NFL Nation: Ben Tate

NFL general managers gather their smartest people each winter to analyze rosters, assess options and formulate a plan for the offseason marketplace. In 2014, at least, they made quick work of the running back position.

By now it's no surprise to hear or read about the plummeting value of running backs. No one wants to pay them premium salaries or even spend a first-round draft pick on one. To this conversation, I'd like to add an obvious and clear representation for why.

The information in the fancy line graph, courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information, is similar to the type of analysis NFL teams use. It shows, in pretty stark terms, how running back production drops off after the age of 27. (Hat tip to ESPN.com editor Brett Longdin for generating the graph.)

 
The red line represents all running backs who have played at least four NFL seasons since 2001, with a minimum average of 75 carries per season. Overall, we see their careers peak at age 27. Afterward, their rushing totals drop by 15 percent in one year, 25 percent in two and almost 40 by the time they are 30.

Most decision-makers -- whether their background was in scouting, accounting or anything in between -- saw that trend as a bad investment. As with any business, they reserve premium contracts for projected growth in production, not a decline.

For comparison's sake, the graph also includes the receiver position (in blue, minimum average of 50 receptions over the same time period). You'll see some fluctuations, but even at age 31, the composite receiver produced a near-identical yardage total as he did at age 27. In other words, it's reasonable to expect a high-level performance into a receiver's early 30s.

Peterson
Peterson
Running backs get no such benefit of the doubt, nor should they from a strict business sense. Even Minnesota Vikings tailback Adrian Peterson, one of the league's best players at any position, contributed to the curve at age 28 last season. It's true that he had the fifth-most rushing yards (1,266) in the NFL, but he also missed two games and overall fell 40 percent from his 2,097-yard effort in 2012.

That line graph, along with a season that produced its fewest total league-wide rushing yards (57,795) in six seasons, led us to the eye-opening 2014 offseason. Keep in mind that age 27 is the essential point where most players, under the current collective bargaining agreement, become free agents for the first time. At their first opportunity for a payday, the league already views them to be beyond their prime.

As of this week, teams have 177 running backs under contract. Of that group, 128 (72 percent) are 26 or younger. I counted only eight runners over the age of 29. Meanwhile, there was an obvious link between the handful of mid-20s running backs who did receive multiyear contracts this spring: None have been four-year feature backs.

The Detroit Lions will pay Joique Bell (27) the eighth-highest salary for a running back in 2014 ($4.3 million). He has 248 career carries, an average of 62 per season.

Toby Gerhart (27) will receive $4 million from the Jacksonville Jaguars. He has averaged 69 carries per season. Donald Brown (26) also will get $4 million from the San Diego Chargers after totaling 551 carries in five seasons, while Ben Tate (25) will get $3.25 million from the Cleveland Browns after totaling 421 carries in four seasons.

And that's pretty much the list. What about Knowshon Moreno, who is 26 but has 845 career rushes? He got a one-year deal from the Miami Dolphins. Maurice Jones-Drew? He's 29 and has 1,804 career carries. His contract with the Oakland Raiders guarantees him $1.2 million for 2014. He'll earn $2.5 million, assuming he makes the team.

It's fair to expect the trend to continue expanding to the draft. NFL teams didn't draft a single running back in the first round in 2013, and at the moment, ESPN's Scouts Inc. doesn't project one to be selected in the first round this year, either. (Their highest-rated runner, Ohio State's Carlos Hyde, has a mid-second round grade Insider.)

The message is clear: Running backs of this generation picked, well, the wrong generation to be running backs. Teams want them young, cheap and fresh -- and the data makes it difficult to argue their point.
Ben TateAP Photo/Nick WassNew Cleveland Browns running back Ben Tate rushed for 771 yards last season.
The most significant signing for the Cleveland Browns in the first week of free agency was adding running back Ben Tate.

In Tate, the Browns add a guy who has averaged 4.7 yards per carry for Houston, but has been often injured. Tate brings talent, fire and the ability to carry an offense late in the game when the team needs to run to win, something the Browns could not do a year ago.

ESPN.com Browns reporter Pat McManamon joins Texans reporter Tania Ganguli to discuss the signing.

McManamon: Tate had an excellent per-carry average in Houston, but had many injuries. Do you think his physical style of running means injuries will be a constant in his career, or were they bad luck?

