Injury questions have clouded James White‘s timetable for months now. Although White re-signed with the Patriots on a two-year deal this offseason, the veteran receiving back will instead walk away from the game.
The eight-year veteran announced Thursday (via Twitter) he will retire. White, 30, sustained a severe hip injury in September 2021 and had not resumed practicing. One of the steadier Pats skill-position players of the Bill Belichick era, White was uncertain to regain the form that made him a trusted passing-down back. But he will retire as a key member of four Patriots Super Bowl teams. Three of those won championships, one doing so with significant White contributions.
White followed in the footsteps of Kevin Faulk, Danny Woodhead and Shane Vereen. While Woodhead and Vereen enjoyed nice runs as Tom Brady outlet options, White lasted much longer in the role. The Patriots valued White to the point they signed him to four contracts as a pro. The most recent, coming in March of this year, was worth $5MM.
The Wisconsin alum will be best known for his work in Super Bowl LI, arguably the signature night for the Belichick-Brady Patriots. While Brady understandably ran away with MVP honors, White scored three touchdowns in a performance that doubled as one of the greatest aerial displays by a running back in NFL history. The former fourth-round pick caught 14 passes for 110 yards and a touchdown against the Falcons. White added six carries for 29 yards and two scores — the last of which being a walk-off TD to end the only overtime game in Super Bowl history. White’s 5-yard TD reception began the Patriots’ rally from a 28-3 deficit; his 1-yard run late in the fourth quarter (preceding Danny Amendola‘s two-point conversion) sent the game to overtime.
Vereen was still in place during White’s rookie season, minimizing the latter’s role in the Pats’ Super Bowl XLIX-winning campaign, but the Pats let Vereen walk in free agency in 2015. White took over and held the gig for the better part of the next seven years. White surpassed 400 receiving yards from 2015-19, topping out with 751 during the Pats’ most recent Super Bowl year (2018). From 2015-20, no running back topped White’s 3,161 receiving yards.
But White’s 2021 signaled a clear turning point. He suffered a hip subluxation injury in Week 3 of last season and landed on the Pats’ active/PUP list to start training camp. His Week 1 availability and 2022 role altogether were in doubt because of the malady. The Pats’ final White contract only guaranteed him $500K, giving the team options in case its trusted passing-down option could not recover from the injury.
New England drafted two backs this year — Kevin Harris and Pierre Strong — and returns starter Damien Harris and second-year contributor Rhamondre Stevenson. None of these players caught more than 20 passes last season. With Brandon Bolden(41 catches in 2021) following Josh McDaniels to Las Vegas, a questions as to who will pick up White’s job will linger for New England.
White, whose top contract came in 2017 (four years, $12MM), retires as one of the most prolific pass-catching running backs in playoff history. His 59 receptions rank fourth all time for running backs in the postseason, behind only Thurman Thomas, Tony Nathan and Roger Craig. White’s 381 regular-season catches rank eighth in Patriots history, just behind Faulk — a 13-year veteran who finished with 431 career grabs.