It's a huge year for free agent running backs. Big names, small names and everything in between: there are over 60 RBs in this year's class.
The Cleveland Browns don't need one.
While third overall draft pick Trent Richardson didn't have an ideal rookie season, he offered 12 reasons to remain at least cautiously optimistic about the position. He finished among the top five in the NFL for rushing touchdowns with 11 and added another TD through the air. Only missing the final week of the season, Richardson started the first 15 games, rushing for 950 yards, a rookie record for the Browns. Later it was learned he may have done the majority of this with two broken ribs.
It goes without saying, but barring any significant injury, Richardson has the position locked up for the next couple years. Cleveland should be eager to see what he can do at full strength with a clean, injury-free slate.
Perhaps even more promising was what 2010 second-round pick and previously injury-prone Montario Hardesty did with his relatively few opportunities last season as the Browns' backup RB. For most of the season, Hardesty did a lot with a little when he came in relief of Richardson. Though, when Richardson sat in the final game against Pittsburgh, Hardesty was shutdown completely along with the rest of the offense as the Browns were forced to start third-string QB Thad Lewis.
Hardesty is under contract for just one more season and is getting paid mere peanuts. He's worth the price as a more than capable backup, but too, needs to remain healthy.
As far as the running back position is concerned, it's not likely to be an exciting free agency period for the Browns. But as part of the Free Agency Talk series, it won't stop us from discussing who's out there:
- Ahmad Bradshaw (FA - 26) – Six-year veteran Ahmad Bradshaw is leading the class. He bounced back last season after a down year in 2011. Though, with the emergence of rookie David Wilson, the New York Giants released Bradshaw.
- Reggie Bush (MIA - 27) – In 2011 Reggie Bush revived his career with the Dolphins after five disappointing years in New Orleans. He kept up a solid pace last season and apparently wants to return to Miami, but the Dolphins may be looking to transition the bulk of the carries to the younger Daniel Thomas.
- Steven Jackson (STL - 29) – Other than occasional injuries, nine-year veteran Steven Jackson has been just about as consistent as you can ask from a running back. He could end up joining a contender such as the Packers.
- Danny Woodhead (NE - 28) – Danny Woodhead is the kind of third-down back the Browns should consider for the right price. Though he doesn't have the total yardage to show for it, he remains a threat on the ground and through the air when the starter has to take a breather. There's a reason Bill Belichick wants him back.
- Rashard Mendenhall (PIT - 25) – Rashard Mendenhall has shown a ton of potential, but the injuries are a major concern. If a running back is able to come back from a torn ACL and continue to play at an elite level, they are the exception not the rule.
- Felix Jones (DAL - 25) – Felix Jones has not yet been able to emerge as a full-time back in five seasons with the Cowboys for a number of reasons, but most recently is coming off the worst average yards per carry of his career at 3.6.
- Shonn Greene (NYJ - 27) – Shonn Greene is a serviceable back and will probably be paid for it.
- Peyton Hillis (KC - 27) – [insert easy CIA joke]
You can check out the Cleveland Browns Free Agency Talk 2013 - QBs here.