Ganguli: There was certainly some bad luck involved for him in terms of his career overall. Tate was drafted to be the starter, but when he spent his rookie season on injured reserve, this undrafted guy by the name of Arian Foster swooped in. The injuries aren’t really wear-and-tear injuries, and I think we need more evidence of how he’d handle a bigger workload to connect his injury history to his style of play. He is a very physical runner, but his broken ribs last year came before he became the Texans’ primary back.

What are the Browns expecting from him?

McManamon: To be the Browns' primary back. They didn’t have one last year, unless you count Willis McGahee’s 377 yards as No. 1 back-worthy. McGahee didn’t even average 3 yards per carry, as the former front office left the cupboard bare for the fired coaching staff after the trade of Trent Richardson. The Browns want Tate to be productive and durable. Their inability to run the ball last season contributed to their not being able to hold leads late in games.

Tate’s contract is worth just $3.1 million per season, and even with incentives won’t top $7 million total for two years. Does that seem like a fair price, and at that price why didn’t Houston keep him, especially since he signed with a team that has won 29 games total the past six seasons?

Ganguli: I think his durability was a big question mark for the Texans. They already have a starter who has proven he can be productive for a full season and Tate just hasn’t done that. Foster’s also more explosive and the Texans have committed a lot to him financially. Part of Tate not having proven himself in that primary role stemmed from him being behind Foster, but another part of that had to do with his injuries. I’m also not sure that, even if the Texans wanted to keep him at that price, he would have wanted to stay. He wants to be a starter.

What kind of system is Tate moving to with the Browns?

McManamon: The same one Kyle Shanahan ran in Houston. Zone blocking, one cut. It’s the main reason the Browns wanted him. They thought he fit what they want to do, and that his downhill running style will work well in the offense. Tate seems like a decisive, aggressive runner, which is exactly what they need.

Based on Twitter, at least, Tate’s personality seems pretty effervescent -- like Alka-Seltzer, always bubbling. Is he that kind of person on the team as well, and do you think come December the Browns will be happy they added him?

Ganguli: Tate is very honest with the media/public about how he feels, which of course will be good for your purposes covering the team. He pays attention to what’s being said about him, even if he says he doesn’t, and does what he can to improve his situation. I do think the Browns will be happy they signed him come December if he can stay healthy. This is very much a “prove it” contract, and that’s exactly the kind of situation Tate needs.

The Texans organization last season was one that allowed some of the players’ individual personalities room to show. Will the Browns be OK with Tate speaking his mind?

McManamon: That’s a tough one to answer given the Browns have a new coach in Mike Pettine. He’s certainly unafraid of being blunt or direct. Maybe he won’t mind his players letting their personalities show. It would be a welcome change in Cleveland, though it would be much more welcome if Tate can help the Browns actually win some games. That is something that is needed more than anything.
During the past week seven former Houston Texans -- six on defense -- became unrestricted free agents and signed with other teams. Defensive tackle Earl Mitchell signed with the Dolphins, defensive end Antonio Smith signed with the Raiders, inside linebackers Darryl Sharpton signed with Washington and Joe Mays signed with the Chiefs, outside linebacker Bryan Braman with the Eagles, and backup nose tackle Terrell McClain signed with the Cowboys. There was also Ben Tate's defection to the Cleveland Browns, a move rumored for several months.

But the Texans haven't been losing players so much as they've been letting them go.

Smith
Tate
Tate
The clearest example of this came with Smith, a starter for all five seasons he spent with Houston.

"The feel I got from the Texans was a feel of a third-down rusher coming off the bench," Smith told Mark Berman of Fox 26. Smith received an affordable two-year deal worth $9 million.

Tate wasn't a guy the Texans wanted to bring back, preferring to go with Arian Foster, a draft pick and a young player from the gaggle of them they have now. He only received $6.2 million over three years from the Browns to be their starter, according to reports of the NFLPA's records. By comparison, the Texans are paying their starting running back $6.25 million this year, including his roster bonus, on a contract that averages $8.7 million per year.

The high number of defensive departures might have a lot to do with a changing system, but it makes clear that there will be a degree of rebuilding for the Texans next season.

The Texans' plan is yet unfolding, and a lot of it will involve toughening up the current roster. But you can't let go of four starters (we'll count both Mays and Sharpton as starters since they did for most of the season) without admitting that. Add to it the Texans' likelihood to have a new starter at quarterback in September, and possibly a new right tackle and left guard, and you have quite a bit of change.
Ben Tate is the answer for the Cleveland Browns at running back if he can answer one question: Can he stay healthy?

