It is just about free agent time in the NFL. In this league of great parity, free agency is a very important part of what goes on in this sport. Just think about the outcome that free agency had on the sport’s biggest stage, the Superbowl. Without the acquisition of Donte Stallworth and Wes Welker, the likelihood of the New England Patriots having the best offense in the history of the NFL is- well, it’s unlikely. Then of course, there was the franchise tagging of Asante Samuel, a move that kept him as the team’s best cornerback and kept him away from the other scavengers that would have loved a crack at them. And if the Superbowl Champion New York Giants don’t sign Kawika Mitchell this past off-season, who knows how vulnerable they are in the running game, especially when you consider how he almost single-handedly stopped Lawrence Maroney in the Superbowl.
But enough about them, onto the running backs of this year’s free agent pool. There will be some key decisions made on these players, and one can be assured that some of them will be feature backs come the start of the 2008 NFL football season.
Michael Turner, UFA, San Diego Chargers – After years of backing up LaDainian Tomlinson, Turner is finally ready to branch out on his own. He has spent the previous 4 years doing mop-up duty for the league’s best back, and yet he has still managed to make a name for himself around the league as potential star running back if given the chance. And speaking of chances, Turner made the most of his 228 attempts in 4 years, by gaining 1,257 yards (4.4 ypa) and 6 touchdowns. Wherever he lands, some offensive coordinator will be very happy, but he won’t get this gif cheap.
Jamal Lewis, UFA, Cleveland Browns – There is no way on Earth that the Browns are going to let their feature back get away to free agency. However, their high need for Jamal Lewis also means that they will have to pay a high price for a back that gained 1,304 yards on 298 carries. He also scored 11 times; helping balance the aerial attack of what was one of the league’s most potent offenses. For those of you who though Lewis would never see a big-time contract again, you couldn’t have been more in the wrong.
Marion Barber, RFA, Dallas Cowboys – Many people argue that Barber should have started. And certainly everyone agrees that if Barber had been given the ball more in a few of those Cowboys’ losses, they might have been playing for the Superbowl. Whatever your opinion is of his situation in Dallas, we know that it didn’t help his status going into free agency. As good as he has proven to be, he has done that without getting a ton of carries, which could harbor is market presence as a feature back. That really hurts him as a restricted free agent, because despite how great he is when he is in the game, no one is going to give up draft picks for a backup running back, which is all Barber has proven to be thus far.
Justin Fargas, UFA, Oakland Raiders – Before going down with a season ending injury, Fargas was making a bid for “Fantasy Wire Pickup Player of the Year.” He came out of nowhere to take over as the Raiders starting running back, and he ended up gaining 1,009 yards on just 222 carries (4.5 ypa). That kind of explosion would have garnered him big bucks this off-season, but that injury may raise questions about his durability issues.
Other Free Agent RBs of Note:
Julius Jones, UFA, Dallas Cowboys
Derrick Ward, RFA, New York Giants