Free agent preview: RB/FB

Lot of questions to answer in Packers' backfield

With Green Bay's entire backfield scheduled to become free agents, the Packers' status at running back is tenuous at best. Are Ahman Green and Najeh Davenport worth re-signing as they recover from major injuries? Can the Packers find someone better than Tony Fisher, either in free agency or the NFL draft? Will the Packers re-sign productive but aging fullback William Henderson?

Green, who spent much of the season on injured reserve with a torn quadriceps, has expressed a desire to re-sign with the Packers, who will probably bring him back with an incentive-laden, one-year contract. The showdown between Green and Samkon Gado for the starting spot will be the most intense battle of the preseason for the Packers.

Davenport, who spent much of the season on injured reserve with a broken ankle, will be an unrestricted free agent, as will third-down back Fisher. Fisher is valuable as both a blitz protector and a safety valve catching the ball out of the backfield, but Davenport has been injury prone and likely will not be re-signed by Green Bay.

Noah Herron, signed late in the season, showed some potential but will have to get some breaks in training camp to make the Packers' roster in 2006. Herron had 121 yards on 45 carries (2.7 yards per carry) and two touchdowns in Green Bay's final three games.

The Packers certainly will select a running back high in the draft, perhaps as early as the second round, and likely sign a running back in free agency.

Henderson also is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on March 3. The veteran who has been with Green Bay since he was drafted in the third round in 1995, said he still wants to play a few more years. He is still a good blocker and much better catching the ball out of the backfield than Vonta Leach, who was worked into the starting lineup last season. It is likely that Henderson and Leach will serve again as the Packers' two fullbacks in 2006.

We continue to go around the league and get the analysis from on some of the top running backs and fullbacks slated for free agency:

• Seattle Seahawks RB Shaun Alexander, is an unrestricted free agent. He's talking with the organization about getting a deal done. The problem is Seattle has G Steve Hutchinson also about to become a UFA and he would be the one to get the franchise tag. It's hard to argue the league's MVP would be an upgrade for most teams, but how many good years does he have left.

• Indianapolis Colts RB Edgerrin James, an unrestricted free agent, finished fifth in the league this year with rushing with 1,506 yards and ran for 12 touchdowns. He also caught 44 passes for 337 yards and a touchdown. While team ownership has made it clear that they would love to bring James back so that he can end his career in Indianapolis, money will be the issue.

• Colts RBs Dominic Rhodes and James Mungro are both unrestricted free agents, so their return for next season remains up in the air. Rhodes is due a $1.45 million roster bonus, but the team may decide to not make the payment. That would make Rhodes an unrestricted free agent.

• Minnesota Vikings RB Michael Bennett is set to become an unrestricted free agent, and after averaging 3.8 yards per rush, he appears on the way out unless new coach Brad Childress decides Bennett is his guy.

• Carolina Panthers RB DeShaun Foster will be an unrestricted free agent. The Panthers will try to make a run at him, but you get a sense they will not overpay for a guy who has finished three of his four seasons in the league on injured reserve. The decision on how much to pay Foster could come down to how much confidence the team has in last year's second-round draft pick Eric Shelton. Foster broke his ankle in a divisional playoff loss to Chicago, but the team is likely to at least make an attempt to re-sign him. Still, Foster may want to go play in an offense that is more conducive to his cutback style of running.

• Denver Broncos RB Ron Dayne is a free agent but the Broncos want him back. He fits Denver's style very well and could have a big season if given the chance.

• Washington Redskins RB Rock Cartwright exploded for 118 yards at St. Louis when Ladell Betts was hurt after losing a critical fumble at Kansas City. The popular Cartwright is a special teams regular, but he's a free agent and the Redskins already have his replacement in seventh-rounder Nehemiah Broughton, who carried just once as a rookie.

• Houston Texans RB Jonathan Wells capitalized when Domanick Davis was injured. In his limited action at running back, Wells showed that he would likely fit better on a team that could utilize him more than the Texans did. He had a career-high four touchdowns and rushed for 325 yards, despite just 90 carries, which makes him more attractive as he enters the free agent market this off-season. The Texans would like to sign him, but he likely will command too much money for them if they end up drafting USC RB Reggie Bush.

• Miami Dolphins RBs Sammy Morris and Travis Minor are valuable special teams players who are slated to become unrestricted free agents.

• San Francisco 49ers FB Chris Hetherington is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent. The club would like to bring him back.

• San Francisco FB Fred Beasley, who made the NFC Pro Bowl in 2003, lost his starting job while clashing with running backs coach Bishop Harris. Beasley is scheduled to be a free agent and is not likely to be back. The 49ers will have to add a fullback this off-season.

• Buffalo Bills FB Daimon Shelton, an unrestricted free agent, is likely to be retained.

• Oakland Raiders FB Omar Easy is strictly a special teams player and is an unrestricted free agent.

• San Diego Chargers FB Andrew Pinnock, a restricted free agent, had just one carry and likely won't be back.

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