The Browns are undoubtedly making the right move by signing Tate on Saturday to a two-year deal worth up to $7 million. He's the best available in an underwhelming free-agent running back class, and the Browns need a starting running back.

[+] EnlargeBen Tate
Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesBen Tate will aim to boost the Browns' offense with his physical running style.
An understudy to Arian Foster in Houston, Tate has the potential to be this year's breakout running back. He's 25 and he's got a 4.7-yard per carry average. Tate is a fit for the division and the Browns' scheme. His downhill running style suits the AFC North, especially when the sloppy weather conditions set in. His experience in the Texans' zone-blocking scheme makes it easy to envision he'll have the same success with the same one cut-and-burst in Kyle Shanahan's offense.

Still, when the Browns hand the ball off to Tate, you just never know whether he's going to break a long run or a bone. Two of his four NFL seasons have ended on injured reserve. A second-round pick in 2010, Tate broke his ankle in the preseason opener and was out for the season. Last season, he was put on IR in December with a rib injury.

"When I'm healthy, I think I'm an elite running back in this league," Tate said this week.

Tate isn't soft. He's known for playing through injuries. Last season, he battled through four cracked ribs much of the season to rush for 771 yards and four touchdowns in 14 games, including seven starts.

But Tate won't live up to his potential if he can't stay healthy. His injury history is as long as anyone else's in the NFL over the past three seasons:
2011: Eight weeks on the injury report (quadriceps, back, hip, groin, ankle, foot and shoulder)

2012: 15 weeks on the injury report (head, toe, hamstring and foot)

2013: 13 weeks on the injury report (shoulder, elbow, ribs, ankle and toe)

Tate will have to prove himself in Cleveland, where the bad-luck Browns have had their share of misfortune with running backs. Jamal Lewis' career ended because of concussions. Second-round pick Montario Hardesty was never healthy because of knee and calf problems. And Trent Richardson, the No. 3 overall pick of the 2012 draft, was limited throughout his 17-game run with the Browns due to knee and rib injuries.

All of these injuries have led to one of the most consistently bad rushing attacks in the NFL. These are the Browns' rankings in run offense since 2010: 20th, 28th, 24th and 27th. Last season, the patchwork ground game was so awful that seven different Browns players led the team in rushing in a game last season. Among that group were wide receivers Josh Gordon and Travis Benjamin, and even defensive back Josh Aubrey.

But, like it seems every year in Cleveland, it's a new coach, a new play-caller and a new hope. It was a no-brainer to sign Tate over the likes of Maurice Jones-Drew, Knowshon Moreno and LeGarrette Blount.

Tate is exactly the type of young power runner that the Browns need. That is, if he can stay healthy.
Ben Tate's Twitter account was pretty interesting on Friday -- and seems to indicate that he was inclined to soon become a member of the Cleveland Browns.

There was nothing official announced, and Twitter isn't a guaranteed source.

But when an NFL player like Tate posts some of the things he posted late Friday, it indicated two things: He is still in Cleveland on a visit that started Thursday evening, and he seems, at a minimum, intrigued enough to keep fans on the hook about his plans.

The most telling tweet was a picture Tate posted at about 11:30 p.m. that showed the lit up peak of the Terminal Tower, one of Cleveland's better-known buildings. Tate earlier promised a fan he could break the story on Twitter if he signed with Cleveland, and he also posted he was "sooo ready" to be a No. 1 back. Browns guard Jason Pinkston even tweeted to Tate earlier Friday "sign them papers!!"

Nothing is done until it's actually agreed to and signed, but usually a player and his representatives do not spend this much time and energy in a city without deciding to sign with the team involved. The Browns need a back, Tate seems interested, and it may be a match.

If he tweets a photo of the Art Museum or the Cleveland Orchestra on Saturday, things will be progressing.
The Cleveland Browns are getting a little more serious about free agency. Really serious.

The team confirmed several reports Thursday night that running back Ben Tate was in town to visit with the team and would be in the team’s facility on Friday. Tate wants to be a feature back; the Browns lack one. Tate has been considered one of the best fits on the market for the Browns; he averaged 4.7 yards per carry in his career.

