Why did the Patriots sign Ezekiel Elliott? Breaking down RB's role, place on team's depth chart

Why did the Patriots sign Ezekiel Elliott? Breaking down RB's role, place on team's depth chart
Video ezekiel elliott sign with the patriots

Rhamondre Stevenson ran for more than 1,000 yards in 2022, but the Patriots were still active in the running back market during the offseason.

After flirtations with Dalvin Cook and Leonard Fournette, New England inked former Cowboys standout Ezekiel Elliott to a one-year deal a month before the start of the season.

The Patriots have leaned on their running game since Tom Brady’s departure in 2020, and Elliott’s signing served as more evidence that Bill Belichick wanted new OC Bill O’Brien to have plenty of options out of the backfield. With Stevenson in the fold, though, some questioned why the Patriots would invest in a relatively costly free-agent option.

MORE: Cowboys RB depth chart with Ezekiel Elliott gone

Here’s what you need to know about the Patriots’ reasoning behind the Elliott signing, including a look at his role in New England’s offense.

Why did the Patriots sign Ezekiel Elliott?

The Patriots signed Elliott to serve as a complement to Rhamondre Stevenson.

NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported in August that New England still “loves” Stevenson but was seeking a running back “to bang it between the tackles.” That’s Elliott’s style, and the former Cowboys All-Pro seemed to agree with that assessment. He said in August that his “play style” fit with the offense and the Patriots’ culture.

Of course, a player who has four 1,000-yard rushing seasons under his belt isn’t a bad insurance policy behind Stevenson, either. While Elliott’s efficiency declined at the end of his time in Dallas, rotating in and out alongside Stevenson should allow him to keep his legs fresh.

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In Week 1, Elliott had 12 touches to Stevenson’s 18. Elliott ran for 29 yards on seven carries, a clip of 4.1 yards per attempt, and had 5 catches for 14 yards and a fumble. Stevenson was limited to 25 yards on 12 carries but had six catches for 64 yards.

The Patriots will hope for better success on the ground against a Dolphins defense that was carved up by Austin Ekeler and Joshua Kelley in Week 1, and Elliott figures to be a major part of O’Brien’s game plan.

MORE: What happened to Patriots QB Matt Corral?

Ezekiel Elliott contract

The Patriots gave Elliott a one-year contract that could be worth as much as $6 million with incentives. The deal comes with a $3 million base salary and $1 million signing bonus.

Compensation update: Zeke Elliott’s one-year deal with the Patriots includes a $3 million base salary, a $1 million signing bonus and can be worth up to $6 million with incentives.

It wasn’t a surprise to see Elliott settle for an incentive-laden deal, given the depressed market running backs faced this offseason and the reality that few teams are looking to hand out lucrative deals to free agents in August.

Patriots RB depth chart

1. Rhamondre Stevenson

Stevenson entered the season as the Patriots’ lead back after rushing for 1,040 yards on 5.0 yards per carry in 2022. New England is likely to give him the bulk of touches going forward. If he can’t find a way to regain his 2022 efficiency, it will be worth watching whether Elliott can make up ground.

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2. Ezekiel Elliott

Elliott is the change-of-pace back in the Patriots’ offense until further notice, after he received seven carries and made five catches in his team debut.

Mac Jones threw 54 passes against the Eagles as New England tried to overcome an early deficit, but the offense figures to be more run-oriented moving forward if the last three seasons are any indication. That means Elliott should continue to earn touches, even if he’s still behind Stevenson on the depth chart.

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3. Ty Montgomery

Montgomery suffered a season-ending injury early in 2022 after entering the year behind Stevenson and Damien Harris on the depth chart. New England stuck with him for 2023, but he only received one carry in Week 1.

Part of the reason for the Patriots kept him around was his versatility, and he flashed it in the loss. The former Packers offensive weapon was targeted three times by Jones, hauling in two catches for nine yards, and he had a 43-yard kick return in the first quarter.