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Patriots will have competition for Dion Lewis’s services

Dion Lewis is a three-way threat: rushing, receiving, and kick returning.matthew j. lee/globe staff

The Patriots are going to try to do something no other team in the NFL has done the last few seasons: keep Dion Lewis in place.

New England’s leading rusher is among the most attractive free agent backs on the market because of his productivity, versatility, and yes, durability.

After struggling with myriad injuries throughout the early part of his career, Lewis was healthy for all 19 games last season, rushing for 1,031 yards and 6 touchdowns. He added 48 catches for 325 yards and 3 TDs. Additionally, Lewis was among the top kick returners in the league, with his 103-yarder against the Broncos one of the most electrifying plays of the season.


“He’s a durable kid,’’ Bill Belichick said in December. “He’s tough. He takes some hits but he’s been very durable. He gives out some punishment, too. He works hard.’’

The 5-foot-8-inch, 195-pounder has elite quickness and deceptive power that belies his size. That combination allows him to be effective both in space and between the tackles. He’s also an excellent receiver, so teams can’t assume it’s a run and crowd the box when he’s in the game.

Lewis started last season in a crowded backfield mix with Mike Gillislee and James White but eventually seized the starting job and excelled.

He’s a perfect fit for Josh McDaniels’s offense, so signing him to a new deal makes a lot of sense, but there will be suitors who may be willing to pay more for his services.

The 49ers, Browns, Buccaneers, Jets, Colts, and Lions all will be looking for backfield help and are potential landing spots for Lewis.

Devonta Freeman hit the jackpot last offseason when the 25-year-old back landed a five-year, $41.2 million deal (with $17.3 million guaranteed) from the Falcons. Lewis, who will turn 28 this season, likely won’t reach those kinds of numbers, but a three-year deal seems logical.


For financials, Lewis could be looking for something in the $5 million-$6 million per season range. Last year, Latavius Murray, 26, earned three years and $15 million ($3.4 million guaranteed) from the Vikings. Closer to home, White, 25, received a three-year, $12 million ($4.7 guaranteed) from the Patriots.

“My main thing is making sure that I’m valued,’’ Lewis told ESPN last month. “That’s my biggest thing. Make sure I’m valued the way I value myself.’’

It’s a fairly deep market for backs, and that could hurt Lewis’s earning potential. DeMarco Murray, Carlos Hyde, Isaiah Crowell, Alfred Morris, Jeremy Hill, and Rex Burkhead all will be looking for new deals when free agency officially opens Wednesday.

Another name to watch is LeGarrette Blount, who has had two successful runs with the Patriots. Could he make another return to Foxborough?

One more thing complicating the running back market is the draft. It’s considered by many a deep year, and teams — including the Patriots — could replenish their ground games with less expensive rookies.

Jim McBride can be reached at james.mcbride@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globejimmcbride.