Tate is a big back with ability and for a couple years he and Arian Foster formed one of the best tandems in the league in Houston. But Foster was the No. 1 guy, and Tate wants to be.

The Browns can give him that opportunity, but of course any contract signing comes down to money.

As highly regarded as Tate is, ESPN’s Bill Polian gave him a C grade on his free-agent tracking chart, same as he gave Peyton Hillis.

Polian calls Tate a “confrontational runner” with a physical style that can lead to injury. He has never played a full, 16-game season, missing time to ankle, hamstring, foot and rib injuries.

“He is a little bit of a teaser because you are always looking for him to have a breakout year but he never quite lives up to his potential,” Polian opined.

Earlier in the day the Browns signed tight end Jim Dray, whose reputation is as a blocking tight end. He showed pass-catching ability, but Dray played last season in Arizona, where coach Bruce Arians makes no secret he wants his tight ends to be blockers first.

That could mesh well with Jordan Cameron, who is more of a receiver first -- though Cameron did work on and improve his blocking as last season progressed.

The Browns also signed Cincinnati receiver Andrew Hawkins to an offer sheet, and the Bengals are not expected to match.

If all goes well, the Browns could conceivably add a starting linebacker and safety, a backup cornerback, a backup tight end, a slot receiver with speed and a starting running back in the first week of free agency.

And the draft planning has barely begun.

Broncos free agency primer: RB

March, 11, 2014
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With the countdown to free agency in its final hours, it's time to conclude the week-long look at the Denver Broncos' top needs in the open market.

[+] EnlargeMontee Ball
John Rieger/USA TODAY SportsThe Broncos will lean on second-year player Montee Ball to be the lead running back in 2014.
The Broncos are expected to be aggressive and active once the signings formally begin Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET, and have already taken a long look at Cleveland Browns safety T.J. Ward, as well as linebacker D'Qwell Jackson (he signed with the Indianapolis Colts). Their executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway has repeatedly made clear he believes free agency is the time to shop for need and the draft is the time to secure potential long-term Broncos who were the best picks on the board when their picks arrived.

Plenty of folks around the league say they expect the Broncos to buzz in early for some specific targets and then back off to finish out with shorter-term deals weeks later after the initial waves of signings have passed. It was a profile they used last season when they moved quickly to sign Louis Vasquez, Wes Welker, Terrance Knighton and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and then waited to add players like Shaun Phillips, Stewart Bradley, Quentin Jammer and Steve Vallos.

Today: Running back

Why it's an issue: It's took Knowshon Moreno five seasons, two knee surgeries, a pile of ups and downs to go with a teetering roster spot when the Broncos opened 2013 training camp, but in the '13 season Moreno was everything the team hoped he would be all along.

He led the team in rushing, with 1,038 yards, scored 13 touchdowns overall, caught 60 passes and was the go-to guy at the position when it came to pass protection. Moreno was also the poster-child for perseverance and hard work in the team's running backs room.

He's also not expected back. Moreno is an unrestricted free agent and there is at least some feeling inside the Broncos' complex, they got every ounce of what Moreno had to give this past season. And that Montee Ball, selected in the second round of the 2013 draft, is ready to move to the front of the line.

Ball closed out last season with 120 carries for 559 yards while steadily improving his work as a receiver and as a pass protector when working out of the backfield in the team's three-wide receiver set. The Broncos want him to be the guy, and Ball has done the work to show them he wants to be the guy, too.

However, the Broncos need some depth, especially if they can't kickstart Ronnie Hillman. Hillman went from being handed the starting job last offseason to what the team considered pouting his way down the stretch when he was often a game-day inactive.

Hillman is the potential big-play guy at the position and still has a pile of un-tapped potential, but he has to show something in the offseason work as the Broncos' patience will wear thin if they don't see an uptick in both performance and preparation.

The Broncos had undrafted rookie C.J. Anderson on the roster last season, as well. And Anderson is a bigger back, but is seen as a rotation/situational player at the moment.

The best out there: Teams are not really looking -- ever -- to break the bank on older running backs in free agency, so there is at least a scenario where Moreno returns to the Broncos on a short-term -- one- or two-year deal -- if he doesn't find anything in the open market to his liking.

