Dion Lewis' breakout 2017 season in New England probably means he's about to become a former Patriots running back in NFL free agency.
Lewis had an exceptional second half of the season as a complete feature back. With the Steelers' Le'Veon Bell set to be either franchise-tagged again or locked up with a lucrative, long-term contract, Lewis is by far the top back who will hit the market in March.
Before last season, Lewis was viewed as more of an elusive open-field receiver and dangerous return man. That was before he emerged from a crowded New England backfield to put up 896 yards rushing on only 180 carries (5.0-yard average). He also scored 10 total touchdowns, had 214 yards receiving and racked up 570 yards off kickoffs.
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With Lewis at age 27, it's looking like a three-year deal worth at least $15 million total will be the cost for another team to sign him. That prices him out of New England, so here are the five teams with which Lewis fits best for 2018 and beyond.
Four years ago, between the Browns and the Patriots, Lewis spent a short September week with the Colts under former coach Chuck Pagano. It's a completely different team now with Frank Reich as the new coach and Chris Ballard in his second offseason as GM.
Frank Gore is a free agent who turns 35 in May. Marlon Mack flashed as a rookie, but he did little to suggest he can be a workhorse. The Colts are sitting on more than $115 millon under the salary cap and have bigger needs they should think about addressing early in the draft, where they hold the No. 3 and No. 36 overall picks.
Lewis would not be just a luxury signing for Reich. He combines the attributes of a few successful backs Reich had in Philadelphia into a three-down option. Lewis' speed would be ideal for the fast track in Indy to help counter the defenses in the AFC South.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers released Doug Martin, and coach Dirk Koetter is growing a little tired of a skill-specific committee against which it's easier to decipher run or pass based on who's in the backfield. Lewis can be effective playing off Jameis Winston throwing downfield. The salary cap isn't an issue, either, with more than $71 million available to spend.
Lewis represents a good way to clean up the mess in the rushing attack and also provide an upgrade over Martin.
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San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers are unlikely to re-sign Carlos Hyde. For Kyle Shanahan's second season, then, it's not ideal to trust second-year players Matt Breida and Joe Williams plus a rookie in the backfield.
With the team feeling more like it can win now with Jimmy Garoppolo, there should be a desire for an explosive-yet-steady element in the running game. Lewis has good familiarity with Garoppolo from their days together in New England, and with Lewis possessing some of the same skills as those of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, he should remind Shanahan of the rushing/receiving boon he had in Atlanta.
San Francisco also is right in between Indianapolis and Tampa Bay with ample salary-cap space at more than $74 million.
This fit isn't so obvious, but the Redskins should consider using some of their $49 million-plus in cap space to land Lewis. Rob Kelley (ankle/knee) and Chris Thompson (leg) are coming off season-ending injuries, and as a rookie, Samaje Perine was a frustrating fumbler before he found some footing late.
This is another team that has telegraphed its backfield plans a bit based on personnel. Lewis proved he can be the tough inside runner Gruden likes. Lewis and Thompson with the Redskins could be what Lewis and James White were for the Patriots.
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The Lions and returning offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter have to be tired of Ameer Abdullah. Theo Riddick's value remains capped as a receiving-only back. Now there's a Lewis connection with former Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia taking over as head coach.
Detroit has less salary-cap space ($44 million-plus) than the four teams above, but general manager Bob Quinn has made a solemn vow to finally fix the team's running game and help Matthew Stafford. Getting Lewis would be quite the solution. Patricia also should know firsthand how complementary Lewis can be to a successful defense.