It’s been widely speculated for quite some time now that the San Francisco 49ers were going to trade running back LaMichael James. On Wednesday, Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee has reported that the 49ers are officially looking for trade partners for the speedster.
James was a second round pick for the 49ers in 2012 coming out of Oregon. Since joining the 49ers, the only consistent work he’s gotten was as their return man on punts and kickoffs this past season. He did pretty well in that role, averaging nearly 11 yards per punt return. While having moderate success as their return man, he wasn’t afforded many opportunities to show off his skills as a running back. In the 2013 season, he only carried the ball 12 times. With things expected to stay as they are right now, James would also be the fourth running back on the depth chart behind Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter and most likely Marcus Lattimore. So, coming as no surprise to anyone, the running back has told the team he wants a bigger role.
With the 49ers shopping James, what could they expect to get in return? Well, not very much. Although it is too early to label James a bust, he is certainly unproven at the professional level. With draft picks being so important in today’s NFL, teams just aren’t going to trade high draft picks for a guy who couldn’t earn more chances on another team. You might think that since the 49ers used a second round pick on him just two years ago they should get something similar in return. Blaine Gabbert would tell you your logic is flawed. He was taken 10th overall just three years ago, and the 49ers acquired him this offseason for a sixth round pick. The 49ers’ best bet is finding someone they want to trade up in the draft with and throw James into the deal to allow them to move up a few more spots than without him. Otherwise, I would only expect a sixth round pick,or maybe even a seventh.
There was talk earlier in the offseason about who would be the most likely to trade for James if he was traded. The Philadelphia Eagles were a popular choice because of their offensive system and their head coach, Chip Kelly, coached James at Oregon. However, the Eagles just traded for Darren Sproles, who is the same type of running back as James. Another good fit would be the team that just traded Sproles away, the New Orleans Saints. If they can get James in a draft day trade or straight up for sixth or seventh round pick, they would have essentially switched Sproles out for James and added a draft pick in the process.
Another fit is the Houston Texans. Their starting running back, Arian Foster, has been injury prone the past couple of seasons, and they just lost his backup, Ben Tate, in free agency. They also run a zone blocking scheme where a back who can utilize cut back lanes succeed often. James is also from Texas, so Houston might see an opportunity to bring in a hometown guy for cheap.
Where ever James ends up going, he will be running with more purpose than ever before. Just looking at his Twitter account, you can see he already has an enormous chip on his shoulder. When he is able to get a fresh start it will revitalize the young running back. James and all his fans are just hoping he lands somewhere he can utilize his skillset better than he did in San Francisco.