Tuesday was a rough day to be an NFL running back.
On the same day the NFL announced that Minnesota Vikings star Adrian Peterson (6-1, 215 lbs) was suspended for "at least" the remainder of the 2014 season, the Pittsburgh Steelers waived troubled LeGarrette Blount (6-0, 250 lbs), and the Cleveland Browns waived disgruntled Ben Tate (5-10, 220 lbs).
With Denver's backfield in a state of limbo, some—nay, many—have asked if the Broncos should pursue either Blount or Tate.
@JonHeathNFL chances of Denver taking Blount ?— Ocho (@KING_CHAD35) November 18, 2014
@JonHeathNFL broncos take a chance and got get Ben Tate?— J.O. (@JOtimeismoney) November 18, 2014
Twitter only allows 140 characters per tweet, so I'll answer all of yesterday's tweets in one 800-word post here.
Denver's top two running backs, Montee Ball (5-10, 215) and Ronnie Hillman (5-10, 195), are both sidelined with injuries. Hillman's foot injury could prevent him from playing for up to six weeks, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. Ball is expected to miss up to three weeks with a groin injury, according to the Denver Post's Mike Klis.
That leaves Denver with a young and inexperienced backfield. Could Blount or Tate help? That's an inquiry I'll address through four counter questions:
Does Denver need another running back?
Since being thrust into the lineup in Week 10, C.J. Anderson (5-8, 224 lbs) has not disappointed in Denver. He's been dubbed by SB Nation's Stephen White as a potential game-changing weapon for the Broncos. Over the past three weeks, Anderson has rushed 25 times for 137 yards (adding 15 receptions for 192 more yards and a score). He's averaged 5.48 yards per carry in recent weeks, proving to be more productive than both Blount (2.09) and Tate (1.27).
That's a small sample size to judge from, but Anderson's season-long numbers are also impressive.
While Blount and Tate have struggled to produce, Anderson has seized his opportunity in Denver. The Broncos have no need for a new starter.
As for depth, Denver has that, too.
Behind Anderson, the Broncos have two preseason heroes—undrafted rookies Juwan Thompson (5-11, 225 lbs) and Kapri Bibbs (5-9, 212 lbs). Thompson has rushed 30 times 121 yards this season; Bibbs has yet to dress for a game (expect him to dress Sunday with Ball now sidelined).
Neither Thompson nor Bibbs have extensive experience, but they've run hard when given opportunities. Jeremy Stewart, a third-year back, provides another option. Stewart is currently on Denver's practice squad. He rushed 25 times for 101 yards with the Raiders in 2012 and scored the first touchdown of his career with Oakland last season.
It remains to be seen if Denver will activate Stewart to the 53-man roster or sign another free agent. As of early this week, the team seems content with the RBs already on the roster.
Why were they released?
According to Mary Cabot of Cleveland.com, Tate was "disgruntled" this season, adding that the media questioned if "attitude" was an issue for the four-year pro. If those allegations are true, they may serve as red flags for Denver.
Steelers not pleased with Blount leaving the field. Very un-Rooney like. Expect them to act quickly enough. Looking like rough day for RBs— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) November 18, 2014
As for Blount, Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that the RB was released a day after he "left the team’s sideline before the completion of the team’s 27-24 comeback win Monday night over Tennessee." Blount, according to Fittipaldo, was upset about not being used more on offense. According to that Gazette story, Blount's teammates were happy to see him go. More red flags.
Will Broncos show any interest?
There have been no reports on Blount, but Cabot's story said the Broncos "are not interested" in Tate. If they have no interest in Tate, it seems unlikely that they will pursue Blount, who rushed for fewer yards (266 to 333) and scores (2 to 4) than Tate this season.
Is the potential reward worth the risk?
Blount and Tate both appear to be disgruntled, but they offer affordable price tags. According to NFL Network's Albert Breer, Blount would cost just $317,647 for the remainder of this season. Tate's figure would be similar. If they clear waivers, however, teams would be free to negotiate new contracts with both players. On their current deals, both players are due base salaries of $2 million next season.
The price is right, but what about production and attitude?
There's no need for drama in Denver's locker room, and Anderson has proved that he is capable of carrying the load. Thompson has the potential to be a solid relief back.
Denver may want to find more depth at RB, but neither Blount nor Tate appear to be the answer.