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Some bargains out there among free-agent running backs

Say all you want that the game has changed and the value of running backs has gone down. Throw in the concept that running back by committee is the way to go and all of a sudden there appears to be little interest in the ballcarriers. Age makes them practically extinct at age 30. The reality is teams still run the ball and think about these numbers before you think the run game is dead and there's no reason to sign a veteran running back. The free-agent market for running backs is soft right now, and there are few good players that will look like a bargain in November and December if they are on your team.

In 2011, there were 13,971 running plays in the regular season. The average team in the NFL ran it 437 times and gained 117 yards a game. There were 400 rushing touchdowns, and playoff teams did better in every category than non-playoff teams. This is the week to grab one of the solid backs still on the market.

I could make a case that at least eight teams should be looking to sign a running back from the free agent pool and when I see the Peyton Hillis deal come in at one year under $3 million and the Mike Tolbert deal come in for four years at $10 million it is a decent market for the teams.

Factor in age, health and production and the field quickly narrows down to BenJarvus Green-Ellis of the Patriots and Michael Bush of the Raiders. Are they worth close to $3 million a season? There are other backs available like Brandon Jacobs, Ryan Grant, Ced Benson, Joseph Addai, and Thomas Jones but they may be all candidates for one-year contracts with little to no risk for the club. Bush and Green Ellis are worth doing multiyear deals with and they have to be feeling the pinch of the already dwindling market.

Consider what both Bush and Green-Ellis have done in the past two years and that there's potentially one running back with a first-round grade in the draft and it is time to lock one of these two guys down if you are the Bengals, Jets, Raiders, Patriots, Browns, Giants or Bucs. Green-Ellis is 27 years old with 24 rushing touchdowns, 1,675 yards and 21 receptions. Bush is 28 with 16 touchdowns, 1,632 yards and 55 receptions. Both guys are relatively fresh with fewer than 470 touches in the past two seasons.

The owners meetings start this weekend and it would wise for the two running backs and two clubs to strike a deal before the end of the meetings because most teams will turn their attention to the draft when the meetings end. After seeing what teams shelled out for receivers in free agency, these running backs are good value.

Pat Kirwan has been around the league since 1972, serving in a variety of roles. He was a scout for the Cardinals and Buccaneers, a coach for the Jets as well as the team's Director of Player Administration where he negotiated contracts and managed the team's salary cap. He is the author of Take Your Eye Off the Ball: How to Watch Football by Knowing Where to Look, and the host of Sirius NFL Radio's Moving the Chains.
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