It’s a wild place out there in the current free agency realm, but somebody has to make sense of it.
There are more capable running backs available on the market than you’d think, and with Jamal Lewis added to the mix (unless he retires), the field just got a little fatter.
Now, that doesn’t mean we consider Lewis to be a potential “asset”, but after looking at how weak the quarterback pool is, you’ll understand that any amount of talent at any other position will have NFL GM’s salivating.
Here’s a list of current teams that could use upgrades at running back, either via free agency or the 2010 NFL Draft:
Cleveland Browns, Houston Texans, San Diego Chargers, Washington Redskins, Detroit Lions, Seattle Seahawks
And here are some teams that just need some veteran help or some added depth:
Pittsburgh Steelers, Kansas City Chiefs, Philadelphia Eagles, Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears, Minnesota Vikings, San Francisco 49ers, St. Louis Rams
Read on for the Top 10 Free Agent Running Backs for 2010:
Note: All free agents listed are unrestricted, only. Also, for the sake of this list, we will assume that both Brian Westbrook (Eagles) and LaDainian Tomlinson (Chargers), who are widely assumed to get cut by their respective teams, will be in the open market.
1. Chester Taylor (Minnesota Vikings)
Taylor is 31, but he doesn’t have much tread on his tires as a starter, registering over 200 carries just once in his entire career. The only time he did so ended with 1,200 rushing yards and six touchdowns the year before Adrian Peterson arrived.
Age may play a factor in his overall value or role with a new team, but one thing looks pretty clear, and that’s that Taylor is done in Minnesota.
Surely the Vikings would love him to be back, but they would have to overpay for a 31-year old back-up. That just isn’t going to happen.
Potential Suitors: Chargers, Patriots, Lions
2. Brian Westbrook (Philadelphia Eagles)
Unlike LaDainian Tomlinson, Westbrook appears to both have most of his skills, speed, and versatility. The only questions are his health and where he will be playing in 2010.
Considering he’s due over $7 million for next season, only a huge pay-cut will keep him in Philadelphia, and while it’s still possible he’s an Eagle next year, it’s not very likely.
Westbrook dealt with nagging injuries and then missed the rest of the season after two concussions, but the guy has had just one other season outside of 2009 where he didn’t top at least 900+ total yards.
Is he still a feature back? Probably not, but he can definitely help a team as a receiving option on screens and a rotational back.
Potential Suitors: Eagles, Patriots, Steelers
3. LaDainian Tomlinson (San Diego Chargers)
Judging just by the dramatic decline in the past season, Tomlinson is almost certainly done in San Diego, and quite likely done as a feature back in this league.
However, he’s still one of the best in the league at punching it in the end-zone, and perhaps behind a better offensive line (Chargers run-blocking was weak), he could still be effective in a limited role.
He still has some value on the open market, and is in better shape than Shaun Alexander or Eddie George were when they were released from their respective teams, but he’ll have to swallow a heavy dose of humility.
Potential Suitors: Saints, Seahawks, Lions, Patriots
4. Larry Johnson (Cincinnati Bengals)
Johnson proved in limited action with Cincinnati last year that he can still get it done as a starter, but for how much longer?
The fact that Jamaal Charles did so well behind the same Chiefs offensive line that Johnson couldn’t, however, shows just how much speed Johnson has lost, and that he’s purely a power back at this stage of his career.
That makes him very one-dimensional, and he’s probably a volume back, who simply needs a bunch of carries to have any kind of a real impact. But that doesn’t mean his career is over. In the right situation, he can still be productive in short yardage and in the red-zone.
Potential Suitors: Bengals, Patriots, Seahawks
5. Jamal Lewis (Cleveland Browns)
Lewis was pondering retirement after nagging injuries and average play in 2009, but due to possible financial concerns, he may have to continue (or try to continue) playing.
Lewis actually wasn’t too bad in Cleveland in his last year, but he also was clearly not an elite option, which was made even more obvious when the faster, more effective Jerome Harrison put up nice numbers toward the end of last season.
Then again, the offensive line (and offense as a whole) was a complete disaster while Lewis was in the starting lineup, so all the blame surely cannot fall on him.
Lewis is said to be wanting to continue his career (for obvious reasons already said), and would like to latch on with a title contender. The only question is, do any playoff-contending teams see him as an upgrade over their other back-ups?
Potential Suitors: Patriots, Chargers, Chiefs, Lions
6. Willie Parker (Pittsburgh Steelers)
Parker had his 2009 decimated by injuries and horrible play, and was completely out-done by second-year mean, Rashard Mendenhall. It’s not impossible that he doesn’t come back to Pittsburgh, but with the Steelers able to add depth through the draft, it’s fairly unlikely the 29-year old Parker returns.
Add in the fact that Pittsburgh has shown no signs of wanting him back, and that he desires to remain a starter and it’s almost a done deal.
So, two questions are left: Can he still be effective as an ever-down back, and/or does any team agree with him? But even more importantly, if he’s not looked at as a starter, will he be willing to accept another back-up role?
Potential Suitors: Patriots, Chargers, Saints, Lions
7. Chris Brown (Houston Texans)
The Texans are looking to upgrade their running back corps, and since Ryan Moats and Steve Slaton are still under contract (and were more impressive), Brown appears to be the odd man out.
He still has decent speed and is a solid short-yardage back, so he still has value.
Potential Suitors: Redskins, Bears, Packers, Titans
8. Kevin Faulk (New England Patriots)
Faulk is almost 34 and really only holds value as a third-down back. However, he’s an elite option in that role, and is an excellent receiver out of the backfield.
If the Patriots move on, that should be a pretty good sign of what he has left. However, he knows his role, so he could still help out a team in need of depth.
Potential Suitors: Patriots, Eagles, Browns
9. Ahman Green (Green Bay Packers)
Green signed with the Packers because they knew him, and he knew the offense. He definitely can’t be a starter anywhere, but he has solid versatility and appears to still have some tread left after only seeing limited action in the past three seasons.
He’s likely to stick somewhere with the West Coast offense, or with a team that is very desperate for running back depth.
Potential Suitors: Packers, Bears, Lions, Browns, Eagles
10. Adrian Peterson (Chicago Bears)
Peterson is purely a short-yardage or rotational back, and really doesn’t hold an upper hand on many guys that will get drafted late or go undrafted in the 2010 NFL Draft.
He just isn’t very physically gifted or versatile enough to weigh many options. He’ll be lucky to even get a solid contract heading into training camp if he doesn’t get picked back up by Chicago.
Potential Suitors: Bears, Rams, Browns
11. The Wild Card: Reggie Bush (New Orleans Saints)
Bush would likely rank int he top five of these rankings if we were guessing that he’d be allowed to hit the open market, but there’s just not enough evidence at this time to support him being released.
However, there is a ton of interest in him as a returner and dynamic play-maker, while there are likely even teams that believe he can be an every-down back.
Bush still has the speed, hands, and agility of an elite performer, and is coming off a solid post-season in which he helped the Saints win the Super Bowl.
If he does hit the free agency market, he’ll be in high demand.
Potential Suitors: Saints, Lions, Cowboys (many others)