Free Agent Fix: Buck vs. Arrington

The Chicago Bears just about ran rookie Matt Forte into the ground his rookie season, so it's essential the team finds a secondary ball carrier for '09. Both Correll Buckhalter and J.J. Arrington will be on the list come free agency. Bear Report goes to the tale of the tape to make a decision. Do you agree?

Correll Buckhalter

The Skinny: Although he missed three entire seasons earlier in his career because of a slew of devastating injuries, Buckhalter has played in all but four games the last three years combined. Brian Westbrook is arguably the best running-and-receiving threat in the entire league, but Buckhalter seems to always play well when given an opportunity to contribute and has enjoyed some serious success when subbing for the oft-injured Pro Bowler. He received double-digit carries on four occasions in 2008, and he delivered yards-per-carry averages of 4.3, 4.1, 5.2, and 6.3 in addition to 18 total receptions in those games.

RB Correll Buckhalter
Al Bello/Getty Images

The Pros: Like Matt Forte, Buckhalter is big enough to absorb punishment between the tackles yet still quick enough to hit the corner when out in space. He's also a reliable pass receiver out of the backfield, averaging 12.5 yards on his 26 catches this past season. While he may be 30 years old already and will turn 31 during the 2009 campaign, he's only been given 476 carries to date in 74 pro games and should have plenty of tread left on his tires – Thomas Jones was the same way when he came to Chicago.

The Cons: Buckhalter would probably do quite well as a backup option to Forte getting a handful of touches every game, although he's not ideally suited to handle the load should he be asked to start due to injury or ineffectiveness. Fumbling was an issue for him when he was a younger player, but he does appear to have gotten that under control lately – he hasn't lost a fumble since 2006. And low mileage or not, very few running backs maintain their effectiveness after the age of 30.

The Odds: There is usually a few quality backs that can be found on Day 2 of the NFL Draft, so that might be what general manager Jerry Angelo does instead.

J.J. Arrington

The Skinny: After failing miserably when given a chance to take over as the primary ball carrier coming out of college as a second-round draft pick, Arrington has found a nice little niche for himself as a change-of-pace option. He never had more than eight carries in any game this season for the pass-happy Cardinals, but he did average 6.0 yards on his 31 total attempts and caught at least three passes six times in his final 12 outings. Still just 26 years old, he packs a sturdy 212 pounds on his 5-9 frame and can also be quite effective on kickoff returns.

RB J.J. Arrington
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

The Pros: While Buckhalter's size and skill set are somewhat similar to what Forte brings to the table, Arrington would offer more of a change-up and could possibly catch enemy defenses off guard. He protects the football well and has only lost one fumble in his four-year NFL career – and that was back in his rookie season of 2005. To put it simply, he's a bigger and stronger version of Garrett Wolfe, who has never been given a chance to work his way into the offense.

The Cons: Like Buckhalter, he has some upside as a secondary weapon to Forte and can deliver a big play from time to time, but there is no way he can handle 20-25 carries per game should something go wrong at the top of the depth chart. One of the reasons Arizona overpaid for veteran Edgerrin James in free agency a few years ago is because Arrington wasn't up to the task. And even when James was being phased out by the Cardinals in the middle of the season, they turned to fifth-rounder Tim Hightower and not the more experienced Arrington.

The Odds: Buckhalter will likely be back in Philadelphia because he's a necessary handcuff to Westbrook, but Arrington should be gone since Arizona needs to reinvent its ground game again.

The Verdict

One way or another, the Midway Monsters have to take some pressure off Forte and feel comfortable with him on the sideline for a series here and there.

Adding Buckhalter makes some sense because he's a Forte clone in a lot of respects and would keep the spirit of the play-calling intact. Arrington, on the other hand, adds a dash of intrigue because of his speed and quick-strike capability.

If everything else is equal with tailbacks, go with the youngster because experience isn't necessarily a good thing at that position.

Judgment: Arrington

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John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit and become a Chicago Bears insider.

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