The Bucs need help with the running game.

A Spotlight on Free Agency: Running Backs

The Buccaneers have found what may be their new starter at the running back position.  For the last couple of seasons, they’ve had several different RB starters.  The list includes LeGarrette Blount, Cadillac Williams, Earnest Graham and Michael Pittman. They have not been able to find consistency from a RB for a long time.  Blount may be the answer to their problems.  He’s shown to be durable, tough, and feels he has something to prove to all the teams that passed on his talent during the draft.

This season, the Bucs should invest in another RB to share some reps with Blount, and keep fresh legs on the field.  They do have several other RB’s in Cadillac, Graham, Kregg Lumpkin, Kareem Huggins and Allen Bradford.  Cadillac has suffered two serious knee injuries in his career.  When he returned from these injuries, he did impress with the numbers he managed to record, however, the numbers were only impressive because of what he had recovered from.  Graham had a great season when Cadillac was out from injury, but has failed to make enough of an impression on the coaching staff to be their #1 guy.  He still could be a good option on third downs.  Kregg Lumpkin isn’t bad, but also isn’t great, and is better for depth at the position.  Allen Bradford was drafted because his physical style resembles that of Blount, but he is just a rookie and is yet to prove himself.  I fully respect the Bucs focusing on building around youth, but if they want a legitimate shot at the playoffs, they should start considering adding some real talent that could contribute right from game one.

This year’s free agency has several athletes at the running back position that could really add talent to the Bucs backfield.  We also have to take into consideration that if the Bucs were to sign a RB, they would probably aim for a back that will play behind Blount.  They won’t be looking for a #1 back so that, in my opinion, excludes players like Arian Foster and DeAngelo Williams.  Both would most likely want to be the feature back, which is unlikely to be offered in Tampa.

So let’s focus on the free agents the Bucs actually could pursue if they decide to pursue a running back.  The RB will have to be willing to be the #2 guy, but must also be a high profile back that would demand enough money in a contract to take up some cap space.  My favorite scenario would be for the Bucs to make an offer for Reggie Bush, who is still under contract, but may have over stayed his welcome in New Orleans.  Patrik Nohe has a great article on  how Bush could fit with the Bucs.

Michael Bush could be just what the Bucs need.

So of the free agents, my favorite pick up would have to be the Oakland Raider’s Michael Bush.  Some may argue that Ahmad Bradshaw may be a better option, but his slippery fingers made him slide away from being a feature in this article.  Plus, Bradshaw may not want to be a part of a duo, even though that is exactly what he did with Brandon Jacobs.  Anyways, slippery fingers out of the question.  Michael Bush is a big guy at 6’1, 245 lbs., which keeps the big back theme Coach Raheem Morris favors.  He’s great with his hands and is excellent at finding holes in the defense.  Once the hole is exposed, he punches through, and makes it tough for defenders to bring him down.  The only concern I have with Bush is that he may end up being a restricted free agent if the CBA determines the length of a rookie contract to be 6 years instead of 4.  If that’s the case, it’s doubtful the Raiders would want to get rid of him, but everyone has their price, and the Bucs have plenty of cap space to fill and may spend the money.  He did injure his leg before his rookie season of ‘07, but hasn’t shown any indications of being affected by the injury in his return.

Tim Hightower could be a great third down back.

Arizona’s Tim Hightower’s numbers have had a slow decline over the past three seasons and so he should be comfortable being a third down back.  He’s not the strongest or fastest back, but has a fair combination of both attributes.  There are concerns with him holding onto the ball and not being as good a pass blocker as commonly projected, but if he’s used as a third down back, those odds should even out a bit.

Miami’s Ronnie Brown hasn’t recorded amazing numbers for a RB, but that could be because of commonly being used as a QB in the Dolphin’s wildcat offense.  Because of his lack of production, he may not demand such a big contract, but still could be worth the investment.  He may also want to stay in the Florida area, and play alongside former college teammate, Cadillac Williams.

There are several other backs that could have been listed like Packer’s Brandon Jackson, Dolphin’s Ricky Williams, Saint’s Pierre Thomas and Eagle’s Jerome Harrison, but I personally didn’t see them fit due to lack of production and health issues.  Of the final names listed, Jerome Harrison stands out the most.  He hasn’t been used much with the Eagles, so he should be in fairly good condition if signed.  There are also some undrafted free agents they could target, but may be viewed as unwise if they are aiming to be a legitimate playoff contender. Then again, Blount was an undrafted rookie.

The Bucs really should consider some help at running back.  If they do decide to sign another back, they could surprise everyone and grab one of the bigger names and find a way to create a one-two punch with Blount.  I look forward to seeing what the Bucs decide.

 

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