The Patriots filled one of their few remaining holes Friday, but let one of the best surprises of last season get away.
The Patriots agreed to a two-year contract with center Ryan Wendell, a league source said, and another league source confirmed that running back LeGarrette Blount signed a two-year deal with the Steelers.
The Patriots acquired Blount from Tampa Bay for a seventh-round pick last season, and he responded with 944 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns in 18 regular-season and playoff games in a platoon with Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, and Brandon Bolden.
He averaged almost 5.5 yards per carry for the season and his 772 rushing yards in the regular season were 1 behind Ridley for the team lead , but the bulk of his yards came in two games: He had 189 yards and two touchdowns in the Week 17 win over Buffalo, and 166 yards and four touchdowns in the playoff win over Indianapolis.
The Patriots showed moderate interest in bringing Blount back, but never offered more than a one-year deal, according to the source. With Ridley and Vereen both entering contract seasons, the Patriots are likely to address running back in May’s draft.
Wendell, who started all 32 games at center the last two years, can receive a maximum of $8.15 million in two seasons if he plays in every game and reaches his full incentives.
Wendell, 28, was signed as an undrafted free agent out of Fresno State in 2008 and played on the practice squad his rookie season. He was mostly a backup until 2011, when he replaced Dan Connolly at center.
Wendell received an $850,000 signing bonus, $1 million base salaries the next two years, $2 million in roster bonuses in both seasons (including $12,500 for each game on the active roster), and $1.3 million in incentives in 2015.
Wendell’s salary cap number in 2014 should be $3.425 million, which is about what the Patriots saved in cap space in their renegotiation with Vince Wilfork, who on Thursday agreed to a restructured three-year deal that will pay him a maximum of $8 million in 2014 and $22.5 million over three years.
With Wendell back in tow, the Patriots may return their entire starting offensive line for the third season in a row: left tackle Nate Solder, left guard Logan Mankins, center Wendell, right guard Connolly, and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer.
However, of the five, Connolly may not be totally safe. The interior line struggled last season, as Tom Brady took 40 sacks, his most since 2001. Connolly, entering the final season of his contract, has a salary cap number of $4.083 million, and the Patriots can save $3 million of that if they cut him before the season.
Fourth-year veteran Marcus Cannon, who started six games at right tackle last year after Vollmer broke his leg, could be a candidate to play right guard if Connolly does not return.Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin