A Look Inside Free Agency-Running Backs

The free agency landscape could be a lot different if the NFL and NFLPA can't reach a new CBA by March 5. Because of that, some of the top running backs may not become unrestricted free agents.

Running Backs Who Should Get Starter Consideration

1) Pierre Thomas/New Orleans Saints

Status: Restricted Free Agent

Possible Suitors: New Orleans Saints

Most Likely Destination: New Orleans Saints

Comments: Thomas is an interesting story.

The Saints signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2007. He competed against fourth-round pick Antonio Pittman for the final roster spot at running back. Thomas wound up winning that job, but his role increased as the season progressed. Veteran RB Deuce McAllister missed 13 games and Reggie Bush also missed four games due to injury. Thomas only had 69 touches in that season, but you could see his talent.

Over the past two seasons, Thomas has led the team in rushing and his importance to the team has grown. He posted a career-high 186 touches last season along with career highs in rushing and receiving yardage.

The expectation is that he'll yield at least a first-round tender from the Saints. The salary for three-year restricted free agents is $2.396 million. Should they decide to use a first-round and third-round tender on Thomas, he would earn a salary of $3.043 million.

The bottom line is that Thomas' versatility to the Saints' offense is way too important to lose.

2) Leon Washington/New York Jets

Status: Restricted Free Agent

Possible Suitors: New York Jets

Most Likely Destination: New York Jets

Comments: Unfortunately for Washington, he suffered a gruesome broken right leg during the team's October 25 game at the Oakland Raiders. Washington missed the rest of the season and is still rehabbing the injury.

It's believed Washington turned down at least a few contract offers before he got hurt, so he has no leverage at this point based on the fact that he's coming back from a serious injury.

The diminutive, but speedy back has been an important part of the Jets' offense since he was drafted in 2006. He's posted a career 4.8 rush per carry average and has been very effective in their passing game. The jack of all trades has also been an effective special teams returner.

The Jets could chose to tender him at a second-round level at $1.759 million, but he could attract significant interest from other teams at that level. A first-round tender of $2.521 million would probably be enough to scare off other suitors.

The Jets need Washington's speed as a complement to power backs such as Shonn Greene and Thomas Jones, so look for them to do what they can to keep him.

3) Chester Taylor/Minnesota Vikings

Status: Unrestricted Free Agent

Possible Suitors: Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns, Kansas City Chiefs, Minnesota Vikings, Philadelphia Eagles, San Diego Chargers, St. Louis Rams

Most Likely Destination: Open

Comments: Teams generally don't have much interest in 31-year old backs (he turns 31 on 9/22), but Taylor will likely be viewed by personnel evaluators in a different light.

Taylor, over his eight years of play, only has one season in which he carried the ball over 200 times (2006). Durability also hasn't been an issue (he has only missed three games over the past four seasons). He's known as a solid third down back and pass protects well. He has also been a good short-yardage back.

It's very possible that a team offers him a short-term deal to be a starter or a good enough role for him to gain significant playing time.

The Vikings really need to make an effort to re-sign him as they no other viable options to replace his role from their current roster.

The Ravens, who drafted Taylor, could need a veteran back for depth purposes if they cut aging RB Willis McGahee.

The Browns, who cut veteran RB Jamal Lewis, also could be looking for a veteran back to replace him.

The Chiefs need a power back to go along with the speedy Jamaal Charles.

With the likelihood that the Eagles don't bring back veteran RB Brian Westbrook next season, Taylor could replace his roles on third down and in short-yardage.

The Chargers are expected to release veteran RB LaDainian Tomlinson soon, so they would be really hurting at the position. Taylor could be a short-term solution as a starter.

The Rams need a veteran backup to starter Steven Jackson. Samkon Gado and Ken Darby weren't impressive enough last season in back of Jackson.

4) Darren Sproles/San Diego Chargers

Status: Restricted Free Agent

Possible Suitors: San Diego Chargers, San Francisco 49ers, St. Louis Rams, Washington Redskins

Most Likely Destination: Open

Comments: Sproles, like so many free agents, will be restricted unless a new CBA can be reached by early March.

