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The Patriots have signed three running backs to contracts this offseason, but also have slightly opened the door for LeGarrette Blount to return.

Though Blount remains unsigned as an unrestricted free agent, and the Patriots haven’t shown much interest in bringing him back, on Tuesday they took advantage of a little-used clause of the collective bargaining agreement to retain some of Blount’s rights.

The Patriots placed a veteran free agent tender on Blount before Tuesday’s 4 p.m. deadline, according to several reports. It gives the Patriots more options to retain some value for Blount in case he signs elsewhere, and locks Blount in to a low salary if he decides to sign with the Patriots.

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How does all of this work? We had to look up this obscure rule in the CBA, and found it in clause 9.1.b.

The official free agency period lasted from March 9 to May 9. Between those dates, free agents gained and lost counted toward a team’s compensatory draft pick equation in the following draft. When the NFL determines how to disperse its 32 compensatory draft picks for the 2018 draft, the Patriots will get “pluses” for losing Martellus Bennett, Jabaal Sheard, and Logan Ryan, and a “minus” for signing Stephon Gilmore to a big contract.

Free agents that sign after May 9 don’t count toward the equation — except players that are given a veteran free agent tender before May 9, which the Patriots placed on Blount before the 4 p.m. deadline on Tuesday. Receiver Michael Floyd (who signed with Minnesota on Wednesday) and tight end Greg Scruggs were two of 149 players across the league who did not receive tenders, meaning the Patriots completely relinquished their rights.

Now if Blount signs with, say, the Ravens, he will still likely factor into the Patriots’ compensatory draft pick equation and could net them an extra mid-round pick in next April’s draft, depending on how many snaps he plays in 2017.

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However, Blount has a deadline to sign with another team — July 22 or the start of training camp, whichever date is later. If he is still a free agent as of that date, then he can only negotiate with the Patriots. And he would have until Tuesday at 4 p.m. in Week 10 to sign with the Patriots, or else he would not be allowed to play for the rest of the 2017 season.

The tender guarantees Blount a salary of 110 percent of his salary from last year, which includes everything he earned except for performance bonuses, per the CBA. Blount made $1.714 million last year but $750,000 in performance bonuses, meaning he made $964,290 in salary and the Patriots’ tender would be worth about $1.06 million.

Blount, 30, is coming off the best season of his seven-year NFL career, rushing for 1,161 yards and 18 touchdowns in helping the Patriots win their fifth Super Bowl. But the free agent market has been slow for Blount, who has received some interest from Baltimore and the Giants.

Despite placing the tender on Blount, the Patriots don’t seem to have much space for him. They signed James White to a three-year contract extension and signed Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead in free agency. Dion Lewis, Brandon Bolden, and D.J. Foster are also in the fold.

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Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin