If Dion Lewis hits free agency on March 14, he could set the market for veteran running backs available in 2018.
Only the Pittsburgh Steelers' Le'Veon Bell, in fact, might have commanded more absent an expected franchise tag, because there is no shortage of interest in the New England Patriots' leading rusher of 2017.
That's been evidenced by reports of both the Indianapolis Colts and New York Jets potentially preparing to pursue Lewis. And it was confirmed Monday by a source with knowledge of the running back's impending free-agency plans, who told CBSSports.com on the condition of anonymity that the Colts and Jets are just two of nine different teams that have expressed interest in the 27-year-old back.
The Patriots, who originally signed Lewis for the 2015 season and got a team-high 896 yards (5.0 yards per carry) from him during their run to Super Bowl LII, also have running back Rex Burkhead slated to hit the open market, so they could still re-sign Lewis prior to March 14. On a scale of 1-10, New England's interest in extending Lewis is a "10," the source said.
And yet league-wide looks at Lewis, a former fifth-round draft pick of the Philadelphia Eagles, could price the Patriots out of their own player, who scored a career-best nine touchdowns in 2017.
Those close to the situation told CBSSports.com that Lewis' party expects to land a contract worth around $6.5 million per season. That would represent a big raise for Lewis, who earned a base salary of $1.2 million in 2017, but it jibes with the "current market value based on meetings" from this week's NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.
A $6.5-million-per-year deal would make Lewis one of the top-five highest-paid running backs in the NFL, but the Pats veteran's age and career path, per Spotrac, align closely to those of the Houston Texans' Lamar Miller and Tennessee Titans' DeMarco Murray, who earned similar contracts.