The caliber of free agents at the running back position is a notch or two below some of the other positions this winter. Let’s look at the top ball carriers and where they can possibly help out other teams.
Reggie Bush: It is pretty clear that: A) Mario Williams was the correct pick by the Texans in 2007. B) Reggie Bush will never live up to being the second overall pick in the 2007 draft.
Regardless, Bush has had a very solid career and he is coming off near back-to-back seasons with over 1000 yards rushing. You will never mistake him for a workhorse back as he is too injury prone to be consistently getting 25-30 touches per game, but with his terrific receiving prowess and improved ability to run inside (compared to his earlier days with the Saints), Bush will definitely find one last contract with the Dolphins or another team. Aside from returning to Miami, I can see two scenarios for Bush: The first being that he goes to a team and becomes the number 1 guy. Atlanta can definitely use and upgrade at that position as Michael Turner tries to overcome the 30 year old curse of running backs. The second scenario is one where he goes into a situation with a team that already has an established guy and he can come in and be a change of pace runner. Ultimately, the Dolphins and Bush would be wise to figure out a dollar number that is fair and suitable for both parties.
Shonn Greene: The Jets are riddled with bad contracts. Derrelle Revis may be traded and Bart Scott is a potential cap casualty waiting to happen. When you are roughly $20 million over the cap, you will have to make some big decisions and one of those will be with Shonn Greene. Anyone who follows my twitter feed during the football season knows that I am not a Greene backer. He has very little explosiveness and for a guy who considers himself a power back, he is not bullish in the way he runs. More of a plodder, he is best suited as a goal line back and needs a very good offensive line behind him to get his game going. The Jets will be better off either drafting a running back for the future, or finally giving Joe McKnight a chance to win the starting job. Ultimately, Greene may still find a team willing to give him a chance and win a starting job as long as they cater their offense to more of a power running game.
Felix Jones: When Felix got drafted out of Tulsa by Dallas to be the future at the running back position after Marion Barber, I thought he would be a consistent 900-1000 yard rusher with the possibility to catch 40-50 balls a year. So far, he has been brittle, injury prone and very un-productive. Despite having great speed, each time I watch him I am surprised by his lack of elusiveness. In the NFL, if you cannot break tackles you better at least be durable and Jones is neither. He will definitely find a home (primarily as a backup), but DeMarco Murray has a clear handle on that job and they would be better suited getting a player to back him up that is more durable than Jones has been.
Rashard Mendenhall: When he broke out in 2009 for the Steelers, it looked like they found a runner they can count on for the next 7 to 8 seasons. Unfortunately a bad attitude and some out of the line comments regarding 9/11 combined with an ACL injury that rendered him ineffective for most of 2012 were his undoing in Pittsburgh. Surely there will be a market for him if he can prove he is healthy as he is still young and as talented as some of the other free agent runners, but I only see him being signed late in the offseason when OTA’s begin.
Ahmad Bradshaw: Depending on how healthy he is, the former New York Giant could easily be the head of this class. Bradshaw is the most complete runner of this group and the one after Bush who is most likely to get a starting gig. A tough interior runner despite his size and one of the better backs in pass protection, Bradshaw is coming off back to back 1000-yard seasons and still has plenty to offer to a team. There have been reports that he would not rule out returning to Big Blue, however, he is also looking at the Jets as a possible suitor. As mentioned previously, Gang Green is cap-strapped, but that may not be a huge detriment for the Bradshaw as a market for him may only be available once teams are certain he is truly healthy.
The rest of the list is filled with the likes of Peyton Hillis who had an amazing 2011 that allowed him to dawn the cover of Madden 12. Danny Woodhead is also may be looking for a new home and would be a good option for teams looking for a third-down back. I would be shocked if he does not return to New England. Cedric Benson was having a great start with the Packers, but with the James Starks, Alex Green and DuJuan Harris who looked really good in the last couple of regular season games, it is almost assured he will not return. Considering he is approaching 31 years old, he may not get a look until camp opens.
This list will continue to grow as teams figure out a way to get under the cap. Michael Turner, DeAngelo Williams and Willis McGahee may find themselves without a team as the offseason continues.