Under the normal NFL offseason schedule, free agents would be finding new teams right now. However, with the NFL currently locked out, we don’t know when that free agency signing period will begin. It might resume before or after the draft. When teams are allowed to make free agent signings, this is what the 49ers will be looking at.
Here is a look at the free agents on the market with their previous team. Today we’ll look at the running back and fullback position.
RB Joseph Addai- Indianapolis Colts
FB Deon Anderson- Dallas Cowboys
RB Tiki Barber- Retired (Last played in 2006)
RB Joique Bell- New Orleans Saints
RB Cedric Benson- Cincinnati Bengals
RB Ahmad Bradshaw- New York Giants
RB Curtis Brinkley- San Diego Chargers
RB Andre Brown- Washington Redskins
RB Ronnie Brown- Miami Dolphins
RB Michael Bush- Oakland Raiders
FB Tim Castille- Kansas City Chiefs
RB Thomas Clayton- New England Patriots
RB Kenneth Darby- St. Louis Rams (Restricted free agent)
RB James Davis- Washington Redskins
RB Vanness Emokpae- Free Agent
FB Heath Evans- New Orleans Saints
RB Justin Fargas- Denver Broncos
RB Kevin Faulk- New England Patriots
FB Jerome Felton- Detroit Lions (Exclusive rights free agent)
RB Arian Foster- Houston Texans (Exclusive rights free agent)
RB Quinton Ganther- Buffalo Bills
RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis- New England Patriots (Restricted free agent)
FB Ahmard Hall- Tennessee Titans
RB P.J. Hill- New Orleans Saints
FB Brad Hoover- Carolina Panthers
RB Steven Jackson- St. Louis Rams
RB Larry Johnson- Washington Redskins
RB Julius Jones- New Orleans Saints
FB John Kuhn- Green Bay Packers
FB Billy Latsko- San Diego Chargers
FB Vonta Leach- Houston Texans
RB Brian Leonard- Cincinnati Bengals
FB Marcus Mailei- New Orleans Saints
RB Laurence Maroney- Denver Broncos
FB Reagan Mauia- Arizona Cardinals
FB Le’Ron McClain- Baltimore Ravens
FB Corey McIntyre- Buffalo Bills
FB Jason McKie- Baltimore Ravens
FB Brit Miller- St. Louis Rams
RB Ryan Moats- Minnesota Vikings
RB Mewelde Moore- Pittsburgh Steelers
RB Sammy Morris- New England Patriots
RB Willie Parker UFA- Washington Redskins
RB Adrian N. Peterson- Seattle Seahawks
FB Lousaka Polite- Miami Dolphins
RB Clinton Portis- Washington Redskins
RB Darius Reynaud- New York Giants
FB Mike Sellers- Washington Redskins
RB Chad Simpson- Washington Redskins
RB Clifton Smith- Cleveland Browns
RB Kevin Smith- Detroit Lions
RB Darren Sproles- San Diego Chargers
FB Naufahu Tahi- Minnesota Vikings
RB Fred Taylor- New England Patriots
FB Mike Tolbert- San Diego Chargers (Restricted free agent)
RB Danny Ware- New York Giants
RB Leon Washington- Seattle Seahawks
RB Brian Westbrook- San Francisco 49ers
RB Cadillac Williams- Tampa Bay Buccaneers
RB DeAngelo Williams- Carolina Panthers
FB Eddie Williams- Chicago Bears (Restricted free agent)
RB Ricky Williams- Miami Dolphins
RB Garrett Wolfe- Chicago Bears (Restricted free agent)
RB Dwayne Wright- Pittsburgh Steelers
RB Jason Wright- Arizona Cardinals
RB DeShawn Wynn- New Orleans Saints
RB Albert Young- Minnesota Vikings
** This table is a copy and paste from KFFL.com. “Exclusive rights free agents” means a player has no more than two years experience and any contract offered by previous team must be accepted.
Since this list consists of both running backs and fullbacks, I’ll separate the breakdown.
The 49ers were put in a bad position when Glen Coffee retired unexpectedly during training camp and Michael Robinson was cut last year. They brought in Brian Westbrook but he was used sparingly all season long. Westbrook is a free agent and it appears that his return to San Francisco is very unlikely.
The 49ers have expressed an interest in bringing in a third running back to the mix. Frank Gore will remain as the team’s starter with Anthony Dixon as a backup. Since both runners feature the same one-cut style running, the 49ers will be looking for a more versatile, change of pace running back that can stretch the field.
Finding such a running back in the draft seems to be the best option for the 49ers. They can find one in a later round, pay him less than what a free agent would demand, and they can still work him into the system. A free agent might be too costly for the team.
One of the assets that the 49ers would want in their third-string running back is youth. Looking at this free agent list, there aren’t a lot of young players that fit the mold. Also, the player has to be willing to accept a role as the backup’s backup.
Looking at the list, there are a lot of backs that I have never seen play, which makes it hard for me to assess their skills. One player that I wish the 49ers had given a chance was their 2007 sixth round pick Thomas Clayon. He is currently a free agent and he might have some potential if given the opportunity to play.
Former Raiders running back Michael Bush has always shown flashes with the Raiders and he might also be a player that’s worth a look if the 49ers see fit. Kenneth Darby from St. Louis impressed me when he filled in for the injured Steve Jackson last season.
However, the 49ers look like they will look to the draft for their backup running back. But don’t be surprised down the line if the 49ers do sign a free agent running back to compete for that roster spot late in August.
The 49ers already have their veteran fullback in Moran Norris. However, his playing time diminished a little last year with then rookie tight end Nate Byham filling in for several plays at fullback.
What are the plans for the fullback position in 2011? Will the team use more of Byham? Norris has one more year left in his contract and has been OK since returning to the team in 2009.
Depending on how the new West Coast Offense is constructed, it isn’t likely that the team will try to replace Norris for this year. Norris and running back Frank Gore have developed a strong connection and friendship over the years and it would be very important for the team to try to keep those two together for as long as possible.
Norris turns 33 in June and the team will have to look to find his replacement after the 2011 season if they don’t plan to re-sign him.
If the 49ers do look for a new starting fullback in 2011, I personally think they should try to sign Vonta Leach or Mike Tolbert. I’ve seen both play and both were impressive in 2010. Leach helped pave the way for breakout star Arian Foster while Tolbert showed tremendous blocking and great ability as the Chargers’ emergency running back with Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles hurt.
When the 49ers were in full swing with the West Coast Offense in the 80s, Tom Rathman was a big back that was very versatile out of the backfield. If the 49ers want that kind of a fullback on their team, Le’Ron McClain might be the best fit. He’s strong, he can run and could be a good fit out of the backfield. He has had a lot of experience being a running back, so that part of his game can help the 49ers.
Fullback will be one position I don’t expect the 49ers to change for the 2011 season. But they should be looking ahead for insurance somewhere down the line.