Gregg Rosenthal

Offseason Low Down

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Free Agency Primer: RBs

Monday, February 18, 2008


Unlike linemen, good running backs are easy to find. Fantasy football's favorite sons fall somewhere between linebackers and plankton (kickers) on the NFL food chain. That makes the offseason entertaining to watch, as starting-caliber players routinely trade uniforms. Here's how we see free agency at running back shaking out.

Another thing that's easy to find? A plug for our online baseball draft guide. Get the skinny on every player from our MLB pros Matthew Pouliot, Aaron Gleeman, and many more.

Possible Salary Cap Cuts

The free agent market is a moving target, which could make our list of free agents out of date in a week. Many of the biggest names to change teams in March will be veterans cut loose just before free agency starts. Here are some names on the roster bubble.

Shaun Alexander, Seahawks

This one will sting. Alexander is in denial that the Seahawks would consider asking him to take a paycut, much less cut him. If Joe Montana, Johnny U, and Jerry Rice can be forced to move on, Shaun Alexander can too.

Seattle wants a back who can play every down; Alexander can't. Now he struggles on early downs. Alexander could stick around to share work with a rookie, but his release is more likely.

Rudi Johnson, Bengals

I thought Rudi was a goner after averaging 2.9 yards-per-carry. But Kenny Irons and Chris Perry are both hurt, and it appears the Bengals will give Rudi the summer to impress them. He's still no lock to make the team.

Edgerrin James, Cardinals

I watched a lot of tape on James, and he's not done yet. He just needs some help. Put him on the Browns and he'd have a season similar to Jamal Lewis, minus the big plays. Edge is no longer a good fantasy threat, but he could be a capable committee back. The Cards need to find a rookie back to split the work with him.

LaMont Jordan, Raiders

Jordan would be easier to write off if he didn't start last season so well. He's certain to get cut, and should find a decent role elsewhere. He's already 30, but doesn't have a lot of mileage on his legs.

DeShaun Foster, Panthers

Foster is due $4.5 million from the Panthers, and has put up pedestrian numbers for years. The local writers believe he's going to get cut, but John Fox and GM Marty Hurney believe in Foster. They may convince him to accept a paycut.

Warrick Dunn, Falcons

The Falcons are near the top of any team needing a running back. Cutting Dunn will be a very unpopular move, but it's either that or a big salary reduction.

Travis Henry, Broncos

Mike Shanahan is eternally restless. Henry may be willing to take less money to stay with the team, but the Broncos may not want him back.

Top 15 Free Agent Runners

1. Marion Barber, Cowboys (Restricted Free Agent) – The Barbarian is the most complete back out there, although Dallas is hesitant to let him carry the ball 300 times. They won't let him get away either. Look for the team to get a long-term deal done before free agency starts. Even if they can't come to a deal quickly, a first-round tender would prevent him leaving. He won't be backing up Julius Jones any longer.

Prediction: Cowboys: Five years, $14 million guaranteed.

2. Michael Turner, Chargers – Meet the next fantasy football star. Turner has the perfect combination of experience (four-year veteran), fresh legs (228 carries), and production (5.5 career yards-per-carry). And he shouldn't cost that much.

We won't know every team searching for a back until all the cuts are made, but Turner should have a few suitors. Browns OC Rob Chudzinski coached Turner while in San Diego, but Cleveland may keep Jamal Lewis. He would fit well in Seattle or Denver if they ditch their starters. For now, Atlanta looks like the best fit. The Burner should find a starting job, making him a top-30 fantasy pick.

Prediction: Falcons: Four years, $13 million guaranteed

3. Jamal Lewis, Browns – After two subpar seasons, Lewis had a shockingly resurgent campaign. He may not look as good away from Cleveland's line, but we can't discount his improved speed and athleticism. His cutbacks and vision were excellent. He improved as the year wore on. Lewis wants a huge payday, but the Browns have leverage with other options. Lewis probably won't get a better deal elsewhere.

Prediction: Browns, Two years, $13 million

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Gregg Rosenthal has directed Rotoworld's football content since 2003. He co-hosts the NBC Fantasy Fix and covers the NFL for NBCSports.com and Profootballtalk.com. Catch him on Twitter.
Email :Gregg Rosenthal



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