2008 Free Agency Preview-Running Backs

Because of the rise in the salary cap, many teams have been able to secure their starting back for years to come. Because of that, only a few good backs are slated to become free agents.

Running Backs Who Should Compete for a Starting Role

Michael Turner/San Diego Chargers (UFA) - General manager A.J. Smith decided against trading him away for a first-round pick prior to last year's draft when he was a restricted free agent--that's how well regarded Turner is around the league. NFL scouts love Turner's power and surprisingly good speed and ability to get to the second level on his carries. He fits a power-rushing scheme quite well and just turned 26. But some question whether he would hold up handling 20+ carries/game.

Jamal Lewis/Cleveland Browns (UFA) - Since his career season back in 2001, Lewis has seen a drop in yards per carry until this past season. While his weight seems to be a constant issue, Lewis seemed to be moving better in 2007 than he had in recent years. A knock on Lewis is most of his solid production came against average or below rush defenses (Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals, Houston Texans, New York Jets, San Francisco 49ers). And the mammoth back turns 29 in August so it's hard to see another team or even Cleveland offering him more than a few years in a deal. But Lewis could be a solution for a power running team for a few seasons while a younger back is groomed to eventually take over. So if Cleveland re-signs him, it's not out of the question that they draft his eventual replacement in 2008 or 2009.

Marion Barber/Dallas Cowboys (RFA) - Barber runs with great patience and vision and he has steadily improved in each of his three seasons of play. But many league personnel executives believe Barber doesn't possess great speed or the ability to make unblocked defenders miss consistently. Barber is best used in a rotation and could probably handle 12-15 touches/game and still be effective.

Others That Could Receive Interest in a Backup Role

Derrick Ward/New York Giants (UFA) - Ward finally got a chance to play last season and did very well before suffering a broken leg. He's a big, downhill runner who surprisingly, on occasion, can make the unblocked defender miss. He has plenty of upside in a No. 2 role.

Julius Jones/Dallas Cowboys (UFA) - Jones had a nice rookie season but he hasn't played close to that level since then. He's a speedy inside runner who can get to the second level but continues to have inconsistent performances. Teams probably see him as a rotational (No. 2) back rather than a starter at this point.

Chris Brown/Tennessee Titans (UFA) - Injuries are often a factor with Brown but when healthy, he's a very solid No. 2 back. He's also capable of starting for a short period of time if needed.

Ron Dayne/Houston Texans (UFA) - He's done a nice job of filling a No. 2 role or spot starter if needed the past two seasons. Dayne should easily be able to compete for a No. 2 role again with most teams that would show interest in him.

Aaron Stecker/New Orleans Saints (UFA) - Stecker had a very productive season in 2007 in most facets of his game. Although he turns 33 next season, he still can fill a No. 2 role for a team.

Michael Bennett/Tampa Bay Buccaneers (UFA) - Much earlier in his career Bennett looked liked he was going to be Minnesota's back of the future. But after a few seasons, that dissipated and the club gave up on him. At this point, he's best used as a chance of pace in a system that can take advantage of his speed and ability to get to the perimeter.

T.J. Duckett/Detroit Lions (UFA) - He's pretty much a short-yardage back at this point in his career.

Jesse Chatman/Miami Dolphins (UFA) - He did a nice job of coming back last season after being out of the league for two years. He's not a bad No. 2 RB.

Vernand Morency/Green Bay Packers (RFA) - He suffered through a nagging knee injury last season which explains his low rushing numbers. If healthy, he offers upside and decent size for a team that is looking for a No. 2 back.

Musa Smith/Baltimore Ravens (UFA) - He has a good burst for a back of his size. He's best used in a No. 2 role.

Mewelde Moore/Minnesota Vikings (UFA) - Teams that are looking for a special teams returner or a change of pace (No. 2) back could be interested in him.

LaBrandon Toefield/Jacksonville Jaguars (UFA) - At one point in college at LSU, Toefield had special talent. But after suffering a serious knee injury, he hasn't been the same. This power back is best used in a No. 3 role.

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