Sproles is a unique talent. He fits in as a change of pace back, but is also a dangerous special teams returner. He also proved to be an outstanding weapon in San Diego's passing game the past two seasons with nine TD catches to go along with an 11.4 receiving average.

The problem the Chargers have to deal with is Sproles must get at least a 10 percent increase (or 110 percent of last year's salary) over last year's $6.621 million base salary unless they tender him at the lowest level ($1.226 million). Should they do that, they wouldn't be entitled to any compensation in return if they declined to match the other team's offersheet. If they tender him at any other level, he would earn a salary of $7.2831 million. He would earn a guaranteed salary of $7.9452 million if he's named as their "franchise" player once again in 2010. The best way to bring him back would be to sign him to a long-term deal.

There's a realistic possibility that Sproles isn't re-signed because of the complexities of re-signing him. If that transpires, he probably would receive significant interest elsewhere.

San Francisco could really use a change of pace back plus it's not a secret that they are looking to upgrade their special teams returns.

The Rams not only need speed at running back of starter Steven Jackson, but they could also use speed on special teams returns. Danny Amendola did a nice job last season, but he doesn't possess the speed of Sproles.

The Redskins are also another team that could use some speed at running back to go along with a boost on special teams returns.

5) Carnell Williams/Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Status: Restricted Free Agent

Possible Suitors: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Most Likely Destination: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Comments: Williams' final season on his rookie deal will void, sources said based on him meeting minimum playing time requirements. Unfortunately, that will still make him a restricted free agent if a new CBA isn't completed by March 5.

Williams is one of the most remarkable stories in the NFL in recent years considering how he's been able to come back after suffering a series of serious knee injuries.

He still hasn't shown good enough durability to use anything higher than a second-round tender on him, but he's shown that he can be part of a two-man backfield.

6) LenDale White/Tennessee Titans

Status: Restricted Free Agent

Possible Suitors: Tennessee Titans

Most Likely Destination: Unknown.

Comments: Because he only has five accrued seasons of play, White will be a restricted free agent this year, assuming no new CBA is reached.

It was just two seasons ago that White led the NFL in rushing touchdowns with 15. But with Chris Johnson's emergence in 2009, White's role was significantly reduced. He went from 200 carries in 2008, to just 64 in 2009. He also only scored twice last season.

It's not certain that the Titans will even tender White because of his decreased role last season. The team is also said to be high on fifth-round pick Javon Ringer.

If he's not brought back, White offers a team a role as solid power back in a No. 2 role.

Others Who Could Find Interest For Backup Purposes

Jerome Harrison/Cleveland Browns/RFA - He went from not having a role through three years of play to posting 561 yards on the ground over his final three games from last season. Harrison really was drafted with the thought that he could be a change of pace, but last season he proved he could be a power runner with 106 carries over those last three games. Depending on what level the Browns tender him, Harrison could receive quite a bit of interest in March.

Willie Parker/Pittsburgh Steelers/UFA - He turns 30 in November. Parker has seen his better days, but he certainly could offer a team a solid backup role with 7-10 carries/game.

Kevin Faulk/New England Patriots/UFA - Faulk is one of the NFL's most versatile backs. While he turns 34 in June, Faulk still looks to have a few good productive years left as a third down/change of pace back.

Larry Johnson/Cincinnati Bengals/UFA - His better days are clearly behind him, but Johnson could offer a team that uses a power running game good depth at the position.

Jason Snelling/Atlanta Falcons/RFA - He went into last season as the backup fullback, but ended it as their top backup running back. Snelling has now become an integral part of Atlanta's running game. Should they tender him at his original draft round, he could receive significant interest from other teams. However, he'll likely yield a second-round tender based on his increased role.

Jerious Norwood/Atlanta Falcons/RFA - Norwood's injury problems from last season opened the door up for Snelling. Norwood, however, offers the Falcons badly needed speed at the running back position, so they probably will try to keep him another year.

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