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Free agency preview: Ben Tate ready to emerge out of Arian Foster's shadow

Anwar S. Richardson
Shutdown Corner

NFL free agency will begin on Tuesday, and many teams will attempt to improve by signing veteran players. The most active teams in free agency are usually those that previously whiffed during the NFL draft, others are simply filling holes, while some squads just want depth. If a team is not willing to enter a bidding war during free agency, that squad will shift its attention to the NFL draft.

Here is Shutdown Corner’s breakdown of the free-agent running backs: 

Market Watch: There will be plenty of “good” running backs available when free agency begins. However, any team in need of a franchise running back better focus on the wealth of quality ball carriers in the upcoming NFL draft.

Last year, Steven Jackson and Reggie Bush were the best options in free agency. Jackson signed with Atlanta, while Bush landed in Detroit. Neither led their team to the playoffs in 2013, but Bush had an instant impact with the Lions. Jackson had 543 rushing yards and six touchdowns with the Falcons, turns 31 years old in July, and his best years appear over.

The lack of premier running backs is not a bad thing. Teams have the luxury of signing a quality player in free agency and adding more depth at the position during the draft (Oakland, are you listening?). The majority of free-agent running backs are young, which is another positive in committee situations.

Top Attraction: Ben Tate, Texans

Tate is ready to leave Houston, and it is hard to blame him.

Arian Foster is Houston’s workhorse, and Tate needed an injury to Houston’s starter to get significant playing time. Tate earned $630,000 last season, but will likely double that annual amount (at least) in free agency. In addition, Tate is 25 years old, and his prime years are ahead of him. That is enough to entice several teams to pursue him.

During Tate’s three-year career, he has compiled 1,992 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns. The more impressive number is Tate’s 4.7 yards per carry. By the way, Tate’s 40-yard dash time at the NFL scouting combine was 4.43 seconds, which makes him more than a bruiser.

Tate would be a great fit in Cleveland or St. Louis. Both teams need a workhorse running back. Cleveland has two first-round picks, but the Browns could sign Tate and use their early picks to address their offensive line deficiencies. As Yahoo’s Eric Edholm recently pointed out, NFL teams are more willing to wait until the second round to draft a running back than in previous years. That formula worked well for Cincinnati (Giovani Bernard), Pittsburgh (Le’Veon Bell), Denver (Montee Ball) and Green Bay (Eddie Lacy) in 2013.

Another good fit for Tate is the New York Giants. The Giants allowed Ahmad Bradshaw to walk away last season, while Andre Brown is a free agent this year. David Wilson, who was benched after fumbling twice against Dallas last season, is recovering from neck surgery. Tate’s presence could solidify New York’s unstable backfield.

Buyer Beware: Darren McFadden, Raiders
Ignore every offseason story you might read about McFadden. Somebody will try to convince you this is the year McFadden will be healthy. They will blame his lack of productivity on Oakland’s offensive line. You will be told McFadden was Oakland’s only weapon, and that should explain his struggles, as if Adrian Peterson has been lining up with Pro Bowlers throughout his career. There will be a list of excuses longer than the teenager who has to explain why he missed curfew.

Do not believe any of it.

Bottom line, McFadden was once poised to become an elite running back, but those days are over. McFadden averaged 3.3 yards per carry last season, he cannot stay healthy, and he is backup. If Oakland is ready to part ways with McFadden, that is all you need to know.

Frugal Addition: Donald Brown, Colts
Indianapolis gave up a first-round pick to acquire Trent Richardson last season. Richardson was expected to lead the Colts’ running attack. Brown was supposed to fade into the sunset.
Richardson was a dud, but Brown’s response is why he deserves a shot on another team.
Brown finished with 537 rushing yards and six touchdowns, plus averaged 5.3 yards per carry, last season. He added 214 receiving yards and two touchdowns. He is a quality backup player who may not be signed until after the NFL draft.

The Buzz: Chris Johnson’s future in Tennessee is still unknown. He will have to restructure his contact to remain with the Titans, but Johnson recently said those negotiations are at a standstill.

If Johnson is released, it will alter the free agency plans of several teams that need a running back.

Best of the Rest: Lions running back Joique Bell is a restricted free agent, and if he receives a second-round tender or higher, do not expect another team to snag him Denver’s Knowshon Moreno played well last season, but Ronnie Hillman and Montee Ball will likely carry the workload this season. It is hard to believe Moreno will get paid like an elite running back Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew may have a little left in the tank. Last season, he had 803 rushing yards and five touchdowns, plus caught 43 passes for 314 yards. His injury history is a concern, but he could excel with a better team. 

Shutdown Corner's free agency preview schedule
March 3: Shutdown Corners's top 25 free agents
March 4: Quarterbacks
March 5: Receivers/tight ends
March 6: Running backs
March 7: Offensive linemen
March 8: Defensive backs
March 9: Linebackers
March 10: Defensive line

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Anwar S Richardson is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at NFLAnwar@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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