NFL - Free Agent RBs - On the Move
The talent pool of running backs in the 2013 NFL Draft leaves a little to be desired; at least that is how it appears with two months to go until the big day. That does not necessarily mean an empty offseason in the backfield. Quite the contrary. A trio of backs—featuring Ahmad Bradshaw, Reggie Bush, and Rashard Mendenhall—are available via agency. Let's take a look at what each player brings (or doesn't bring) to the table and analyze possible destinations for each member of the triumvirate.
RB Ahmad Bradshaw, --- - Quality Backup
Let's start with the positives. Bradshaw is seemingly in his prime at 26 years old and although that is already on the high end of a running back amidst current NFL standards, he is not a particularly "old" 26. The former Giants standout has carried the ball more than 200 times in a season just twice and only four times has he been given more than 70 carries. Bradshaw has exceeded the 1,000-yard mark twice, including last season (despite dealing with a right-foot injury). He has scored at least six rushing touchdowns each of the past four years and he also contributes as a pass-catcher out of the backfield (47 catches in 2010 and more than 20 in each of the last four seasons). Let's also not forget that the guy is a proven winner. He was a member of both of the Giants' recent Super Bowl victories and he played an integral role in each run to the championship.
As such, Bradshaw is one of the most coveted free-agents in football after being waived by New York earlier this month. That being said, the aforementioned right foot is cause for concern. He has had multiple surgeries on it, including one that will keep him out of action until at least April. Because of durability concerns and fumbling issues (he lost seven fumbles in 2010, more than anyone else at his position), Bradshaw has never been a feature, every-down back. There is no reason to think he will suddenly become one during what will effectively be the latter half of his career. The Marshall University alum may not be a perennial Pro Bowler, but he is certainly a hot commodity.
Where might Bradshaw land? Arizona, which was the worst team in the NFL last season after starting 4-0, could use an established veteran from a winning culture. Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams are serviceable running backs for the Cardinals, but they have been unable to stay on the field. Also look for Green Bay and San Diego to make a push. Both are contending franchises that need some depth in the backfield. Bradshaw was a big reason why Aaron Rodgers did not win back-to-back Super Bowls; how nice would it be for Rogers to have Bradshaw on his side now? The Chargers may not be ready to try their luck with another injury-prone running back, but they are in desperation mode after a disastrous 2012 campaign.
RB Reggie Bush, SF - Solid/Safe Pick
Bradshaw, a seventh-round pick in the 2007 NFL Draft, who entirely overachieved throughout six seasons in the league. Bush, of course, is of a somewhat opposite ilk. Just about everyone thought the Houston Texans had lost their minds when they used the No. 1 overall selection in 2006 on defensive end Mario Williams instead of Bush. Williams has never exactly set the world on fire, but nobody is laughing now. Bush never even reached the 600-yard mark on the ground in five seasons with New Orleans, in part due to how he was used and also because of injury. The former Southern California superstar appeared in all 16 games of a successful rookie campaign, but he did not accomplish the same feat again until last year with the Dolphins. Twice with the Saints he played in no more than 10 contests.
Still, there is a lot to like about Bush. The guy isn't merely a running back; he is a receiver that lines up in the backfield. In fact, he was much more of the latter in New Orleans. He hauled in a whopping 88 passes in his rookie season and had 73 more one year later, despite playing just 12 games. Bush made at least 34 receptions in all five campaigns with the Saints, even when he was limited to a mere eight contests in 2010. Miami used him in a more traditional fashion the last two seasons and Bush responded with 1,096 rushing yards in 2011 and 986 in 2012. Avoiding the injury bug that had plagued him in the Big Easy, he played in 31 of 32 games with the Dolphins. This may be hard to believe because it feels like Bush has been around forever, but he is still only 27 years old. His physical prime is not yet over.
Potential destinations for Bush include Atlanta and Detroit, and a return to Miami is not entirely out of the question. The Falcons are set to release Michael Turner, but they still have power backs Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling at their disposal. Bush would provide a change of pace and would also be a receiving force in what has become a pass-happy offense in Atlanta. Detroit would be a similarly solid fit. The Lions have always been thin at running back and if Matthew Stafford gets another weapon to complement Calvin Johnson, watch out. Too many bridges have been burned between Bush and the Dolphins, so a resigning is not a probability. If the market is not to Bush's desire, however, it is a possibility. POST EDIT: Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland confirms the two sides have spoken.
RB Rashard Mendenhall, --- - Quality Backup
Mendenhall's case is similar to those of Bradshaw and Bush. At 25 years old, he presumably has a number of productive seasons left even in a banged-up body. Mendenhall has interspersed outstanding seasons (back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing efforts in 2009 and 2010, plus a combined 29 rushing touchdowns in 2009, 2010, and 2011) with years that were wrecked by injuries. He played in just four games as a Pittsburgh rookie after being drafted 23rd overall and he suited up for only six contests last season. A case of the fumbles has also been a minor problem throughout Mendenhall's NFL career. Like with Bradshaw and Bush, all of the contributing factors suggest that the former Illinois standout can have a serious impact in just about any team's backfield, but is not an every-down performer.
Among Mendenhall's plausible landing spots is a trio of AFC West teams—Denver, Kansas City, and Oakland. The Broncos can never have too many running backs and they certainly do not have an every down back on their roster at the moment. There is undoubtedly room for Mendenhall. Kansas City is in complete rebuilding mode and would do well to get snag a young running back, especially if they take offensive lineman Luke Joeckel No. 1 overall in the upcoming draft. The Raiders have Darren McFadden, but Mendenhall is a different kind of runner who could at least be a third-down back if he does split carries with McFadden right down the middle. Those two would complement each other nicely while bringing some much needed excitement to Oakland. Don't be surprised if he finds himself on the western side of the other conference, either. Arizona is a possibility. New head coach Bruce Arians was the offensive coordinator in Pittsburgh when the Steelers drafted Mendenhall.