was scheduled to become a free agent, but the team has placed the franchise tag on him in the hopes of working out a long-term deal with the
back. That’s a bummer for teams looking for an elite running back as Rice would have been the best available runner in this year’s class.
, who was one of the NFL’s most productive backs before getting injured late in the 2011 season, is also set to become an unrestricted free agent, but he could get tagged, too. Ditto for
(a restricted free agent).
With all that star power potentially protected by the franchise tag, backs like
will be in demand.
The Ravens lost
, who retired last month, but they like
, two youngsters they have under contract. If they sign a veteran running back, it will be one from the bargain bin.
Here is a look at five of the top free agent backs on the market and where they could wind up in 2012.
1. Ray Rice:
Rice’s agent, Todd France, and the Ravens talked at the NFL scouting combine. They aren’t close to reaching a deal, but both have expressed an interest in working out a long-term deal over the course of the offseason.
2. Arian Foster:
Foster is a restricted free agent, which means the cap-strapped Texans can match any offer for Foster in free agency. But they could place the franchise tag on him to make sure he doesn’t go anywhere.
3. Matt Forte:
Forte established himself as one of the NFL's top dual-threat backs in his first four seasons in Chicago, averaging more than 1,000 rushing yards and nearly 500 receiving yards per season. The Bears and Forte’s representatives reportedly had conversations in Indianapolis, but like Rice, Forte is in limbo right now.
4. Marshawn Lynch:
Lynch was one of the NFL's most productive backs in the second half of the 2011 season and he finished with career highs in rushing yards (1,204) and rushing touchdowns (12). The Seahawks might have to put the tag on Lynch to keep him. But if they don’t, he should have plenty of suitors in free agency.
5. Peyton Hillis:
After pounding his way onto the cover of the “Madden NFL 2012” video game, Hillis had a disastrous 2011 season that was clouded by injury and controversy. He is also a candidate for the franchise tag, though it seems unlikely the Browns will tag him. A change of scenery might be best for this bruising back.
Other notable free agents (2011 team in parenthesis):
(New England Patriots), Cedric Benson (Cincinnati Bengals), Michael Bush (Oakland Raiders),