Overall, however, the Texans' Ben Tate, the Colts' Donald Brown, the Jaguars' Maurice Jones-Drew, the Raiders' Darren McFadden, the Raiders' Rashad Jennings, the Patriots' LeGarrette Blount, the Giants' Andre Brown, the Steelers Jonathan Dwyer, the Vikings' Toby Gerhart, the Steelers' Felix Jones and the Buccaneers' Brian Leonard lead what is a class full of question marks and plenty of injury history.

The 25-year-old Tate is the youngest of that group with the least wear and tear, but he also wants No. 1 back money and has already dubbed himself "elite" as the market was set to open. Jones-Drew is a former No. 1 coming off two injury-marred seasons, while Jones had just 48 carries for the Steelers last season and did not show the big-play speed he had when the Cowboys made him a first-round selection.

The rest of the backs in the groups, especially Blount, have flashed at times, but the Broncos aren't looking for a potential No. 1, but rather a back who can support their homegrown No. 1. The draft also factors in with the coming rookie class with some depth in the middle rounds for those willing to live with some growing pains that come with a younger player.

Bottom line: Free agency has not been kind to this high-impact position. As a result, the Broncos, with Ball set to be the lead guy, will take a look for a player who can take some carries from time to time and function in the team's offense, but they have bigger needs with bigger dollars to spend elsewhere on the depth chart.

Top free-agent roundup: AFC South

March, 10, 2014
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With the 2014 free-agency period starting at 4 p.m. Tuesday, here is a look at top free agents in the AFC South as compiled by reporters Tania Ganguli, Paul Kuharsky, Michael DiRocco and Mike Wells. The top seven free agents are on defense, led by cornerback Vontae Davis of the Colts. Running back Maurice Jones-Drew, a fixture in Jacksonville for the past eight years, is looking for a new team. Is this the end of Antoine Bethea's run in Indianapolis?

1. Vontae Davis, Colts CB: Indianapolis needs a top cornerback to help a defense that finished 20th in the league last season. Davis has shown he has the talent to be one of the top cornerbacks in the league. He just needs to work on his consistency.

2. Alterraun Verner, Titans CB: A smart, aware corner with a knack for getting to the ball, he just lacks top speed and size.

3. Antoine Bethea, Colts S: A reliable player, having started every game he played during his eight years with the Colts. Finished with at least 100 tackles in five of those seasons.

4. Earl Mitchell, Texans NT: Solid player at the point of attack and has shown the ability to get consistent penetration. He had 48 tackles and 1.5 sacks last season.

5. Bernard Pollard, Titans S: Played well as an in-the-box safety and provided the sort of standard-setting leadership the Titans lacked previously. Update: Signed one-year, $2 million deal to remain with Titans.

6. Darryl Sharpton, Texans LB: Led the Texans with 87 tackles but is not as good in coverage as he is against the run.

Smith
7. Antonio Smith, Texans DE: He is more of a run-stuffing defensive end than a pass-rusher, although he did record five sacks in 2013.

8. Ben Tate, Texans RB: He led the Texans with 771 yards rushing. He has been somewhat injury-prone but has produced when needed as Arian Foster's backup.

9. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars RB: Jones-Drew started 15 games and led the Jaguars with 803 yards and five touchdowns rushing. He also caught 43 passes (third on the team) for 314 yards. He got off to a slow start then battled through ankle, hamstring and knee issues and averaged a career-low 3.4 yards per carry.

Brown
10. Donald Brown, Colts RB:
Brown was the Colts’ third running back twice in 2013 only to end the season as the starter. He has the speed but was too inconsistent during his five seasons in Indianapolis.

11. Garrett Graham, Texans TE: He’s not Owen Daniels, but he can line up tight or as a flex tight end. He came into his own as a receiver last season with 49 catches for 545 yards and five TDs.

12. Ahmad Bradshaw, Colts RB: A neck injury limited Bradshaw to only three games last season. It took just those three games for him to show he was the Colts' most effective running back.

13. Ropati Pitoitua, Titans DE: A giant, run-stuffing end who would be a solid, flexible piece in the hybrid front. Update: Signed 3-year, deal for $9.6 million to remain with Titans.

14. Adam Vinatieri, Colts K: The 41-year-old Vinatieri was 35-of-40 on field goals and a perfect 34-of-34 on extra points in 2013.

15. Samson Satele, Colts C: Was released by the team on March 6 after a disappointing 2013 season. He has started 98 of 102 games during his seven-year career.

