There are stages in the NFL offseason. With the franchise tag deadline passing, the next stage is free agency.
One of the most intriguing free-agent targets for several teams is a former backup running back looking to step up for a new team as a productive starter.
Ben Tate has been living in the shadows of Arian Foster with the Houston Texans throughout his young career. But he has still been able to register 1,992 rushing yards in his three seasons and emerged last season as a starter at the end of the year to end up with over 900 total yards.
That type of production from a backup back is sure to attract some attention from teams that need a boost on offense to take the next step to the playoffs. Ironically enough, nearly every team taking a look at the former Auburn back is hoping to make a return to the postseason this year.
Here is a look at the latest teams rumored to be courting the running back this offseason as well speculation on which team he will ultimately choose.
Latest News for Ben Tate
While the running back position has become a much less coveted one in the NFL draft—no tailback is expected to go in the first round again, according to CBS Sports mock drafts—they are a hot commodity on the free-agent market.
So when Tate announced that he would likely not be returning for the Texans this upcoming season, he took over the official No. 1 spot on the market at the position. He made the announcement via his Twitter account:
Carry on for the rest of my career thanks Htown for all the support but odds are I won't be back— Ben Tate (@BenTateRB) December 30, 2013
Even before his confirmation that the odds are not in the Texans' favor, there were rumors buzzing that the experienced back would wind up with another team in need.
The Cleveland Browns already have their eyes on Trent Richardson's replacement.
The Browns covet Ben Tate, whose contract with the Houston Texans expires after this season, and will aggressively pursue the running back in free agency.
This was also right around the time that the Browns were still rumored to be trading away Josh Gordon and Greg Little. While one of those players didn't exactly shine, the other turned into the best wide receiver of the 2013 regular season.
At the end of the regular season, the rumors didn't go away that had Tate heading to Cleveland. According to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, the Browns still prized the former Texans backup (via NFL: Around the League):
AroundTheLeague (@NFL_ATL) December 18, 2013
While the Browns are clearly interested in the bruising back, they are far from the only team in the Tate sweepstakes.
The New York Jets are coming off a disappointing season in which they missed the playoffs for the third straight season. Despite the poor finish, the team retained head coach Rex Ryan in hopes that he could help the team progress with Geno Smith behind center and a great defense.
One of their offseason plans might just be to bring in Tate in order to get back to a more productive "ground and pound" style that got the team to the AFC Championship back in 2009 and 2010.
Those ramblings turned to rumor during the NFL Scouting Combine, as Rich Cimini of ESPNNewYork.com reports:
This comes as a bit of a surprise, but I hear the New York Jets are exploring free-agent running backs—namely Donald Brown (Indianapolis Colts) and Ben Tate (Houston Texans). Obviously, their greatest needs are wide receiver and tight end, with running back thought to be a secure position with Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell. But general manager John Idzik is a big believer in competition and depth.
Which team will sign Foster?
While the Jets would like to add a running back like Tate, the Browns clearly have the bigger need at the position. This is one of the main reasons why the Browns will likely end up with the back and could go after another younger option in the draft to groom alongside Tate.
The move also simply makes more sense for Tate to sign with the Browns where he wouldn't have to play second fiddle possibly to Chris Ivory or Bilal Powell. Even if Cleveland takes a back in the draft, Tate would still line up as the starter for the foreseeable future if he signed.
With free agency getting underway on Tuesday, look for Tate to be one of those that gets wined and dined immediately out of the running back class. And after years of being a complement to Foster, Tate will have a breakout season for whichever team signs him.
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