- Pat Yasinskas, ESPN Staff Writer
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I haven’t had a chance to check the mailbag yet, but I’m sure there already are some questions about if either player might be a fit in the NFC South. Let’s start with the usual labor clarifications. Portis and Harris would be available to sign as free agents immediately since they were released and didn’t become free agents by playing out their contracts. But the window of opportunity could be very limited. If a labor lockout starts Saturday, as many expect, Portis and Harris would join the other 500 or so potential free agents in a situation where all signings would be frozen until there is a new labor agreement.
Could Portis or Harris be candidates to get anything with an NFC South team by the end of the day Friday?
Let’s take a look at each and we’ll start with Portis. He once was one of the league’s top running backs, but he’s 29 now and has a lot of mileage. His days as a feature back probably are over, but Portis could fit in as a role player. I think Carolina’s set at running back. Tampa Bay’s got LeGarrette Blount as a feature back and would like to keep Cadillac Williams as a third-down back. The Bucs could use a quality backup for Blount, but I’m thinking they want a younger set of legs. Same for Atlanta, as the Falcons search for a speed back to go with Michael Turner and Jason Snelling.
That leaves New Orleans and I see Saints as the one team in the division that could have an interest in Portis. Chris Ivory will be back and Reggie Bush probably will be back. Pierre Thomas is likely to leave as a free agent and that means the Saints need someone to go in their rotation with Ivory and Bush. My gut is the Saints would like to get a younger running back, but they’re the team in the division that has shown the most willingness to bring in veterans in recent years. Might be a long shot and the Saints may wait until everything is sorted out with the draft and the labor situation, but New Orleans is the one team I could at least see looking into Portis.
Now, let’s move to Harris. He was a three-time Pro Bowler, who fell out of favor and into a limited role last season. But he is a guy who could produce some with a fresh start. I’ll scratch Tampa Bay and Atlanta off the list immediately because they seem set at defensive tackle and have lots of youth. Carolina has a need and Ron Rivera was in Chicago for part of Harris’ time there. Even though the Panthers might use the first overall draft pick on Auburn’s Nick Fairley, I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of bringing in Harris.
New Orleans at least make sense in the case of Harris. The Saints have Sedrick Ellis, but not much else at defensive tackle. The Saints had very good luck bringing in linebacker Jonathan Vilma and decent luck with tight end Jeremy Shockey, a pair of guys who had flamed out in their previous homes. Although Shockey was released last week, the Saints got some production from him. I view Harris as a guy like Vilma and Shockey. He still has some ability, but wasn’t a fit in Chicago. I’m not saying Harris will come in and suddenly be a Pro Bowler again, but I think he’d be an upgrade for the Saints and that makes him worth at least considering.
We’ve had a couple of big-name releases in the NFL on Monday. Washington cut ties with running back Clinton Portis and Chicago released defensive tackle Tommie Harris.