With the festivities of the Super Bowl over and done, and the offseason officially started around the league, it’s now time for every team to begin focusing their time and efforts on upgrading their rosters, re-signing their own free agents to keep them off the market, franchising players. Basically, the real work has begun. The free agency signing period begins in the wee hours of March third.
The Carolina Panthers have this idea – to look more like the Pittsburgh Steelers. That means they want to be more physical. If this is to become a reality, the first step for the team is to take a long hard look at the free agents available around the league. And what better place to start than running back?
Since the season ended there has been a lot of talk around Charlotte about adding a punishing running back, a player who has the ability to hand out the bruises rather than take the bruises. DeAngelo Williams is the likely starter at this point and really doesn’t fit that bill though he is a capable NFL runner.
If it’s free agency where the team will find this punisher, we need to take a close look at who is available.
Michael Turner, San Diego Chargers : Turner would have to be considered the biggest, if not one of the top three, free agents set to hit the market. Big enough to take the punishment, he has still languished behind LaDainian Tomlinson and has yet to have the opportunity to prove he can handle the rigors of being the everyday starter in the NFL. Yet, even as a backup, he has two career runs of over 70 yards including an 85-yard TD run two seasons ago. He appears to be the real deal with strength and enough speed. Also, further enhancing his value, Turner saw much of the action for the Chargers during the playoffs with Tomlinson’s injury limiting his play. Honestly, if there is one guy the Panthers would like to have, it may be Turner but the pricetag will almost definitely be too steep.
Jamal Lewis, Cleveland Browns : After his legal troubles a couple of years ago, it looked like Lewis may never regain his form that made him a 2000-yard back with Baltimore in 2003. It was last season with Cleveland that he started to return to that form as he put up 1176 yards and nine TD’s and added 247 receiving yards while also contributing a 216-yard game in week two. Lewis is 28 years old and has 8 seasons in the NFL. After that much of a pounding, many teams may shy away. He could be staying in Cleveland.
Julius Jones, Dallas Cowboys : Jones’ name keeps getting thrown around as a result of rumors regarding a deal the Cowboys are intersted in making for the number one pick in the draft. That could take him off the market as the team may be intersted in keeping him as a backup should they land their prized draft pick in Darren McFadden. The team may have to deal starter Marion Barber III to make the trade which could make Jones a valuable backup. It’s unlikely he stays in Dallas because of inconsistency. He does have a 1000-yard season to his credit but gained only 581 this past year. His work ethic came into question when Bill Parcells was in Dallas and wound up in the dog house. Jones just doesn’t fit that punishing mold the Panthers are looking for and will almost definitely wind up with someone other than Carolina.
Justin Fargas, Oakland Raiders : Lane Kiffin, the Raiders’ head coach, has said he wants to keep Fargas around. He’s been a valuable backup to Lamont Jordan, stepping in after Jordan went down last season and posting better than 1000 yards and 4 TD’s. Fargas is likely to stay with the Raiders but could get enough interest from other teams to cause him to want to test the waters of free agency. It would be unlikely that the Panthers would make him a priority.
Chris Brown, Tennessee Titans : He started off the ’07 season with a 175-yard rushing performance and, like much of his young career, he was slowed by injuries. His upright running style has caused him to take a lot of shots but it’s been something he’s worked on. Yet, despite the promise he has shown, he still remains behind LenDale White on the Titans’ depth chart. If Brown leaves Tennessee he will likely be a backup wherever he goes. He’s not the type of runner the Panthers would be looking for.
Other unrestricted free agents : T.J. Duckett (Det), Maurice Hicks (SF), Travis Minor (Stl)
Key restricted free agents : Marion Barber III (Dal), Derrick Ward (NYG), Cedric Cobbs (Den)
For a complete list of available players, visit our Free Agents Page.
If the “Carolina Steelers” are to take shape on offense it will be at running back or along the offensive line. And the group of potential available running backs is not terribly strong with the exception of Turner who will almost definitely demand more money than the Panthers have to spend.
The team’s focus on becoming more physical will impact everything they do in the offseason, particularly in free agency. If the team doesn’t go after a running back watch for them to make a push for an offensive tackle, a big team need. That’s where we’ll be looking tomorrow – the offensive line. Stay tuned!