Tampa Bay must execute a trade for a running back. It's that simple. But if you need reasons, here are a few:
The Buccaneers are down to two running backs — Earnest Graham and Kenneth Darby. That makes any coach queasy, even if that coach has LaDainian Tomlinson and Larry Johnson as those two backs. The laws of roster attrition say that either Graham or Darby will get hurt at some point.
Graham and Darby can't get it done alone. Even when Graham had his big day against St. Louis, he shared carries with Carnell Williams and Michael Pittman. Graham is not experienced enough — nor do I think durable enough — to handle a 20-carry workload. Darby's inexperience is a fumble waiting to happen. The Bucs showed last Sunday against Indianapolis that they need more talent in the backfield (the offensive line is another conversation).
Neither Graham nor Darby have much experience picking up blitzes. That role will fall to fullback B.J. Askew, limiting the Bucs' use of backs in passing routes in the flat.
The Bucs have a golden opportunity to win the NFC South. The Panthers just found out that Jake Delhomme will have season-ending elbow surgery, and his replacement, David Carr, hasn't sniffed respectability in two starts. The Falcons and Saints are practically decrepit, and the Birds are about to top that off with a quarterback controversy. All the Bucs have to do is play decent football to win the division.
But to play decent football, the Bucs need another back. Now.
Last week the Buccaneers approached Corey Dillon about joining the team and he refused. They reportedly attempted to trade for Minnesota back Mewelde Moore, offering a sixth-round pick. The Vikings wanted a first-day pick (and they may get it now). I also learned from a league source that the Bucs worked out three veteran free agents last week, including former Raider Zach Crockett.
The free-agent market is pretty bare. Along with Dillon and Crockett, former Texans backs Dominick Williams and Wali Lundy, and former Browns back Lee Suggs, are available. And there's a reason why these backs are still available.
That's why a trade is necessary. The Bucs will have to pay a price, though. The entire league knows the Bucs are in a bind, so it will be a seller's market. Whichever back the Bucs end up with, the price will be steep. And, with the trade deadline set for Oct. 16, the Bucs have just seven days to get something done.
Oh, and did I mention Sunday's opponent, Tennessee, has the league's No. 3 run defense? There's another good reason.
The back will likely be a second- or third-stringer with some playing experience. And there are several backs that fit the bill.
I've identified seven backs that have that potential. Will the Bucs deal for one of these guys? Maybe. Maybe not. But they each have their pros and cons. Along the way, several of our Scout.com team experts will chime in on what the Bucs might have to give up to get that player.
Michael Turner, San Diego. Every scout I've ever talked to or listened to loves this guy. They all agree that in the right situation he's a Pro Bowl player waiting to happen. He's Tomlinson's backup right now, but Turner has plenty of yards — 1,142 in four years — and he's coming off a 147-yard game against Denver. He's a free agent after this season, as well.
All that means Turner's price just went up, according to SDboltreport.com's Michael Lombardo.
"If I had to guess, I'd say it would take a first-round pick and (Bucs wide receiver) Michael Clayton to pry Turner away," Lombardo said. "I can't see this deal happening, especially with L.T. still struggling a bit and Turner coming off a 147-yard game."
Clayton fills a need for the Chargers, as they could use receiving help (and Clayton needs a chance of scenery). Turner could be a guy the Bucs could use as a rent-a-player and then sign to a big contract in the offseason, as they have the cap space and will need a primary back for at least the first part of 2008 due to Carnell Williams' patella tendon injury, which will likely require a year's worth of rehab.
He will probably require the highest price to acquire.
Julius Jones, Dallas. He's a first-stringer, but he could be a good fit. He's a first-stringer in name only, as he shares carries with Marion Barber III. Like Turner, he's a free agent, so the Cowboys might want to try and get some value for Jones.
Jones has more than 3,000 career rushing yards and 17 touchdowns. But Barber is the future in Dallas, so Jones will be looking for a new home next spring. Jones found himself in plenty of trade rumors this past spring, and Roy Philpott of Theranchreport.com said the price for Jones might not be that steep.
"I would say a fifth-round draft pick would get the Cowboys ‘interested.' Philpot said. "(It) may take a little more to pull it off, though, knowing (Cowboys owner) Jerry Jones. He usually gets the better end of those kinds of deals and many teams shy away from those kinds of demands."
I could see Jerry Jones asking for a second-round pick for Jones. That would give the Cowboys two first-round picks and two second-round picks in 2008, which is attractive because they must replenish their aging wide receiving corps and potentially find a new left tackle to replace Flozell Adams.
LaBrandon Toefield, Jacksonville. He's started two games for the Jags in his five-year career and he has a serviceable 3.6-yard per carry average. He caught a career-high 28 passes in 2004. At 5-11, 235 pounds, he can block. And, with Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew getting all the carries, Toefield is expendable. But Jagnation.com's Charlie Bernstein said the fifth-year pro can play at this level.
"He's a strong back that could probably get in the running back rotation for a lot of teams," Bernstein said. "A third would easily get him."
He might not cost more than a fourth-round pick, which makes him more attractive. He's a solid low-cost option.
Samkon Gado, Houston. I almost forgot about this guy, but he's languishing at No. 3 on the depth chart in Houston. He had a great half-season in Green Bay in 2005, rushing for 582 yards and six touchdowns. He rushed for 217 yards for the Texans last year. But he has just 12 yards on six carries so far this year. Ahman Green and Ron Dayne are getting the carries right now. Gado is 5-10, 226 pounds, and runs with more power than his frame suggests. Like Toefield, he's a great low-cost option.
Moore. The Bucs could return to the Vikes, hat in hand, and give up the first-day pick for this guy. The fourth-year back is a scat back (5-11, 209 pounds) with pass-catching ability. Moore has more than 1,000 yards rushing and a touchdown, along with making 11 career starts. But he's getting no carries behind rookie Adrian Peterson and veteran Chester Taylor. Vikingupdate.com's Tim Yotter said Moore has never quite fulfilled his potential in Minnesota, but has a load of talent.
"He is a versatile player, both in the offensive backfield and being able to returns kicks and especially punts," Yotter said. "But his main asset is his elusiveness and shiftiness. He is by no means a power running back, but he can take a run up the middle and turn it into a big gain if he gets past the first wall of defenders. Given a little bit of space, he is able to shed would-be tacklers nicely, making him especially effective catching passes out of the backfield and weaving his way through traffic."
Ricky Williams, Miami. The Buccaneers should want no part of this guy. Not only is he coming off serving a one-year suspension for violation of the league's substance-abuse program, but he's not passionate about the game, a no-no for the Bucs. Yes, he has some great career numbers, but he hasn't played in an NFL game since 2005 and there's no telling what kind of shape he's in after playing in Canada last year.
It may not matter. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell must reinstate Williams before he can be traded, and that may not happen before Oct. 16.
Priest Holmes, Kansas City. Holmes is currently on the Chiefs' reserve-non-football injury list. Holmes has not carried a football since Oct. 30, 2005, when he suffered a head and neck injury. He missed the rest of 2005 and all of 2006, and he came to camp this summer and he still wasn't ready to play. Yes, Holmes has some gaudy numbers leftover from his five-year stint burning defenses for the Chiefs, but his inactivity and his age (he turned 34 on Sunday) should scare the Bucs off.
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Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for BucsBlitz.com and the Charlotte Sun-Herald in Port Charlotte, Fla. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association and has won national awards for his Buccaneers coverage from the PFWA, the National Newspaper Association and the Associated Press Sports Editors. He is also a contributor to the Scot Brantley Show from 4-7 p.m. weekdays on WHBO 1490-AM in Tampa-Clearwater.