Free Agency: Back-up Running Back Option For the Rams

By stevengerwell

Many fans were not afraid to vocalize their disappointment after the draft last weekend. The team needed a No.2 running-back entering the draft, and they’ve needed one for a while now. And, yet again, the Rams walked away from another draft without a legitimate back-up for Steven Jackson.

Why did General Manager Bill Devaney ignore that need once again?

It’s not that he’s unaware of the team’s need for another running-back. Prior to the draft, he admitted to the media that he’s done a “lousy job” finding a back-up for Jackson.

But if Devaney’s past attempts at finding a running-back are any indication, then it was somewhat predictable that he would look for his guy somewhere other than the draft.

Prior to the start of the 2009 season it was indicated that the Rams wanted to sign Darren Sproles away from the San Diego Chargers, but Sproles eventually decided to stick with his original team and stay in San Diego.

And then there was the drama with Brian Westbrook last summer. The former Eagle had interest from the Rams, the Washington Redskins, the Denver Broncos and the San Francisco 49er’s. Westbrook made his decision into a big ordeal that dragged into mid-August, and he eventually signed with the 49er’s.

You can’t really blame Sproles or Westbrook for ignoring the Rams. Neither expected to win more than two or three games with the team, so it wasn’t exactly an appealing option. But given that the Rams are rising to stardom, missing last season’s play-offs by only one game, they should not have any problem signing a running-back this off-season.

The attempts by Devaney to sign those two backs is also an indication that the Rams are wanting to solve their running-back situation through free-agency, rather than the draft.

So who are their options (assuming that free-agency will eventually open this year)?

1) Darren Sproles (San Diego Chargers)

If the Rams liked Sproles in ’09, then they’ll probably still like him this year. The 27-year-old Sproles is not expected to be retained by the Chargers.

He would be very helpful to the Rams in many ways. He can return kicks, which would allow Danny Amendola to focus on being a wide-receiver. He is also very fast and shifty, which would be a great change of pace from Steven Jackson, who runs like a bulldozer. He is also a dangerous receiver out of the backfield, which is definitely what the Rams need out of their No.2 running-back.

2) Reggie Bush RB (New Orleans Saints)

Bush certainly fits what the team is looking for in a back-up running-back. He has great speed and sharp moves, and he can catch the ball out of the backfield. Not to mention that he is a Super Bowl champion, and the Rams certainly need more players that know how to win.

However, what makes Bush an unlikely candidate is his price tag. He’s never lived up to his status as a No.2 overall draft pick, that’s for sure. But regardless, he is a high profile player with name recognition; and name recognition almost guarantees that some stupid General Manager (Al Davis, Dan Snyder) will pay him a ridiculous amount of money that he doesn’t deserve. He is good, but he’s not worth a bidding war.

Also, his outspoken antics (such as Tweeting ‘It’s been good New Orleans’ after the team drafted Mark Ingram in the first round), may not be welcome on the tight ship that Devaney and Steve Spagnuolo run.

3) Michael Bush RB (Oakland Raiders)

The 245 pound Michael Bush would not be the speedster that the Rams are craving, but he could be extremely valuable nonetheless. He is a solid runner up the middle, which would make him ideal for 3rd and short situations. He can hit his gap with force and speed, and he is a pretty smooth runner overall.

He is not the “change of pace” guy people want, but he is a solid running-back. He can take 5-10 carries a game, and that should be enough to keep Jackson fresh for four quarters, as well as all 16 games.

4) Mike Tolbert RB (San Diego Chargers)

Mike Tolbert, the converted full-back, is also a bruising runner. So again, he’s not Speedy Gonzalez, but he runs with a lot of force. Last season was the first time Tolbert saw considerable playing time, and he made it count. On 182 carries he pounded away for 735 yards and 11 touchdowns.

The “thunder and lightening” approach is what the Rams are looking for, but the “thunder and thunder” method could be beneficial as well. If an offense runs Tolbert and Jackson at a defense all day long, then that defense will be pretty worn out by the fourth quarter. But that strategy would require the Rams to run the ball a lot more than Josh McDaniels is going to allow.

But even if the Rams don’t run the ball enough to benefit from a pair of bruising backs, it would still be nice to have a beastly runner for goal-line situations. Jackson is a tough runner, but he frequently gets stuffed at the goal-line (his touchdown total is further proof of that), although the offensive-line deserves a good portion of the blame.

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