From the pages of the latest edition of running back roulette, the annual offseason event in which running back jump from one team to another, came the domino effect that shook the NFL while giving evidence to the notion that the feature back is not only easily interchangeable, but is also the exception more than the rule.
Terrell Davis, former Bronco running back and analyst for the NFL Network says "Those teams that were involved already had a legitimate back. Some of this stuff doesnt make sense because they already had a big name and were losing young, productive guys with a lot of yards left in the tank.
The wheel started spinning on March 1st, when Denver traded Tatum Bell, who had led the Broncos with 1,025 yards, to the Detroit Lions. Two days later and days before he was due an 8.3 million dollar bonus, Travis Henry was cut by Tennessee after he had led the team with 1,211 yards. On March 4th, Ahmen Green left Green Bay for a four year contract with Houston, and the next day Henry found a home with the Broncos.
The dealing and roulette wheeling continued on March 7th when Chicago jettisoned its 1,210 yard NFC title-leading back Thomas Jones to the New York Jets, while Jamaal Lewis of the Ravens signed with Cleveland in a 1-yr deal. The Ravens then acquired Willis McGahee on the final day of the frenzy on March 9th. On that same day the Giants acquired Reuben Droughns from Cleveland and the Raiders picked up Dominic Rhodes, an easy choice for Superbowl MVP had it not gone to Peyton Manning.
Whats the reason for all this movement? Davis says "Featured backs are paid top dollar. The LT's, the Larry Johnsons, teams pay a whole lot of money to retain those guys, but you always need a viable backup. Running backs have the shortest lifespan in the NFL. Just look at Cadillac Williams this past weekend, or Deuce McAllister the weekend prior. You always need a viable backup so you can rotate and keep a guy fresh. Having two backs share the load also allows teams to keep the financial value down of a featured back."
Terrell Davis should know. After being the last Bronco back to get a 300-carry season, the Broncos have gone through a succession of "widget" backs in all his succeeding seasons. Mike Anderson, Clinton Portis, Olandis Gary, Droughns, and Bell all have had 1,000 yard campaigns in the Mile High city.
And with the copycat nature of the NFL, the Colts winning the Superbowl with a two back system after failing to do so with two-time rushing champ Edgerrin James, is sure to provide a roadmap to guide future offseason decisions.