By now, we all know that the Detroit Lions' cap situation is going to be pretty tight this offseason and probably for many offseasons to come, which means they will more often than not be out of the running for the marquee players available in free agency. This year, quite a few good backs were and are still available. While the Houston Texans retained Arian Foster earlier this week and Ray Rice and Matt Forte were franchised, they can still negotiate with others teams. That, however, means very little for our Lions. Instead of going after these big names, they will be looking through the scrap pieces out there to try and find a hidden gem or two.
Between now and March 13 -- the start of free agency -- I will post a series of articles that points out a few possible gems at each position of need. This series starts with today's post that looks at three backs that could end up being bargain busters for the Lions.
Justin Forsett (5'8", 194 pounds) | Previous Team: Seattle Seahawks
Like Jahvid Best, Justin Forsett is a former Cal product. He was taken in the seventh round of the 2008 draft by the Seahawks and has played his entire career with them thus far, though he did have a stint on the Colts practice squad. Forsett started his career on the 'Hawks practice squad in 2008 but saw plenty of action in '09 and '10 when he rushed for 619 and 523 yards, respectively, along with scoring six touchdowns in that span. With the addition of Marshawn Lynch in 2010 and his emergence in 2011, Forsett has basically become a forgotten man in Seattle.
What he brings to the table: Forsett is small. There is no doubt about that, but this is a guy who averaged 5.4 and 4.4 yards per carry in '09 and '10. He is also the same guy who has only fumbled twice in his NFL career, losing one of them. He isn't flashy, and he certainly doesn't bring any explosiveness to the table, but he is reliable, and he is 26, and he should be cheap.
Car comparison: Toyota Corolla
Earnest Graham (5'9", 225 pounds) | Previous Team: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Earnest Graham has spent his entire nine-year NFL career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. When Cadillac Williams went down in 2007, Graham actually stepped in and had a fairly productive season with 898 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns. Since then, he has seen fewer and fewer carries as the Bucs have handed the rock to younger backs like LeGarrette Blount and Williams, who is now with the Rams. Last year, Graham was Blount's primary backup for the first half of the season before getting injured in Week 7. In that time, he did manage to put up 206 yards rushing and an impressive 5.6 yards per carry average.
What he brings to the table: Earnest Graham is ancient by running back standards at 32, and his productive days could very well be in the past, but he is an interesting amalgamation. At 5-9, 225, Graham would actually be the heaviest running back for the Lions, aside from Keiland Williams, and could give the Lions the much needed power back they have been searching for. Graham has played quite a bit of fullback for the Bucs as well, which should be a plus.
Car comparison: an old Ford F-150
Steve Slaton (5'9", 215 pounds) | Previous team: Miami Dolphins
Steve Slaton began his career with a bang. In 2008, he entered the league with the Texans and immediately rushed for 1,282 yards, a 4.8 yards per carry average and nine rushing touchdowns. He also added 50 receptions for 377 yards and a TD. Since then, however, Slaton has become a forgotten man in the NFL. In 2009, he had an ineffective season where he managed to rush for only 437 yards with a measly 3.3 yards per carry average. In the last two years, he has split time between Houston and Miami and has managed only 173 yards and one touchdown.
What he brings to the table: The thing with Slaton is that he is still pretty young at 26 and definitely deserves a shot, which I think he will get somewhere in the NFL. He is a complete wild card with his up and down track record, but just imagine what this backfield would look like if he can return to his 2008 form. He has a bit of an injury history going back to his college days, and he was placed on injured reserve by the Texans in December 2009 due to a shoulder injury. Maybe that is what is holding him back, but maybe it's something else. Either way, I feel that Martin Mayhew needs to take a hard look at him.
Car comparison: Saab 9-3