After yesterday's look at the impeding free agent quarterbacks (which excluded then-Indianapolis Colt Peyton Manning), we stay in the backfield today and move on the running backs and fullbacks. Of course, the Eagles won't be looking for a starting running back because they already employ one of the best in the league at the position. But there are still job openings that the team will address at some point this offseason.
On The Roster:
RB – 1. LeSean McCoy 2. Dion Lewis 3. Graig Cooper
FB – 1. Stanley Havili
2011 Eagle(s) Hitting The Market: After playing 31 consecutive games as the only fullback on the team's roster, Owen Schmitt is primed to hit free agency. A hard-nosed (and hard-headed) lead blocker who's also good for the occasional hurdle in the open field, Schmitt's role decreased a bit in 2011 as the Eagles opted for more two tight-end formations. While the Eagles like Schmitt, they could also be willing to look for an upgrade at the position. Ronnie Brown, meanwhile, will also hit the open market after his lone season with the Eagles. Brown rushed for 136 yards on 42 carries in 2011 for the Eagles, though he will likely be remembered for his ill-advised pass attempt from the 2-yard line against the San Francisco 49ers.
Adam Caplan's Free Agent Rankings:
RB: 1. Ray Rice (Franchised)
2. Matt Forte (Franchised)
3. Michael Bush
4. Peyton Hillis
5. Cedric Benson
6. Ryan Grant
7. Kahlil Bell (RFA)
8. BenJarvus Green-Ellis
9. Thomas Jones
10. LaDainian Tomlinson
FB: 1. Mike Tolbert
2. Jason Snelling
3. Le'Ron McClain
4. Ahmard Hall
5. Spencer Larsen
Where's The Fit?: It would certainly be unlikely for the Eagles to commit a significant amount of money to a free agent running back with McCoy waiting to continue as one of the best running backs in the league. So you can probably discount the bigger money players, but if the price on a particular player falls, the Eagles could certainly swoop in if the opportunity presents. There are two primary questions that will determine if and who the Eagles covet in free agency at running back. First, how confident is the team that Dion Lewis can take over a true No. 2 running back? Lewis only carried the ball 23 times in his rookie season, 12 of those coming in the season finale, totaling 102 yards. Perhaps a full offseason to work with the coaching and fitness staff will prepare Lewis for an increased role this year. The second question is whether the team would prefer a player of similar skillset to McCoy or if they'd rather import a different option of the hard-charging, downhill variety. If it's the latter, there will be several options available.
At fullback, Stanley Havili is well thought of and will surely be given an opportunity to claim the fullback job for himself, but nothing will be handed to him. Havili spent the entire 2011 season on the practice squad and is more of an athletic fullback who can contribute with the ball in his hands than a polished lead blocker. But he hasn't seen the field since last summer's preseason, so it remains to be seen how much improvement he's accrued after working with running backs coach Ted Williams.
Intriguing Names: Though Caplan ranks him as a fullback, Mike Tolbert has emerged as more of a running back over the past two seasons with the San Diego Chargers and he's already comfortable working in a shared backfield. Over the last two seasons combined, Tolbert has rushed for 1,225 yards on 303 carries (4.0 yards per carry) and has also proven to be a good receiver out of the backfield, totaling 649 yards on 79 receptions during that time. But Tolbert may warrant interest as a potential starting running back elsewhere. Jason Snelling offers versatility at fullback, while Le'Ron McClain is a pure lead blocker, who would only help LeSean McCoy and could do his part to improve the short-yardage and red-zone offense.
After rushing for 1,177 yards in 2010 and outlasting Michael Vick to appear on the cover of Madden, Peyton Hillis dropped off in 2011, playing in only 10 games and rushing for 587 yards on only 3.6 yards per carry. But he would certainly provide the change of pace to McCoy if that's what the Eagles are looking for. Veterans on the wrong side of their prime with starting experience like Ryan Grant and Cedric Benson could be intriguing for the right price, though there may not be too much tread left on their tires. Beyond Caplan's Top 10, Justin Forsett, formerly of the Seattle Seahawks, has had success as a complementary back, rushing for 5.4 and 4.4 yards per carry, respectively, in 2009 and 2010. Finally, as we know the Eagles are likely in the market to improve the return game, LaRod Stephens-Howling could prove a player of interest. Stephens-Howling has three touchdowns to his credit as a kickoff returner (one in 2009 and two in 2010) and led the league in kickoff return yards in 2010.
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