The wait is over in Cleveland. After a two-day visit, the Cleveland Browns have come to terms with top free agent running back Ben Tate. Tate, the former Houston Texans backup, has agreed to a deal that is reportedly incentive-laden, and will enable him to earn his money.
Tate, 25, was mentioned as a top target for the Browns before last season ended, when it was believed that he would garner attention from teams seeking an RB in 2014. This speculation spilled over into the Free Agency period and on Saturday, the Browns nabbed the four-year man out of Auburn. Tate will be the featured back for a team that featured little semblance of a running game and saw virtually no production from the position last season.
After shockingly trading Trent Richardson early in 2013, the Browns turned to aging veteran Willis McGahee. McGahee, along with Chris Ogbonnaya and Edwin Baker, were non-factors on a Cleveland team that found itself trailing throughout the season and having to rely on the passing game early and often.
Unfortunately for Tate, his career has been riddled with injuries. Before his rookie season of 2010, he was placed on Injured Reserve with an ankle injury and didn’t play a snap of regular season football.
In 2011, during Tate’s first full action, he rushed for 942 yards and four touchdowns while earning the third-highest yards per carry average at 5.4. Tate’s 2012 season was once again filled with injuries, including a bum hamstring and foot problems, which allowed him limited action in 11 games. Tate ended the season with 65 carries, totaling 279 yards.
With Texans’ starting running back Arian Foster emerging as a force in the NFL, 2013 was a big year for Tate to show off his ability, in the hopes of landing a starting job elsewhere. Tate saw significant action when Foster required surgery after eight games. Unfortunately for Tate, he had to fight through broken ribs during most of the season, playing in 14 games and rushing for 771 yards and four touchdowns. Tate was then placed on IR for the final two games of the season, ending his tenure in Houston.
Tate’s hard-nosed running style is an area of concern in terms of his durability. His style of play and injury issues ultimately led to the details of his contract being incentive-based, making sense of why it took a few days to complete the deal.
In Kyle Shanahan‘s offense, Tate will assume the role of starting running back. While with the Washington Redskins, Shanahan launched running back Alfred Morris‘ young career — posting 2,888 yards rushing and 20 touchdowns in his first two seasons in the NFL.
The Browns have been one of the most active teams in Free Agency and are poised to make some noise in 2014. The addition of Tate could be exactly what Cleveland’s offense needs in order to create balance in their scheme. Tate has shown flashes of star power in his short career; if he can stay healthy, he could rise to elite status in the league.
Time will tell how competitive this Cleveland team will be, but management is certainly putting the pieces together. Although Cleveland fans are seemingly always waiting for next year, there is the sense the Browns are headed in the right direction. Having Tate in the backfield is a key piece to solving the Browns’ puzzle.