- James Walker, ESPN Staff Writer
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The New England Patriots are having an unusually raucous offseason. They made national headlines with their public split with Pro Bowl receiver Wes Welker and added a risky move to cut starting receiver Brandon Lloyd without a replacement on the roster.
Now, the Patriots have another dilemma on their hands with running back Jeff Demps. The second-year tailback and former track star said in a radio interview in Florida that he will most likely skip the start of the NFL season for New England to focus on track this year.
Demps was asked how he plans to explain his focus not being entirely on football to Patriots coach Bill Belichick.
"Listen, Coach, I want to do both, but in order for me to get to where I want to be on the track and field side, it'll take a full year of preparation,” Demps said. “And after the [track] season, if you guys are willing to let me come back, you know, probably midseason, and work out and train and get ready for the season, I'll be able to do that. If not, then I guess I'll just focus on running."
Demps’ statements are telling for a variety of reasons. Not only is track Demps' priority, but football appears to be a distant choice compared to Demps' first love. This is not what New England wants to hear.
I'm split on this issue. Part of me thinks the Patriots should just cut ties with Demps. New England, perhaps more than any other team, is a factory where the focus is strictly on football. The Patriots despise distracted players for any reason, whether it’s on the field, off the field or thinking about another sport.
On the other hand, what's the harm in keeping Demps around? The Patriots are not counting on Demps at running back. They have enough good players at the position with 1,200-yard rusher Stevan Ridley and speedy backup Shane Vereen. New England also signed exciting kick returner with Leon Washington in free agency. The Patriots won't miss Demps if he's out for the first half of the season.
Demps' situation will be an interesting case study for the Patriots, who like to collect and stash talent. The team thinks it could have something in the speedy Demps, but his heart isn't 100 percent into football.
Should the Patriots wait for Demps to get track out his system? Or are the Patriots wasting their time? This is for New England to figure out.