Saturday, January 23, 2010
That leaves the three different guys who cycled through the backfield after Portis and Betts went down: Quinton Ganther, Marcus Mason, and Rock Cartwright.
Marcus Mason might be in a tough spot. Despite being everyone’s preseason hero the last couple years, he ran less impressively than Ganther, and his pass protection was just as awful. He might be in camp in 2010, but given the stiff backfield competition I think he’s a long shot to stick around.
Rock Cartwright, God bless him, finally got another crack at showing he can be a “real” running back, and despite playing well he had the misfortune of Ganther coming out of nowhere and outshining him. Rock ran about how I think most of us expected – competently but not spectacularly. Now there’s something to be said for steady competence, but unfortunately it’s just not enough to earn serious carries. He did prove that he was by far the most polished receiver of the three late season backups, however. He’s obviously not the kind of weapon you can split out wide, but he ran traditional running back routes with noticeable crispness and timing and created a number of reliable short completions. Rock missed his share of blitz pickups as well, but while he is visibly much worse at pass pro than Portis and Betts he was still light years ahead of Ganther or Mason.
It’s pretty much a crapshoot who will be the Redskins 2010 backs, but one thing that seems to be agreed upon is that the position as a whole needs an infusion of two factors: youth and breakaway speed. We’ve got youth options on the roster now, but speed may need to be added from outside.
There are three guys that come to mind that will be unrestricted free agents if we don’t go capless (I will repeat once more: if you want the Redskins to be able to address their multiple needs this offseason, pray for a salary cap).
Jerious Norwood – He has played very well in Atlanta when given opportunities and is consistently successful as both a runner and receiver. His market value will be depressed because he has struggled with injuries – meaning we could bring him in without blowing our (hypothetical) salary cap. FO’s advanced stats consistently love him, and in a capped offseason he would probably be my first choice.
Darren Sproles – Frankly I think this guy is overrated, but he certainly fits our need. And despite his tininess he has shown that he can hold up as a traditional runner if needed. He would certainly be a more interesting guy to take screens or even line up wide on occasion. But he would be much more expensive than Norwood and bring in a lot of press attention (I’ve had enough of high expectations for awhile).
Jerome Harrison – Another back, like Norwood, who has consistently excelled as both a runner and a receiver. The problem here is that the reason he has mostly been buried on the bench in Cleveland is that he is completely ineffective in pass protection. He may be outstanding with the ball in his hands (especially for being so unknown), but as you know by now I have little patience for backs who put the quarterback’s life in danger.
Of course odds are that a new CBA won’t be reached in time to save the salary cap, so none of the above three guys will hit free agency. In that event I can only think of two more options off the top of my head:
There has been speculation for some time that the Saints would release Reggie Bush after the season because his huge scheduled salary for next year cannot be justified by his rather modest role in the offense. In the past I would have objected that he was useful only as a receiver – he had developed a reputation of being virtually useless as a traditional ballcarrier. But this year he seems to have figured it out and has been running much more effectively between the tackles runner. Of course that development may make it more likely that the Saints would retain him… but if they don’t and my assessment is correct, he could wind up here. As I mentioned above it would generate way too much press frenzy – they guy would be brought in as a role player, albeit a useful one, but you know the media would insist he was supposed to be a super star simply because he was good in college. But without a salary cap most other options will be (unjustly) trapped with their teams, so if he’s released he has to be a serious possibility.
And there may be one final option already on the roster: Anthony Alridge. We have seen almost nothing of Alridge, so I do not have an opinion on him. But he was signed last summer based on a glowing recommendation from one Mike Shanahan… so just maybe we already have our speed guy.
So let’s assume we add a speed guy, and from there speculate on what the 2010 RB situation might look like. It seems like we could split the backs into categories:
Old but well-rounded – Portis, Betts, and Rock
Young and talented but flawed – Ganther and Mason
Speed guy – TBD
Could it be we are heading to a three man committee, and each of those first two categories represents a direct competition?
If so Rock has no chance to beat out the other two in his group so that could leave Portis and Betts competing for one job (it seems like one of them has to make the team based on pass protection alone, age be damned).
Then for the sake of youth either Ganther or Mason is retained – hopefully the deciding factor would be whoever works the hardest on learning to pick up a blitz.
Speed Guy, if he’s an added veteran, is obviously safe in his role (let’s assume for now it’s not Alridge, who would of course have to prove himself).
So we could end up with a potential three-headed backfield of Betts, Ganther, and Speed Guy (assuming Ganther learns to block a little). Or Portis, Ganther, and Speed Guy (sorry Mason).
But if Speed Guy is added perhaps Shanahan and Bruce Allen will decide that the backfield’s age issue has been sufficiently addressed, and won’t feel obligated to reserve a roster spot for youth. In that case Portis, Betts, and Speed Guy could make for a very competent backfield, at least for next year.
Of course if we fail to add a Speed Guy, we can keep both our old veterans and still have a youth movement and keep whoever shows the most improvement between Ganther and Mason (yes, we could end up keeping four tailbacks, but realistically only the top three would get meaningful carries or even be activated on gamedays).
Sadly, the odd man out in all of these scenarios seems to be Rock Cartwright. As a running back he is in a jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none quandary, and of course he doesn’t have youth as an advantage. And if Speed Guy turns up, he could well excel as a kickoff returner (Jerious Norwood especially) and Rock, if he is to make the team, would be as a pure special teamer. At his age, that just doesn’t make sense. He is already likely to be cut before camp even opens, and his best bet is to be re-signed at a much lower salary. But even so I have a hard time finding a role for the guy.
For the hell of it, vote in the comments section on which of the following hypothetical backfield committees you would prefer to see in 2010:
A) Portis, Betts, Speed Guy
B) Betts, Ganther, Speed Guy
C) Portis, Ganther, Speed Guy
D) Betts, Mason, Speed Guy
E) Portis, Mason, Speed Guy
F) Betts, Ganther, Rock
G) Portis, Ganther, Rock
H) Betts, Mason, Rock
I) Portis, Mason, Rock
J) Portis, Betts, Rock
K) Ganther, Mason, Speed Guy
L) Ganther, Mason, Rock
Good God – when I started that list I didn’t realize how long it would get. And yet they all seem plausible. It will be an interesting offseason.
Posted by Dave O at 5:53 PM