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Patriots running back James White retires after eight seasons in the NFL

The Boston Globe 8/11/2022 Nicole Yang
James White takes a handoff from Tom Brady during Super Bowl LI. © Stan Grossfeld James White takes a handoff from Tom Brady during Super Bowl LI.

After eight NFL seasons and three Super Bowl rings, Patriots running back James White announced Thursday he is retiring from football.

“Thank you to Mr. Kraft, Coach Belichick, and the entire Patriots organization for giving me the opportunity to live out my childhood dream,” White wrote in a post on social media. “To be able to play my entire career for one franchise, in front of the best fans in the NFL, has been a tremendous blessing and honor.”

White, 30, re-signed with the Patriots this offseason on a two-year, $5 million contract, but has remained on the physically unable to perform list after suffering a season-ending hip subluxation last year. White did not participate in any of the team’s spring practices and had yet to make an appearance in training camp.

Asked earlier this month if he expected White to be activated soon, coach Bill Belichick said, “When he’s ready. That’s not my decision. When he’s ready, he’s ready.”

It turns out that moment will never come, as White has instead decided to hang up his cleats. He walks away as one of the best pass-catching running backs in the NFL, known for his versatility and reliability.

“Josh McDaniels used to always say, ‘If I had 11 James Whites, it’d be perfect,’” said safety Devin McCourty after Thursday’s exhibition opener. “Because he said, ‘I could tell him something during training camp and it might not show up for 12 weeks, but when it shows up again, he’s going to be on it.’ ”

After the Patriots drafted White out of Wisconsin in the fourth round in 2014, he “redshirted” his rookie year but then quickly became a central part of the offense.

White’s most memorable moment came in Super Bowl LI, when he scored the winning touchdown in overtime, completing New England’s historic 28-3 comeback over the Atlanta Falcons. He finished that game with a team-high 14 receptions on 16 targets for 110 yards and a touchdown, and also rushed for 29 yards and two touchdowns.

“James defines the term consummate professional,” Belichick said in a statement. “His dependability, consistency, unselfishness, and performance under pressure are elite. Combining great intelligence, quickness and elusiveness, James was a perfect fit for our pass offense.”

White’s best statistical year came in 2018, when he caught 87 passes for 751 receiving yards and 7 touchdowns, and also rushed for 425 yards and 5 touchdowns, leading the team in total yards from scrimmage.

But White’s value carried far beyond the field. When Damien Harris sat out as a healthy scratch the majority of his rookie year, he turned to White as a mentor. When quarterback Mac Jones arrived in New England as a rookie, he repeatedly mentioned White as a role model and resource. When White was sidelined for the majority of last year, the coaches and the rest of the running back room praised him for his continued involvement.

“While soft spoken, he brought exceptional leadership and competitive toughness to the team,” Belichick said. “He was a multi-year team captain and one of the most respected, best team players I have ever coached.”

Added Patriots owner Robert Kraft: “As great of a player as James has been for us, he’s an even better person. He is a man of great character and integrity and earned everyone’s respect through his work ethic, professionalism, and positive daily demeanor.”

With White retiring, the Patriots have Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson, Pierre Strong, Kevin Harris, and J.J. Taylor available at running back. Ty Montgomery, who also plays wide receiver, is in the mix as well.

“James is a once-in-a-lifetime player, once-in-a-lifetime teammate, so James isn’t someone you can replace,” Damien Harris said. “Unfortunately, the show goes on. We’re just going to have to keep doing what we do and move forward. I wish James was still here, but I wish him the best in the next chapter of his life.”

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