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Alexander and the Edge


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Nobody's running after pricey star running backs

March 23, 2005

By Clark Judge

SportsLine.com Senior Writer

KAPALUA, Hawaii -- There was a lot of talk at the NFL owners' meetings this week about safety issues, rules changes and Super Bowls, but there was almost none about running backs.

Shaun Alexander owns four 1,000-plus-yard rushing seasons. (Getty Images)

I don't mean just any running backs. I mean Seattle's Shaun Alexander and the Colts' Edgerrin James, both of whom were designated as their team's franchise players and both of whom are available for the right price.

But that's the problem: Just what is the right price?

It's clear from the inactivity that it's more than people are willing to pay. It is believed both backs are interested in contracts similar to the eight-year, $60 million deal signed by San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson a year ago -- one that included $21 million in guarantees -- and you won't find many, if any, teams willing to discuss that kind of payout along with the sacrifice of a high draft choice just for the pleasure of doing business.

"I think they're available," said Arizona coach Dennis Green, "but then you ask: At what price? The price is a draft pick and signing bonus. Being available and being available at a certain price are two different things."

The Cardinals would figure to be one of those clubs interested in either Alexander or James, but Green said he's not. The Tampa Bay Bucs would figure to be interested in either of them, too, but they're not biting. Neither is Miami, and if you sense a trend here, you're warm.

It's not that James or Alexander couldn't make them better clubs. Hey, James was an All-Pro, rushing for 1,548 yards, and Alexander scored a league-high 20 touchdowns and finished a yard behind NFL rushing leader Curtis Martin. So, they make anyone better.

But this is not about performance. It's about performance at a cost, and the cost is prohibitive from where those three clubs sit. One of the reasons is the money. Another is the sacrifice of draft picks. But there's a third element that's involved here, and it has nothing to do with Alexander or James and everything to do with timing.

In short, this is not the year you want to try to make big money as a veteran running back. The draft is deep at the position, with three players -- Cedric Benson, Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown -- almost certain to disappear within the first 10 choices.

Now let's look at our needy shoppers. Arizona has the eighth pick of the draft; Tampa has the fifth; and Miami has the second. Those clubs don't need to trade for help; it's waiting for them on April 23-24.

"Not very many people want to give up draft picks anymore," said Green. "Then, you have to be assured of the kind of contract it's going to take. You have to have the cap room. There are a lot of dynamics that have to be in place when you start talking about franchise players. Most of the time, franchise players stay where they are."

James and Alexander are premier backs available to the highest bidder -- only there hasn't been a bidder. So you look at what else is out there, and you find Buffalo's Travis Henry, who vowed never to return to the Bills. That's fine, except Buffalo must first find a motivated shopper, and team sources said the only club to express serious interest was Arizona.

But its offer of offensive lineman L.J. Shelton fell short, and the Bills haven't heard much on the Henry front for weeks. Which takes us back to James and Alexander and a market that isn't there.

"I'm a little surprised there hasn't been more interest," said Seattle coach Mike Holmgren, "but guys are preparing for the draft right now. They're really going that way so they think: OK, let's take care of this and see where we are, and then maybe. But the fact that both are available kind of changed the market."

It's hard to ignore the facts with either of them, and the facts are that there are few backs who are better. Alexander, who turns 28 in August, produced four consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and hasn't had fewer than 16 touchdowns in any of the past four years; James, who recovered from a 2001 knee injury, produced 1,000 yards rushing the past two seasons and had a career-best average of 4.6 yards last year.

Yet the cost of acquiring them make Alexander and James subjects still waiting to be addressed.

"It's somewhat surprising that there's not more play for these guys," said Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden. "Who knows? There might be some play going on that we know about. But it's a harder move to make than people realize.

"I'd love to have either one of those guys, but I'm just coaching. If you're telling me I could have one of those guys in a second, hey, let's get both of them. But Dennis is right. You look at the Ritz-Carlton here (site of this week's meetings), and it's available. So stay here for a month. But if you want to stay at the Ritz, you have to pay a price."

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i think its the fact running backs can be taken in the draft so easily

That, and their careers can be ended by injury equally as easily. Bo Jackson looked to be the class of the league for many years to come until he was tackled against the Bengals. One play. Career done.

Bo knows street shoes. He's wore them when he had to walk away from football.

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That, and their careers can be ended by injury equally as easily. Bo Jackson looked to be the class of the league for many years to come until he was tackled against the Bengals. One play. Career done.

or Chris Perry?

I don't consider any single injury of Perry's, either currently or in the past "career threatening." If those types of injuries consistently keep happening, that in itself would threaten his career and confirm the whispers of fragility. Let's hope once he get's healthy, he can stay that way. For at least one season anyway.

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