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2005 NFL Free Agents: Running Backs
By: Thomas J Gersey

1. Shaun Alexander, SEA, UFA (1,696 yds, 4.8 ypc, 20 total tds)
The prototypical franchise back. Alexander has size, adequate speed, and superb vision. A slasher with power, this past season cemented him as one of the league's top 3 backs. Any team looking to completely revitalize their franchise would be wise to empty the coffers to secure his services. Only 27, he will command top dollar for at least 7 years. Seattle will have to make a choice, with three premier free agents on the market, and may not be able to afford this superstar.

BEST FITS: Tampa Bay, Oakland, Miami, Carolina, Arizona, San Francisco, Seattle

LIKELY OUTCOME: All of the teams listed have not only a need for a feature back, but for a new face of their franchise from an offensive standpoint. Alexander has recently shown significant interest Tampa and Miami. With James a better fit with the Fins, I wouldnt be the least bit surprised to see Alexander end up with the Pirates of Pewter Pants, where Gruden will make him a perennial rushing title contender.

2. Edgerrin James, IND, UFA (1,548 yds, 4.6 ypc, 9 tot td)
Guess who's back? After two seasons grinding it out on a rebuilt knee, James showed the explosiveness that carried him to two rushing titles in his early years, and re-established himself amongst the premier backs in the game. Powerful and fast, Next year could be the year James reasserts himself as a 1,700 yard back. James is also very well suited for the West Coast passing game, as he has averaged almost 60 receptions per season (not counting his 6 game 2001 season). The most positive statistic is James' ypc of 4.6, which represents the best performance of his career.

BEST FITS: Indianapolis, Miami

LIKELY OUTCOME: Many teams will desire the services of James, but only Indy and Miami will likely get his full attention. It is no secret that the Florida native and Miami alumnus is anxious to return to South Beach. Unless Indy franchises him (a shaky proposition with Manning and Harrison already eating up a majority of the payroll), he will be playing for Nick Saban next season.

3. Lamont Jordan, NYJ, UFA (479 yds, 5.2 ypc, 2 tot td)
5'10, 230 pounds of pure adrenaline, Jordan is a feature back biding his time. As Curtis Martin began to show his age, the prospect of Jordan taking over became more and more imminent. However, with CuMart's resurgence last season, the door to the starting lineup has closed back up a tad for the highly talented former Terp. The Jets are at a crossroads, and must make a decision as to whether or not they can afford to pay Jordan to be a part-timer for at least two more season. At 26, Jordan is entering his prime, and is anxious to become a feature back. He will test the market, and I imagine it will take a substantial investment by the J-E-T-S to keep him in the green and white.

BEST FITS: Philadelphia, Carolina, Tampa Bay, Miami, Arizona, San Francisco, NY Jets, Cleveland, Oakland

LIKELY OUTCOME: Miami and Tampa look like they may lure the top two players to the south. One can only imagine that the bidding war will begin between anyone and everyone with a need at running back. Philly, San Francisco, Carolina and Cleveland would all love to bring in the super talented Jordan to replace the inconsitent starters of 2004, however a team like Oakland, with a glaring need in the backfield is the best candidate to overpay. If faced with the prospect of signing Jordan or trading for the smallish Travis Henry, I imagine Al Davis will break the bank to make Jordan his feature back.

4. Rudi Johnson, CIN, UFA (1,454 yds, 4.0 ypc, 12 tot td)
Johnson exemplifies the idea of the "productive back." He doesn't do it with any flash, or pizazz, but he gets the job done. A grinder in the truest sense of the word, he is the type of dependable player you can plug in at the beginning of the season, and stop worrying about the running back position. However, teams looking to make a large free agent investment will want a difference maker for their money, and Johnson simply doesn't fit the bill. He is a solid player, but will give you the steady performance similar to the one Thomas Jones gave the Bears last season. Considering the Bears are in the market for an upgrade after only one season, that does not bode well for Johnson's prospects on the open market.

BEST FITS: Cincinnati, Seattle, Carolina

LIKELY OUTCOME: The Virginia native and Auburn product may be a nice fit in Carolina, and would be an adequate replacement in Seattle should Alexander jump ship. However, Cincinnati will come up with just enough money to maintain the status quo in the Queen River City and build upon another 8-8 season.

5. Najeh Davenport, GB, RFA (359 yards, 5.1 ypc, 2 tot td)
Very similar to the Jordan situation in New York, Davenport is a back-up ready for bigger and better things. At 6'1, 250 lbs, he carries the power of a fullback, with the breakaway speed to take it the distance (his career long is 76 yards). This season, amidst the injury and production problems of Ahman Green, Davenport ably stepped in. His 19 carry, 178 yard performance at home against St Louis gave a clear indication of his ability to handle full time duties. As a restricted free agent, the Packers have the right to match any offer. However, with Craig Nall also an RFA, and QB a more pressing need, it wouldn't be out of the realm of possibility that the Packers would let him walk. Tony Fisher remains, and is a more than adequate back up to the very productive Ahman Green.

BEST FITS: Green Bay, Carolina, Miami, Cleveland

LIKELY OUTCOME: A former Hurricane, it wouldn't be too far fetched for the Dolphins to seek the cheaper alternative. However, Davenport is also a native of Raleigh, NC and might look very good in the Panther silver and blue. With DeShaun Foster a constant injury risk, and Stephen Davis on the downside of his career, Davenport has the size and speed to step in and replicate the efforts of Davis from day one.

SLEEPER: Jesse Chatman, SD, RFA (392 yds, 6.0 ypc, 3 tot td)
At 5'8, 247 lbs, Jesse Chatman is a "little ball of hate." He has the size typical of his height, but has the upper body strength and leg drive to be an every down back. He gets the short yards, but also has the explosion to hit the home run ball (52 yard long this season). With LaDanian Tomlinson out with groin problems, the Eastern Washington product dropped a C-note on Jacksonville in a home win. Only 25 years old, he is fresh and athletic. He may never be an elite back, but he can certainly be a 1200 yard, 10 td guy consistently.

BEST FITS: San Diego, Houston, Seattle, Arizona

LIKELY OUTCOME: Chatman is a restricted free agent. However, as much as San Diego would love to keep him as an insurance policy for superback LDT, they have already indicated that they will be franchising QB Drew Brees. In addition, they will be in the market for an upgrade at guard and receiver, with expensive prospects on their radar. A Houston native, Chatman would be an ideal player to bring in and compete with Dominick Davis for the starting job, however, if Alexander flees to Tampa as expected, Chatman would make a great fit in Seattle considering his Northwest ties. In the end, San Diego will likely match any offer and keep this premier backup in the gold and blue.

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