Fan favorite Danny Woodhead will be in the AFC West with Wes Welker this season, as the San Diego Chargers announced Friday that they’d signed the versatile running back to a two-year contract.
Last year, Woodhead filled the third-down role that Kevin Faulk had previously occupied for the Patriots, carrying the ball 76 times for 301 yards and four touchdowns, plus catching 40 passes for 446 yards and three scores. Of those 40 catches, 22 went for first downs.
But as the season went on, and Shane Vereen started to get more touches, it was easy to wonder if Woodhead would be back after he hit free agency.
The Patriots’ signing of kick returner Leon Washington earlier in the week also seemed to portend the end of Woodhead’s time in New England.
The 28-year-old spent nearly three seasons in New England, signed away from the Jets after he gained a measure of notoriety for his fight to make New York’s roster, which was documented in “Hard Knocks.’’
Washington may not get many chances as a running back these days, but there is one thing he still does extremely well: return kickoffs.
And that’s one facet of the game the Patriots haven’t been so great at in recent seasons.
So even though Tampa Bay and Detroit showed interest in signing the seven-year veteran, after meeting with the Patriots, Washington knew he’d found a good fit.
“When you get an opportunity to play for a coach like Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots, just looking at the history, the way those guys perform on the football field and the way they carry the organization, is something that a leader like myself, I want to be a part of,’’ Washington said during a conference call Friday.
“When I became a free agent, that’s one thing I wanted to look at: to go to an organization that believes in winning, who wanted to win the Super Bowl — that was everything — and did things the right way.
“When I had the opportunity to go to New England, I jumped right on it because they’re a perfect fit for being a better person and football player.’’
Washington is 30, but quoted a Jay-Z lyric when he said “30 is the new 20,’’ and explained that he has always taken his role as a kick returner very seriously. Speaking with Belichick and special teams coach Scott O’Brien, the former Jet and Seahawk quickly discovered they do as well.
Washington averaged a career-high 29 yards on 27 kickoff returns last season for Seattle, with one touchdown; Devin McCourty, in his first season as the Patriots’ primary returner, averaged 24.2 yards on the same number of opportunities.
But McCourty is also on the field for nearly every defensive snap, and there is no way to know what type of toll that double duty takes during games. Now Washington can handle that load for the Patriots.