Free-agency series: Running backs

February, 25, 2014
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Here is the second of a 10-part series breaking down the Jaguars’ free-agency needs, position by position:

Running backs

Who’s on the roster: Delone Carter, Shaun Chapas (FB), Justin Forsett, Maurice Jones-Drew, Denard Robinson, Jordan Todman and Will Ta'ufo'ou (FB).

Analysis: Jones-Drew becomes an unrestricted free agent next month, but every other player is under contract through at least 2014. Jones-Drew fought through ankle, hamstring and knee issues to rush for 803 yards and five touchdowns. The running game, though, never really got going until the 11th game of the season. The Jaguars ran for at least 112 yards in games 11-14 but things dropped off the table after that: 105 yards in the last two games combined. Part of the yearlong issue was due to the offensive line’s struggles, but the fact that the Jaguars rarely made any explosive plays in the run game was a big factor as well. The Jaguars had just four runs of 30 or more yards all season. Todman was solid as Jones-Drew’s backup and ran for 109 yards in his only start, but he’s not a featured back. Forsett was hurt in camp and never found his fit in the offense and likely will be released. Robinson never had a defined role until settling in at running back midway through the season and he has had ball-security issues. Carter and Chapas (practice squad) were signed late in the season.

NFL free agents of interest: Ben Tate, Darren McFadden, Knowshon Moreno, James Starks, Anthony Dixon and LeGarrette Blount.

Need meter: 7. If Jones-Drew does not re-sign with the Jaguars -- and right now it appears he won’t -- the team needs to sign a replacement via free agency. There are a lot of affordable options on the market because of the number of players available. Tate tops the list and should be the Jaguars’ top target at this position, but if they’re looking for a cheaper option then Starks, who has been a featured back in spurts with Green Bay, could be an option. Robinson is an intriguing player on the roster, though, because the staff is having him bulk up a bit to handle the pounding of playing running back. If he can solve his fumbling problems, he could be a surprise. Expect the team to draft at least one back as well.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Texans running back Arian Foster's rehab is going well, general manager Rick Smith and head coach Bill O'Brien said Friday.

Foster
Foster
"He's working hard, he's in the building, he's in the training room consistently," Smith said. "The reports I'm getting from Geoff [Kaplan, head trainer] indicate he's going to be fine."

Foster struggled with several injuries last season, starting with a calf strain during organized team activities, then a back injury that healed in time for him to start the regular season. Foster also dealt with a hamstring injury and then finally a back injury that knocked him out for the rest of the season when he decided to have surgery.

Foster's back injury required microscopic lumbar discectomy surgery, which was performed by Robert Watkins in California in November.

The running back posted a video on Instagram of himself doing a backflip into water two weeks ago. It included the caption "Healthy, happy. Vibes."

Running back will be a position of need for the Texans in this year's draft, but they're hanging onto Foster. They'll have to address depth, though, as they're going to lose running back Ben Tate in free agency.
The Miami Dolphins hired former Philadelphia Eagles quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor last week. While the initial hype included Lazor’s experience working with quarterbacks and the passing game, a big question is whether he can improve Miami’s 26th-ranked rushing attack.
Thomas
Lazor helped previously unknown Nick Foles go from a backup quarterback to a Pro Bowler this season. But a little-known stat is Philadelphia’s offense actually led the NFL in rushing last year under Eagles head coach Chip Kelly. Lazor certainly picked up some pointers from Kelly’s offense and the successful running game that he hopes to bring to Miami.

“When you come off of a season like we did where we were the leading rushing team in the NFL. We had the leading rusher. We had the highest-rated passer. We were able to be an explosive offense,” Lazor said last week. “Certainly a lot of things that led to that are going to have a great impact on what I believe works going forward.”

Miller
The Dolphins can do a better job in personnel this year to help Lazor. Miami relied on inexperienced former draft picks Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas to carry the load. In fact, the Dolphins only spent $2.412 million of their cap last year on running backs with Miller, Thomas and 2013 fifth-round pick Mike Gillislee. Miami ranked 30th in the NFL last season in money spent on running backs, according to the Roster Management System.

Miami has resources in both the draft and free agency to upgrade the running-back position. Big names in free agency include Ben Tate of the Houston Texans and Maurice Jones-Drew of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Potential draft targets include Carlos Hyde of Ohio State and James White of Wisconsin. White will play in the Senior Bowl this weekend.

