touchdowns. He caught 43 passes for 314 yards. In his peak years, between 2009 and 2011, he averaged 1,440 yards rushing and 4.5 yards per carry, as well as 43 catches and 355 receiving yards. He was coming off a foot injury that limited him to only six games in 2012 before he was placed on injured reserve.
The veteran running back is highly respected by Patriots coach Bill Belichick. In 2009, he called Jones-Drew one of the best running backs in the league.
"I think he can do it all," Belichick said. "He's returned kicks. He's good in pass protection. [He] catches the ball very well and has a good feel in the passing game. ... And, of course, in the running game, he can run inside, he can run outside, he can run with power, he can run with speed, he can jump cut and has good vision. He can see those lanes inside. He's got good balance. He's hard to knock off his feet, breaks a lot of tackles and pushes the pile forward for extra yards when he's carrying the ball. He's a powerful guy as well as an elusive player, so he's tough."
If you're asking whether Jones-Drew will be an upgrade over Blount, who really blossomed at the end of last season, the answer is no. At 27, Blount is in the prime of his career and hasn't had the kind of devastating injuries Jones-Drew has had. He's played only five NFL seasons and carried the ball 1,229 times less, the kind of tread that says he has some good years left.
But with the Patriots' current cap situation, reportedly having $6.475 million left available for 2014, Blount is likely priced out unless the team makes some headway with Vince Wilfork, who is at odds with the team right now. Jones-Drew, who had a base salary of $4.95 million last year, is likely a good substitute -- at the right price. He was reportedly looking for $3.5 million a year this offseason, but even that is apparently too high, according to the Daily News.
Could Patriots fans live with the idea of Jones-Drew teamed up with Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, and Brandon Bolden? It's a possibility. Jones-Drew can certainly pick whether or not New England is the place for him. But only if the money is right.