Off-Season 2008: Depth at Running Back

Somebody get this guy some help!

With yesterday's Pro Bowl, the 2007 NFL season has no officially closed. Seemingly by coincidence, the temperature dropped everywhere east of the Mississippi, ushering in the cold, frigid period of the calendar we call "The Off-Season." I'll give the NFL credit: They do a great job of making the off-season a big part of their total package. Events like free agency, trades, cuts, and (of course) the Draft all demand tremendous interest from fans. Hell, the Draft is usually the biggest day for us NFL bloggers. EVERYONE seems to hit our sites that day.

For the Colts, I've already done two articles discussing off-season needs and wants. With this article, we get to a need that many of you tagged as high priority: Quality depth at running back. I wanted to do this article today in light of farris6659's diary on free agents. Of all the off-season areas that need addressing, free agency might offer the best options. But while it may offer the most immediate solution, free agency might not be the best way to get depth. here are the options available:

  • Free agency: As ferris6659 provides for us, there are several high quality RBs that will hit the open free agency market. And, thanks to our old friend Edgerrin James (who might himself be a free agent soon), the price tag for RBs is not what it once was. RBs cannot demand insane free agent salaries as teams have wised up to the notion that youth at RB wins. Still, free agency is a great place to find quality depth, especially this year.

    Forget guys like Marion Barber or Michael Turner. Barber isn't leaving Dallas, and Turner is likely to get overpaid. Someone like Justin Fargas is intriguing, but a team in need of a starter is more likely to go for Fargas. It's players like Derrick Ward and Julius Jones that interest me. Both have split carries with other backs, and both are good at blocking and catching out of the backfield (Ward more so than Jones). TJ Duckett would be an interesting choice, giving Dungy the "Mike Alstott" type player he hasn't had since, well, Mike Alstott. But Duckett can't catch, and is not known for his blocking. Julius Jones and Derrick Ward are the best options.

  • Derrick Ward did well for Eli. How about for Peyton?
    Photo: NY Daily News.com
  • The Draft: The Colts are unrivaled in their uncanny ability to draft great running backs. Since 1994, the Colts have had Marshall Faulk, Edgerrin James, and Joseph Addai carry the load for this club. That's two sure HoFers (yes, Edge is a HoFer) and one rising star. They've also brought in rookie free agents, like Dom Rhodes, who have succeeded. Guys like Kenton Keith have shown flashes, but his extreme screw-up in the playoffs now has me firmly in the ship Kenton out club.

    For the Draft, a player like Missouri's Anthony Aldridge offers intriguing prospects. He isn't big  (5'9, 180) but he can catch, block, and has game-breaking ability. Michigan's Mike Hart is also another interesting player. He seems to have all the physical talents (catching, blocking, running, etc.), and he takes adversity well. Polian loves guys like that. Oregon's Yvenson Bernard is a good receiver, and has had a consistent college career. All three players offer strong depth.

  • Yvenson Bernard might just be a Tom Moore RB.
  • Trade: You can forget about a trade. Bill Polian has never traded for a RB, and the last team to trade for a RB (Washington) really got the shaft in the deal. Champ Bailey is a bigger difference maker than Clinton Portis, who is not better than Ladell Betts. What is possible that certain well-known RBs might get cut by their current, respective teams. Two of these RBs are former (and legendary) Colts: Edgerrin James in Arizona and Dominic Rhodes in Oakland. Edge has run well in Cardinal Land, but his contract is just too much for them as they are massively cap-strapped due to Larry Fitzgerald's yearly pay. And while Edge has run well behind a god awful offensive line, he hasn't justified his contract with them. In Oakland, Dom Rhodes hardly ever got off the bench. He was also suspended four games for peeing himself while in police custody after getting pulled over for speeding and driving drunk. Oakland signed Dom to a two year deal, and cutting him doesn't cost them much.

    The other option is Atlanta's Warrick Dunn, who might have played his last game for the re-building Falcons. Dunn loves Tony Dungy, and at this stage of his career (he's 32), he might want to take a pay cut, play for his old coach, and play for a contender before riding off to retirement. Dunn still has speed, can catch, and is an excellent blocker. He's also a great veteran player, the kind of guy a young team could learn from.

Does Warrick Dunn want to try and win one in Indy before retiring?

Of all these options, I'm intrigued by Warrick Dunn the most. Edge and Dom are great, and I'll take either (or both) back on this team at a reasonable price. But, there's something to say about moving on and bringing in new faces with veteran leadership. Dunn provides that.

As always, if the Colts can find a RB that is also a returning threat, I'm more than happy. Of all the need areas, this one offers the most options. It's likely the Colts will dip into that talent pool rather than rely on guys like Kenton Keith again.

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