Chris Wesseling

Offseason Low Down

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The 2011 Running Back Market

Tuesday, May 17, 2011




Release Candidates

1. Reggie Bush, Saints

Scouting Report: Bush hasn't made it through a 16-game season in five years, so it was no surprise that he missed half of 2010 with yet another lower-leg injury. Bush's effectiveness waned as a runner and a receiver last season. His stutter-step isn't fooling anyone, and he continues to break all runs to the outside. Bush does have his occasional moments of brilliance, though. With top-notch receiving skills and elusiveness, Bush needs a creative play-caller and an intelligent quarterback who understands how to best utilize hybrid players in a chess match against defensive coordinators.

Availability: "It's been fun, New Orleans." That just about sums it up. Sean Payton's
post-draft comments notwithstanding, Bush's camp has made it clear that it's time to move on after the drafting of Mark Ingram. Neither the Saints nor any other team is going to shell out $11.8 million in 2011 for a role player. If Bush wants his freedom, all he has to do is refuse to restructure his contract. He's essentially an unrestricted free agent right now. As PFT's Mike Florio and Saints beat writer Mike Triplett have suggested, Bush's ideal landing spot may be St. Louis as Steven Jackson's change of pace -- and a key pawn for Josh McDaniels' Patriots-style offense.

Update: Bush is now reversing course, stating his desire "first and foremost" to remain with the Saints on a new contract.

Prediction: Restructures, signs long-term deal with Saints.

2. Ryan Grant, Packers

Scouting Report: One of the most durable backs in the league while racking up 1,200+ rushing yards in 2008 and 2009, Grant carried the ball just eight times last year before going down with a season-ending ankle injury. Grant has been one of the least effective passing-down backs in the league, but he's a strong and reliable runner between the tackles.

Availability: Grant is slated to collect a $1.75 million roster bonus on the 15th day of the league year in addition to a $3.5 million base salary in the final year of his contract. The bad news is that he's coming off ankle surgery, James Starks has emerged as a capable starter, Alex Green was drafted in the third round, and Brandon Jackson may not reach unrestricted free agency. The good news is that the Packers will be defending their title with the strongest roster in the league. A healthy Grant is a more effective and proven runner than Starks.

Prediction: Stays with Packers

3. Willis McGahee, Ravens

Scouting Report: McGahee failed to repeat his short-yardage magic for a second straight season, and the Ravens were believed to be shopping him heavily at the October trade deadline. McGahee's workload tailed off afteward, and he finished the season with a career-low 3.76 yards per carry, including the playoffs. He graded out well below average in the metrics of Pro Football Focus and Football Outsiders.

Availability: The Ravens aren't going to pay McGahee's $6 million base salary to back up Ray Rice for another season. McGahee is intent on testing the market for a chance at a starting gig, so there will be a mutual parting of ways. McGahee best fits in as a between-the-tackles complement to a more versatile lead back. Heading into his age-30 season, he may be left standing on the sidelines until a starter goes down with an injury in training camp. The Ravens could end up bringing him back at a much lower rate.

Prediction: Released, re-signs with Ravens.

4. Marion Barber, Cowboys

Scouting Report: After entering the year in a timeshare with Felix Jones, a painfully slow Barber played himself out of a job by averaging a scant 2.97 yards per carry in the season's first half. Perhaps most troubling, Barber wasn't even showing his trademark power in short-yardage situations. He ended up posting career-lows across the board, finishing near the bottom of the metrics used by both Football Outsiders and Pro Football Focus. No one doubts Barber's toughness, but his soft tissue injuries the past two seasons are an additional red flag.

Availability: Barber is as good as gone unless owner Jerry Jones forks over a $500,000 roster bonus by June 3 or the start of the league year. If half-a-million seems relatively paltry, keep in mind that sum only preserves the right to pay Barber another $4.25 million in base salary. The addition of third-rounder DeMarco Murray ensures that Barber won't see another dime from the Cowboys after pocketing a $12 million signing bonus in 2008. Barber is going to have to accept a backup gig at this point in his career. Even if the Rams pick up a third-down back, they still have no insurance for a Steven Jackson injury.

Prediction: Released, signs with Rams.

5. Brandon Jacobs, Giants

Scouting Report: Relegated to a situational role behind Ahmad Bradshaw, Jacobs bounced back from a disappointing 2009 campaign with a career-best 5.6 yards per on just 147 carries. The Giants' plan to limit Jacobs' touches worked to a tee, as Football Outsiders and Pro Football Focus rated the big back as a more effective per-play runner than impressive feature back Bradshaw. Although practically useless in the passing game, Jacobs is the quintessential "thunder" in a tandem attack.

Availability: Jacobs is due $4.65 million in base salary with Bradshaw's Giants future up in the air. In a bizarre offseason juxtaposition, Jacobs was giving mixed signals on the possibility of accepting a "fair" paycut at the same time his head coach was insisting the big back had "plenty left in the tank" and was deserving of more carries. Whether he settles for a gentle restructuring or not, Jacobs' roster spot seems secure.

Prediction: Stays with Giants.

6. Chester Taylor, Bears

Scouting Report: Among all backs with 100 carries, Taylor finished last in the NFL at 2.4 yards per carry while also bringing up the rear in Football Outsiders' efficiency ratings. Taylor's blocking ability saved him from the bottom rung of Pro Football Focus' player ratings. Our game charters noted on several occasions that Taylor lacked any semblance of a burst going through the line. The Bears' lead-blocking wasn't exactly stellar, but Matt Forte still managed a healthy 4.5 yards per on 125 more carries.

Availability: The Bears paid Taylor more than $6 million to watch him run on fumes last season. The $1.25 million due this year is reasonable in comparison, and the position was ignored in the draft. Turning 32 in September, Taylor has reached the stage where he's easily replaceable, however. GM Jerry Angelo made it clear the third-down specialist would have to earn his way onto the roster this summer..

Prediction: Released in final cuts.

More Running Back Release Candidates: Maurice Morris, Correll Buckhalter, LenDale White, Earnest Graham

Follow Chris Wesseling on Twitter.


Chris Wesseling is a senior football editor and Dynasty league analyst for Rotoworld.com. The 2011 NFL season marks his fifth year with Rotoworld and his third year contributing to NBCSports.com. He can be found on Twitter @ChrisWesseling.
Email :Chris Wesseling



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