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Big man running
Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be running backs.
Yeah, it’s cool in high school and college when you’re the star of the whole town. But fewer and fewer rushers are landing big first-round draft money. And once you hit the four-year mark and free agency—you’re already considered old.
Hardly any teams will “pay it backward” any more—even to players who have stupendously outplayed their rookie deals. We all understand that the salary cap makes this difficult, but it's not condusive to high morale if every man on your team knows that it’s not even “what have you done for me lately,” it’s “what will you do for me soon?”
Financially, brutally using up young runners and then dumping them is a brilliant strategy. In terms of team morale, this cannot possibly be a good policy.
No wonder Arian Foster cried—he is one of the few running backs to actually be rewarded after playing his heart out on an undrafted free-agent contract. Particularly at this dangerous position. Kudos to the Texans.
Jacob Hester—San Diego, four seasons. San Diego has no need of Hester after signing former Chief Le’Ron McClain. But someone will get a good player at this vanishing position. Or, he could work out a deal to stay on as a reserve. He's willing. How about A.J. Smith and the budget?
Ahmard Hall—Tennessee, six seasons. Good leadership, but did not have a great 2011. Plus he had a PED suspension, which always makes me think the player has nagging physical issues. I don’t think the Titans will keep him, but I would certainly work him out (and do a blood test).
Kahlil Bell—Chicago, three seasons. The best backup running back in the NFL last year. Period. Da Bears put out a tender, but Bell was hot late in the 2011 season and might get more coin elsewhere.
Kevin Smith—Detroit, four seasons. The perception of Smith is that he is small and fragile. And yet, with tremendous heart, he keeps showing up and putting up yards. If Detroit doesn’t appreciate him, he should be able to get a job as a change-up back elsewhere. The Lions are making appreciative noises.
In the right circumstances
Joseph Addai—Indianapolis, six seasons. With Manning and the Colts’ passing game, it’s hard to tell how great a runner Addai really is. But I have a feeling he is better than he has been given credit for and some team will get a few more years of solid production—in the right system.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis—New England, four seasons. The Law Firm hasn’t been able to hammer out a contract in New England. Apparently they want him to go see how much money he can scare up on the market. Any team that runs by committee could benefit from Green-Ellis. Remember, he was a solid runner in a short-passing offense. NFL.com has reported that Green-Ellis has visited Cincy.
Update: The Law Firm is a Bengal. 3/21/2012.
Justin Forsett—Seattle, four seasons.
Ryan Grant—Green Bay, five seasons.
Jerious Norwood—St. Louis, six seasons.
LaRod Stephens-Howling—Arizona, three seasons.
LaDainian Tomlinson—New York Jets, 11 seasons.
Mewelde Moore—Pittsburgh, eight seasons.
Michael Bush—Oakland, four seasons. Mr. Bush has been a tough, professional rusher for Oakland. He’s going to turn 28 years old in June. So why does he look to my eyes like he’s 35? He just has that “rode hard and put away wet” aura. Chicago is pursuing him, That’s a good idea. He can go back to being a change-up runner.
Tim Hightower—Washington, four seasons. Hightower was having a wonderful 2011 until he was hurt. If healthy, he’ll be a steal.
Cedric Benson—Cincinnati, seven seasons. Benson shows no signs of “getting it” even now. He and Adam Jones need to go to some island where they can be safely self-destructive together.
Brandon Jacobs—Giants, seven seasons. See above on Benson. He’s not quite bad enough to own a condo on the island—but maybe he can rent for those times when he engages his mouth before his brain.