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Arizona Cardinals Hang the Help Wanted Sign: A Look at Veteran Running Backs

The Arizona Cardinals running game struggled to say the least in 2008 and they finished the regular season as the worst unit in the entire NFL. To worsen matters they've allowed their third string and change of pace back to leave via free agency with the expectation to release their on-again-off-again starter Edgerrin James at any time. With two holes on the depth chart and the only remaining back, Tim Hightower entering his second season, it's unlikely that the Redbirds will wait until the draft to address the need at running back. That leaves them scouring the free agent market for a veteran back who can replace Edge's production while receiving a considerably lower salary. Luckily for the Cardinals there have been a handful of veteran running backs to hit the free agent market this off season and there are still several noticeable names on the market. Are they worth bringing in and do they have anything left in the tank?

We take a look after the jump.....

(Backs listed alphabetically)

Tatum Bell

#21 / Denver Broncos



Mar 02, 1981

Rushing Receiving
G Rush Yds Y/G Avg Lng TD Rec Yds Y/G Avg Lng TD
2008 - Tatum Bell 6 44 249 41.5 5.7 37 2 10 57 9.5 5.7 12 0

Bell is the youngest option on the list but that doesn't mean he's necessarily the best option. One thing working in his favor is his production though as he's averaged 4.9 yards per carry during his five year career and last season he averaged a career best 5.7 yards per carry. Of course he was selling cell phones at the mall before the Broncos called him. So why is he still unsigned and why did the Broncos sign three other running backs instead of bringing him back?

Bell has some off the field issues and most think he's vastly underachieved given his abilities (which tells you something about his physical talent). While Bell might have the most upside of any of these backs, he's also the most unpredictable. He'll likely come very cheap, considering that he was out of football until Denver called midway through the season, but there's also no guarantee that he'll come motivated or in-shape. He also wouldn't offer anything to Hightower in terms of a mentor, but his slash and dash running style would be nice compliment and he's a decent receiver out of the backfield.

Bottom Line: Plenty of upside but some risk involved and his contributions will be limited to between the stripes.

Warrick Dunn

#28 / Tampa Bay Buccaneers



Jan 05, 1975

Rushing Receiving
G Rush Yds Y/G Avg Lng TD Rec Yds Y/G Avg Lng TD
2008 - Warrick Dunn 15 186 786 52.4 4.2 40 2 47 330 22.0 7.0 36 0

Dunn is the eldest of the current free agent backs, but that hasn't stopped him from remaining productive. His 2008 campaign was his most efficient since 2005 he's totaled over 1,000 combined yards (rushing and receiving) in every single season of his 13 year career. He's also a high quality individual who would be a valuable asset in the locker room and despite being questioned about his lack for size for most of his career, he's missed just 11 games in 13 seasons. The only question with Dunn is how much does he have left in the tank?

Most will say that Dunn has lost a step and isn't a starter anymore and they're probably right, but he could still fill a role for the Cardinals. Dunn has always been tough to bring down and a much tougher runner than his diminutive size would suggest. He's at his best when in space and could still be threat out of the backfield. Dunn could fill the void left by Arrington and is one of the most respected veterans in the league. He'd be a solid locker room presence and there isn't a better back for Hightower to learn from.

Bottom Line: Sign Dunn and you get a guy who can still play and half a coach.

Deuce McAllister

#26 / New Orleans Saints



Dec 27, 1978

Rushing Receiving
G Rush Yds Y/G Avg Lng TD Rec Yds Y/G Avg Lng TD
2008 - Deuce McAllister 13 107 418 32.2 3.9 19 5 18 128 9.8 7.1 20 1

We've looked at the youngest and oldest and now Deuce represents the guy with the most question marks. He's undoubtedly a power back who was capable of being a workhorse, but at this point in his career his knees could put him on the brink of retirement. He's torn both ACL (right knee in 2005 and left knee in 2007) and he hasn't played a full season since 2003. McAllister wouldn't be the change of pace back that Bell or Dunn would provide, but his running style is similar to Hightower which could help develop the promising youngster. The question remains though, can his knees hold up for another season?

When I think of Deuce I picture that catcher from the movie Major League (Jake something or other), you know when he's on the plane icing his knees after each game. The good news is that Deuce might have a couple more years in those legs if he can play a limited role, which the Cardinals would probably prefer. If he's asked to start or become a workhorse back though, it could end up being a massive failure. Just three times in 2008 did he carry the ball more than 10 times in a game and each time he was unproductive in the following game.

Bottom Line: Injuries are a huge concern but at the right price and limited role he could be very productive.

Dominic Rhodes

#38 / Indianapolis Colts



Jan 17, 1979

Rushing Receiving
G Rush Yds Y/G Avg Lng TD Rec Yds Y/G Avg Lng TD
2008 - Dominic Rhodes 16 152 538 33.6 3.5 38 6 45 302 18.9 6.7 29 3

Now before you completely dismiss Rhodes as a spare or career nobody, consider that he's a career backup who wouldn't carry much of a cap hit. He's also an accomplished receiver out of the backfield (45 receptions last year) and has plenty of experience protecting an immobile quarterback. He's only started 33 games in nine seasons so he won't be whining about playing time or lack of touches. He's a role player who doesn't hurt his team's chances of winning.

Bottom Line: He's not a sexy name but there's very little risk in signing him.


Now it's your turn so put on your Rod Graves mask and step into the GM's office. Who would you sign and what would your offer be? Any other guys your interested in that we didn't mention (ie Ahman Green, Rudi Johnson, Ron Dayne)?