(Student assistant Mike Rodak continues an early position-by-position look at free agency with the Patriots. Because free-agency rules are unclear based on the uncertain collective bargaining agreement, the 2010 rules were used to compile the information. Teams may also restrict some of these players with the franchise tag.)
POSITION: Running back
RATING THE NEED: Moderate
KEY CONSIDERATION: With Woodhead having emerged as the Patriots’ third-down back, there may not be room on the roster for injured Kevin Faulk, who will be a free agent. Faulk, who turns 35 in June, could decide to retire. If he returns, his roster spot would be far from guaranteed.
NOTABLE TARGETS ON MARKET: Fred Taylor (Patriots), Sammy Morris (Patriots), Kevin Faulk (Patriots), Derrick Ward (Texans), Cedric Benson (Bengals), Pierre Thomas (Saints), Michael Bush (Raiders; restricted), Darren Sproles (Chargers), Ricky Williams (Dolphins), Brandon Jackson (Packers), Ronnie Brown (Dolphins), Mike Tolbert (Chargers; restricted), Ahmad Bradshaw (Giants), Jason Snelling (Falcons), Tim Hightower (Cardinals; restricted), Leon Washington (Seahawks), John Kuhn (Packers)
MOST LIKELY TARGET FOR PATS: P. Thomas
SLEEPER POSSIBILITY FOR PATS: Ward
OUTLANDISH THOUGHT FOR PATS: DeAngelo Williams (Panthers)
WRAP IT UP: Thomas, who the Patriots reportedly tried to trade for in October, would be an ideal addition to a backfield in need of a third option, but is coming off a season-ending injury. Morris could look for more of an offensive role elsewhere, leaving a hole for the Patriots at goal-line back/fullback.