Miller and Thomas were not the answer in 2013. It will be interesting to see if the Dolphins upgrade at running with a new offense and offensive coordinator in 2014.

Ben Tate expects his end in Houston

December, 24, 2013
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HOUSTON -- Texans running back Ben Tate appeared in the locker room on Tuesday for the first time since being placed on injured reserve.

Tate's last game with the Texans might have been in Indianapolis during which he aggravated the broken ribs he'd played through for several games.

Tate
Tate
So I asked the ever-honest Tate, in his gut, does he think he's done in Houston?

"Honestly?" he said, then gave a lengthy pause while he pondered his answer. "Probably so."

He added in a less pensive tone: "But we'll see. You never know what will happen. New coaches come in, some different things could happen."

A 2010 second-round pick, Tate came into Houston anticipating growing into the role as the team's starter. But he was passed up by the undrafted Arian Foster as Tate worked through injuries. When he got his chance, though, he showed he has the capability to be a starter.

I had heard last offseason that Tate was a player the Texans wanted to keep around, they liked what he could be. But his future with the team could depend on whose injury situation is more impactful for the Texans. I don't see a scenario where both Tate and Foster return to the team, especially given what Tate will command on the open market and the Texans' current cap situation.

For his part, Tate plans to remain stoic.

"You can't let emotions get involved," he said. "At any time you could get cut at any time, traded at any time. ... At the end of the day, the Texans are going to do what's best for them. So you gotta be smart."

Would he like to stay in Houston?

"I'd definitely like to stay," Tate said. "We'll see what happens."

What Texans players play for now

December, 17, 2013
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The Houston Texans can't make the 2013 NFL playoffs and they can't save their head coach's job. And after last week's loss to the Indianapolis Colts, it's less likely they can help their defensive coordinator move from interim head coach to regular head coach, despite his winning record as a head coach.

I asked several players Sunday evening: What do you play for now?

WR Andre Johnson, 11th season: "I'm just trying to win. Trying to end this streak. That's pretty much it. I only play the game for one reason and that's to win and hopefully one day win the Super Bowl. So other than that, I don't really set any personal goals or anything like that."

RB Ben Tate, 4th season: "I'm playing to get a W. I play because I love the game, I love doing this."

TE Ryan Griffin, 1st season: "Anytime you play, it's on film. So at this point we're playing for pride right now. You've got to put the right stuff on film. Everybody sees that, everybody in the NFL. It doesn't matter what your record is it is each play. So that's what we're playing for."

CB Johnathan Joseph, 8th season: "My pride. That's what I play for each and every week. My pride overrides everything else because I just want to go out there and play good, winning football from the beginning of the whistle to the end of the whistle. So I think it's about pride. Going out there and putting winning football on tape."

LG Wade Smith, 11th season: "I play for the fact that I love playing football. I want to win. I know if I play well, it's contributing to helping us get a win. If the offensive line plays well, then it's contributing to us getting a win. And we just go from there."

RT Derek Newton, 3rd season: "For my team. Myself. We're trying to get Ws each week."

OLB Brooks Reed, 3rd season: "Play for? Pride. Self respect."

ILB Darryl Sharpton, 4th season: "I play for my teammates. I play for my coaches. I play for Bryan Braman, Joe Mays, all the guys in the linebacker room. Reggie Herring, all my coaches. I mean, that's what you play for. It's your job. It's an unbelievable opportunity that people would kill for no matter what situation. I don't take it for granted. I've been through a lot of ups and downs and having this opportunity to play professional football in a great city like Houston, I'm going to take full advantage of my opportunity and give it my all."
Keenum-BabinGetty ImagesAre Case Keenum's Texans and Jason Babin's Jaguars on different paths as they near season's end?

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The streaks the Jaguars and Texans are on entering tonight's game are ones that would have been hard to believe after the first two weeks of the season.

The Jaguars started 0-2 and played so poorly it looked like they would go down as one of the worst teams in NFL history. The Texans started 2-0, and while those victories were shaky, it looked like they'd be able to right the ship and be one of the top playoff seeds in the AFC.

Three months later, the Jaguars (3-9) are 3-1 since their bye and have won back-to-back games for the first time since 2010. The Texans (2-10) have dropped a franchise-record 10 consecutive games, including a 13-6 loss to the Jaguars in Houston on Nov. 24.

