Future Free Agents: Running Backs

With Chester Taylor as their workhorse running back, the Vikings aren't expected to make a splash in free agency at that position, but they could be interested in a backup if Artose Pinner isn't re-signed, and most of the candidates on this extensive list fall into the backup category. We examine the crop of nearly 30 available running backs.

After signing running back Chester Taylor to a four-year, $14.1 million contract last March and making him their workhorse back, the Vikings aren't expected to backtrack on that decision and start bringing in competition for him.

Taylor performed admirably in a challenging offensive season for the Vikings, his first as a full-time featured running back. He finished the season with 291 carries for 1,185 yards and proved he can be effective as a receiver out of the backfield as well, catching 41 passes for 284 yards.

Behind him, there are questions across the board. Artose Pinner was signed just before the season began and was used sparingly except for one game he got to start against his old team, the Detroit Lions. With Taylor on the bench with an injury, Pinner rushed 29 times for 125 yards and three touchdowns in that game. But with Taylor back on the field for the season's final two games, Pinner combined for only three carries those last two contests.

Now Pinner is a restricted free agent. He told Viking Update he would like to return, but he would also like to have more opportunities to carry the ball as a backup to Taylor.

Behind Pinner are more unknowns.

Mewelde Moore has proved elusive when given the chance as a runner and receiver out the backfield, but being tough enough to stay in the graces of his coaches has been elusive for him. He didn't have a game in 2006 where he rushed more than three times, but he did have five games where he caught five passes as a third-down back.

And then there is Ciatrick Fason, who only had 18 rushes in 2006, but 11 of those came in a game against Chicago, where he rushed for 75 yards and a touchdown but was limited the following week when Pinner broke out for 125 yards.

If the Vikings learned anything from the two Super Bowl teams this year, it is that having two share-the-load running backs isn't always a bad thing. Taylor wore down by midseason, but when he was available to play the coaching staff ran him hard. Pinner (if re-signed), Moore and Fason all have a chance to be solid No. 2 backs, but they haven't been afforded that opportunity just yet.

The free-agent class isn't pretty, but here are some of the top options that will be available if unsigned by March 2.

Chris Brown, Tennessee Titans – After a 1,067-yard rushing season in 2004, Chris Brown appeared to be on his way to more 1,000-yard seasons. But after a 851-yard performance in 2005, his numbers declined to 156 yards in 2006 after starting three games and playing in two more. The Titans aren't expected to re-sign him.

Correll Buckhalter, Philadelphia Eagles – Buckhalter has been in the league six seasons, but he's only played in three of those years, as injuries have wracked and wrecked his once-promising career. He had 586 yards rushing as a rookie in 2001 and 542 in 2003. He returned in 2006 after two seasons on the sidelines for 345 yards rushing.

Ahman Green, Green Bay Packers – Green proved that he can still be a 1,000-yard rusher in 2006 – his sixth season doing it in the last seven years – but after 1,871 carries over the course of his nine-year career, the question is how much tread he has left on the tire. Although he missed 11 games in 2005, he has proven to be durable and a solid pass-catcher out of the backfield as well.

Dominic Rhodes, Indianapolis Colts – Rhodes rejuvenated his career in Indianapolis with the departure of Edgerrin James, but the Colts have a young hotshot in Joseph Addai who got more work than Rhodes and became a starter in the playoffs. Addai rushed 266 times for 1,081 yards in the regular season, while Rhodes started every game and rushed 187 times for 641 yards. Rhodes probably isn't a workhorse back, but he could pass the test in a two-back system like Indianapolis employed in 2006. His future employer is far from certain.

Michael Turner, San Diego Chargers – Despite not being a starter and being a restricted free agent, there are expected to be plenty of rumors in the next month regarding Turner. He is thought to be of one of the league hottest backups who only needs to get out from under the shadow of LaDainian Tomlinson in order to succeed as a starter. The Chargers will certainly tender him a high offer, but they might hope to garner at least one first-round draft pick or more, or trade him after signing him. In limited action in his first three years in the league, Turner has averaged 5.2 yards or better each season. Scout.com first reported the New York Jets' interest in acquiring Turner, and there are likely more teams to follow.

OTHER FREE-AGENT RUNNING BACKS

Dee Brown, Kansas City Chiefs
Aveion Cason, Detroit Lions
Najeh Davenport, Pittsburgh Steelers
Stephen Davis, St. Louis Rams
Ron Dayne, Houston Texans
T.J. Duckett, Washington Redskins (not expected back)
Joe Echema, Oakland Raiders (restricted, formerly Adimchinobe Echemandu)
Tony Fisher, St. Louis Rams
Arlen Harris, Detroit Lions
Maurice Hicks, San Francisco 49ers (restricted)
Vonta Leach, Houston Texans (restricted)
Reno Mahe, Philadelphia Eagles
Travis Minor, Miami Dolphins
Josh Parry, Seattle Seahawks (restricted)
Artose Pinner, Minnesota Vikings (restricted)
Dominic Rhodes, Indianapolis Colts
Jamal Robertson, Atlanta Falcons
B.J. Sams, Baltimore Ravens (restricted)
Josh Scobey, Seattle Seahawks
Marcel Shipp, Arizona Cardinals
Musa Smith, Baltimore Ravens
Anthony Thomas, Buffalo Bills
LaBrandon Toefield, Jacksonville Jaguars
Derrick Ward, New York Giants (restricted)
Kenny Watson, Cincinnati Bengals
Shaud Williams, Buffalo Bills (restricted)

Viking Update Top Stories