Free Agent Primer: Running backs

Free Agent Primer: Running backs
March 8, 2011, 3:11 pm
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By Tom E. CurranWhen and if the labor situation gets settled, the NFL's free agent shopping period will follow soon after. Who's out there? What do the Patriots need? What do the Patriots have? We'll go position-by-position to bring you up-to-speed. RUNNING BACKStatus Report: The Patriots running game in 2010 wasat its most efficient since the departure of Corey Dillon.New England generated 1,973 yards on the ground (4.3 YPC) and 19 touchdowns, but it was the timeliness and consistency of the contributions that made the Patriots rushing attack take heat off of Tom Brady in 2010.Who They Got: The Patriots got a 1,008-yard season out of hard-running and surehanded BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Classic feature back? Maybe not. But he'll more than do. He's a restricted free agent who's been tendered at a second-round level and is sure to be around.Danny Woodhead was even more of a bonus than Benny. He generated 926 yards from scrimmage, scored sixtouchdowns and is a worthy successor to the great Kevin Faulk. Faulk is a free agent after an injury-marred 2010. Fred Taylor and Sammy Morris are free agents as well. What They Need: Depth behind both BJGE and Woodhead will be essential. Benny's backup probably should be someone more durable than Taylor or Morris at this stage of their careers; Woodhead's backup figures to be Faulk if the Patriots bring him back andthey ought to. He was the team's best back in 2009 and his presence and professionalism is a continued touchstone for the youngPatriots. Ideally, the Patriots would get a 220-plus pounder to complement the other two guys. Who's Out There: Darren Sproles (Chargers), Ricky Williams (Dolphins), Jerious Norwood (Falcons), Ronnie Brown (Dolphins), Cedric Benson (Bengals), Mike Tolbert (Chargers), Tim Hightower (Cardinals), DeAngelo Williams (Panthers), Michael Bush (Raiders), Joseph Addai (Colts). Possible Targets: Norwood, Tolbert, Hightower, Bush, Addai. The explosive Norwood is coming off a torn ACL and injuries are mounting. Still, he's only 28. Tolbert is a RFA and got a second-round tender from San Diego. He's a 243-pound short-yardage force. The 222-pound Hightower is being fazed out in Arizona. He's only 25. Finally, if the Ravens let go of Willis McGahee, his power and short-yardage skill could make him a target in New England.