Despite having two 1,200-plus rushing seasons under his belt, unrestricted free agent Ryan Grant remains unsigned.
“He’ll clearly play for somebody this year,” said Grant’s agent Alan Herman. “He’s the best guy out there.”
ICONWith the majority of NFL training camps starting at the end of July, Grant is still a free agent.
Grant, who has averaged 4.3 yards per carry during his career, likely will sign after training camp begins. A team’s RB injury may open an even greater need for him.
Two NFL teams have offered Grant contracts, but Herman declined to name the franchises or where he has visited.
“I’d rather not get into it. He’s made a few trips, and rather than alienate anybody or publicly talk about it … I’m going to leave that alone,” he said. “Economically, the deals haven’t been right.”
Several media outlets, though, reported that the Lions, who ranked 29th in rushing last season and whose best RB options — Jahvid Best and Mikel Leshoure — are coming off season-ending injuries, presented a contract that Grant found unsatisfactory.
“The Lions are clearly one of the teams that have expressed interest,” Herman said.
Wherever Grant ends up, it likely won’t be with the Packers.
In Green Bay, Grant and James Starks, also Herman’s client, formed an effective rushing tandem and posted nearly identical numbers. Grant gained 559 yards and two rushing touchdowns on 134 carries, and Starks had 578 and two touchdowns on one less rushing attempt.
“How do I explain the Packers’ situation? I’m dumbfounded by that one,” Herman said. “We’re not really thinking about Green Bay at this point.”
Other teams, however, including the Lions, Steelers, Dolphins, Redskins, Broncos, Raiders, Colts and Giants need help at running back.
The Chargers and Patriots opted for veteran RBs Ronnie Brown and Joseph Addai, respectively, instead.
San Diego gave Brown a one-year contract during June. Brown had great success running the Wildcat offense in Miami but flopped last year with the Eagles, where he is most remembered for his goal-line pass attempt and then fumble during a loss to the 49ers.
After losing BenJarvus Green-Ellis to the Bengals and the offseason rumor mill linking them to Grant, the Patriots signed Addai, who has been limited by injuries during the last two seasons, in May.
The signing bonus on Addai’s one-year deal was reported to be less than $100, 000.
“It’s not a deal we would have accepted,” Herman said. “There’s not any kind of significant dollars.”
Why NFL teams might be leery
Grant is the best available RB option, but his injury history, his position’s declining value and his age are other likely reasons he remains without a team.
Although he is 29, an age when running backs typically begin to fall off, Grant does not have much mileage on him.
“In terms of tread,” Herman said, “he kind of has the body of a 27-year-old.”
During his NFL career, he has less than 1,000 total rushing attempts and only once has surpassed 290 carries in a season (when he ran for 1,203 yards during 2008). Even while at Notre Dame, he mostly split time with Julius Jones and Darius Walker.
Grant did miss the entire 2006 NFL season — and required emergency surgery — after he sliced an artery, tendon and nerve in his arm during a nightclub incident. And a Week 1 ankle injury caused him to miss almost all of 2010.
But both Addai and Brown have greater injury concerns. Addai missed 12 games during the last two years, and Brown has suffered two season-ending injuries — a torn ACL and a broken foot.
Grant’s positives and negatives were best demonstrated during the 2008 “Snow Globe” playoff game. He gashed the Seahawks for a Packers playoff record, 201 rushing yards, but also fumbled twice in the first four minutes.
Over the course of his career, Grant has fumbled seven times during 924 regular-season carries, but the 6-1, 222-pounder has run with the same power and vision he showcased against Seattle.
Despite Grant’s skill set, the RB position has become devalued in the increasingly more pass-friendly NFL.
Who should sign Grant?
Even with the running game being less important in today’s NFL, Grant could help several teams.
The Steelers’ No. 1 back, Rashard Mendenhall, tore his ACL during January.
The Dolphins may be the best fit because Reggie Bush is not a full-time back, and Daniel Thomas averaged a meager 3.5 yards per carry as a rookie last season. Plus, Grant’s former Packers offensive coordinator, Joe Philbin, is now the Dolphins head coach, and Grant’s running style is well-suited to Philbin’s zone running scheme.
The Redskins also employ a zone scheme, and coach Mike Shanahan, whose team ranked 25th in rushing offense last year, could use a back to anchor his offense like he had in Denver.
Speaking of the Broncos, they had the No. 1-ranked rushing unit last year. But they no longer have Tim Tebow as a runner. RB Knowshon Moreno tore his ACL during November, and Willis McGahee has trouble staying healthy.
Like McGahee, Raiders RB Darren McFadden is a skilled back but has been plagued with injuries. Oakland lost their best backup, Michael Bush, to the Bears.
The Colts had just the 26th ranked rush offense last year and lost Addai. Though they recently signed Mewelde Moore, they are counting on RB Donald Brown, who has yet to prove himself during his three NFL seasons.
Finally, the Giants, Grant’s original team, could use a running back.
They had the league’s worst running game last year, and the 49ers signed RB Brandon Jacobs. Even with the first-round selection of David Wilson, New York could use more help behind Ahmad Bradshaw, who has suffered chronic foot injuries.
Meanwhile, Grant remains — not far from Giants headquarters — in his New Jersey home, preparing for the 2012 NFL season.
“He’s not upset. He’s not nervous,” Herman said. “We’re going to be patient and wait for the right opportunity."
Jeff Fedotin has written for Packers.com, Pro Football Weekly, ESPN The Magazine, the Lawrence (Kan.) Journal-World and Rivals.com. After graduating from Northwestern University, he interned for the Buffalo Bills.
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