It's certainly not unheard of for a player to have a career season in a contract year.
Still, the transformation of Knowshon Moreno from first-round bust to 1,500-yard tailback in 2013 was remarkable.
|Knowshon Moreno 2013|
|* Career High|
It also leaves the Denver Broncos in a bit of a predicament where Moreno is concerned, but if the AFC champs can't afford to keep the 26-year-old, there is no shortage of teams who could use his services.
After topping 1,000 yards on the ground for the first time in his career and chipping in 60 catches, Moreno is the cream of the free agent crop at running back this year.
|Top Free Agent Running Backs|
|Knowshon Moreno||26||Career-high 1,586 total yards in 2013|
|Ben Tate||25||Career-high 181 carries in 2013 (4.3 YPC)|
|Andre Brown||27||Missed 8 games in 2013 (broken leg)|
|Darren McFadden||26||3.3 YPC each of the past two seasons|
|Maurice Jones-Drew||28||Hasn't gained 1,000 rushing yards since 2011|
|All players listed are unrestricted free agents|
Unfortunately, that may have put the fifth-year pro out of Denver's price range, especially after the Broncos drafted Montee Ball a year ago.
In fact, NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport doesn't expect Moreno to return to the Broncos at all:
Even before this news broke there was already speculation from beat writers as to which teams might be interested in Moreno:
Assuming that the Falcons are indeed interested, they won't be alone. Whether or not that interest is justified given Moreno's "one-hit wonder" status is a topic for another day, but there's no denying that Moreno's phone will ring.
Given their need for a running back and the cap space to sign one, here are three clubs who should pick up the phone.
Let's see, how to put this accurately without being cruel.
If you turned on every Dyson vacuum on the face of the earth simultaneously, their combined efforts wouldn't suck as bad as the Cleveland run game in 2013.
|Cleveland Browns Running Backs 2013|
|Per Browns' Website|
After trading Trent Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts early in the season, the Browns turned to a combination of Chris Ogbonnaya, Edwin Baker and Willis McGahee's corpse to move the ball on the ground.
The end result, shockingly, was the NFL's 27th-ranked ground game.
The shock is that it wasn't worse than 27th.
The Browns are in a position to make significant strides quickly in 2014. In addition to possessing five picks in the first three rounds of May's draft, the Browns also have over $45 million in cap space, according to Joel Corry of CBS Sports.
For the right price, Moreno would at the very least take some of the impetus of the Cleveland front office to draft a running back early. They could instead wait a bit, and then pair Moreno with a mid-round option such as Charles Sims of West Virginia or Arizona State's Marion Grice.
Of course, that's a reasonable course of action and we're talking about the Browns, so moving on.
Speaking of reasonable courses of action, it may not have generated much in the way of short-term results, but Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie has been immersed in one since taking the reins for the silver and black.
Over the past two seasons, McKenzie has engaged in a Sherman-esque march through Oakland's roster, ridding the team of the bloated contracts that marked the end of the Al Davis era with the Raiders.
Now, the team is awash in cap space.
No team in the NFL has as much wiggle room entering free agency as the Raiders. As it just so happens, the team also has a huge hole at running back.
|Oakland Raiders Running Backs 2013|
|Per Raiders' Website|
After an injury-filled mess of a tenure with the Raiders, Darren McFadden is set to hit free agency, and there are rumblings McFadden could be headed for a Queen City reunion with Hue Jackson:
Backup Rashad Jennings is also a free agent, so whether it's through free agency or the draft, the Raiders are going to have a hole to fill in the backfield.
Signing Moreno would allow the Raiders to fill that hole with a player entering his prime, all while saving their draft picks to address the other holes on the roster.
Given the number of holes we're talking about, it's not a bad course of action.
They may have been a punchline for much of the first half of the season, but as the year wore on something became clear with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2013.
The team made real strides under first-year head coach Gus Bradley.
However, even though the team went 4-4 over the second half of the season, something else also became clear.
The Jaguars desperately need to improve a run game that ranked 31st in the NFL last year, gaining less than 80 yards a game while averaging a pathetic 3.3 yards per carry.
Many of those struggles can be laid at the foot of tailback Maurice Jones-Drew. Literally.
Since leading the NFL in rushing in 2011 and topping 1,300 yards on the ground three straight years from 2009-2011, Jones-Drew hasn't gained 1,300 yards in the past two seasons combined.
|Jacksonville Jaguars Running Backs 2013|
|Per Jaguars' Website|
Blame the 2012 Lisfranc injury. Blame over 1,800 career carries. Blame Obamacare.
Whatever the reason, Jones-Drew backs into free agency this year coming off two of the worst seasons of his career. The 28-year-old told the NFL Network's "Around the League" (via Dan Hanzus) that he'd like to return in 2014, but Jones-Drew also admitted that might not be in the cards.
For me, that's where I started at. I always want to finish there. I don't know if they feel the same way I do. We'll see; there's no hard feelings. I enjoyed my career there up to this point. If I'm able to finish, that'd be awesome. If not, there will be another opportunity somewhere else and be able to get somewhere to play and enjoy that experience there.
Jones-Drew may be the best running back the Jaguars have ever had, but the harsh truth is he isn't the player he used to be.
It makes no sense for rebuilding teams to hang on to aging and/or declining players. Swapping that player out with a younger Moreno, on the other hand, makes a fair bit more.
Granted, any of these destinations would be something of a bittersweet landing spot for Moreno. Yes, a big payday would be nice, but going from the Super Bowl to the cellar?
Not so much.
However, such is life in the National Football League, and when it comes to the combination of a need at the running back spot and the cheddar with which to fill it, the Jaguars, Raiders and Browns make the most sense as suitors for Knowshon Moreno.
Better get that ring Sunday, young man. Otherwise, you may be waiting for a while.
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