Jaguars reporter Michael DiRocco and Texans reporter Tania Ganguli break down the matchup:

DiRocco: Tania, the Texans felt like they were at rock bottom after losing to the Jaguars on Nov. 24. What's their state of mind heading into Thursday's game?

Ganguli: They were up for Sunday’s game against the Patriots. It was a big one for the Texans after the way the Patriots blew them out twice last season, and that was apparent in the game. The Texans' offense played what might have been its best game with Case Keenum at quarterback, moving the ball from start to finish. There were some positives in that game, but ultimately the loss officially knocked the Texans out of playoff contention. Now they’re playing for pride. They can still avoid the league’s cellar when the season ends. And while there’s a section of fans that cares about the No. 1 overall pick above all else, a win would mean a lot to the team.

The last time the Texans played the Jaguars, the Texans fell to 2-9 and the Jaguars rose to 2-9, causing the Texans to join the Jaguars with the worst record in the NFL. Now the Texans are there alone and the Jaguars have won three out of their past four games. Is that indicative of a turnaround, or of poor play by their opponents?

DiRocco: It's a little of both, but I'd say more that the Jaguars have improved. In the four games since the bye, they're much better against the run (68 yards per game allowed vs. 162), have recorded nine of their 20 sacks, and are plus-3 in turnover ratio. The offensive line has been more consistent and receiver Ace Sanders has begun to emerge as a reliable option. So they are playing much better than the first eight games, which they lost by double digits. But the Jaguars haven't exactly played against the league's elite: The four teams are a combined 18-30 and only one (Arizona) has a winning record. They haven't exactly had to deal with elite QBs, either: Jake Locker/Ryan Fitzpatrick, Carson Palmer, Keenum and Brandon Weeden. Still, that shouldn't take away from the fact that the Jaguars are a better team than they were a month ago and have played well enough to win three consecutive games on the road for the first time since 2007.

Ben Tate looked pretty good against the Patriots, and it's probably not a coincidence that he rushes for 102 yards and the Texans nearly win. Is he back to 100 percent and is he the key for the Texans against the Jaguars? He really struggled in the previous meeting.

Ganguli: The running game just didn’t seem to get going in these teams’ last meeting, but Tate rebounded in a big way against the Patriots last weekend. He was asked if it was the best game the offensive line had played, and he said it was definitely one of them. Tate won’t talk about it, but he’s playing for a contract, as this is his final year with the Texans. The Texans’ offense needs him to be productive, and he was on Sunday.

It feels, from the outside, like a completely different season has sprouted for the Jaguars, whose nine losses all have been by double digits. Who has been the MVP of their three recent wins?

DiRocco: It hasn't really been one player, which is indicative of the growth the team has made since the bye week. Against Tennessee it was linebacker Paul Posluszny, who set the tone for the defense on the game’s first offensive snap when he knocked the ball loose from Chris Johnson and recovered the fumble at the Tennessee 19-yard line. Three plays later the Jaguars took a 7-0 lead and never trailed. Against Houston it was running back Maurice Jones-Drew, who ran for a season-high 84 yards and one touchdown and had a season-high 144 total yards. Against Cleveland it was Cecil Shorts, who fought through two drops and dealing with cornerback Joe Haden. Shorts beat Haden on a double-move to catch the game-winning touchdown pass with 40 seconds to play.

The last time the teams met, the Jaguars held Andre Johnson to just two catches. What kind of game do you expect out of him on Thursday?

Ganguli: Johnson’s production in that meeting had as much to do with the shakiness of the quarterback as it did with Johnson. Keenum had a rough day with both his decision-making and accuracy. He was gun-shy, and it hurt him and his receivers. It was no surprise then that a better day for Keenum coincided with a better day for Johnson against the Patriots. He caught eight passes for 121 yards, becoming the second-fastest player in league history to reach 900 career catches. I think you’ll see something closer to that version of Johnson. I don’t see Keenum regressing to what he was 11 days ago.

To wrap up, let’s talk about Jones-Drew some more, a guy who is probably pretty happy with the events of the past week. His college team won its big rivalry game, his current team won again and he got to throw a touchdown pass. That followed a game against Houston with those 144 all-purpose yards. Do you expect similar production from him? And how thrilled was he to get to throw that touchdown pass?

DiRocco: Jones-Drew is riding a pretty good wave, isn’t he? He’s probably the most proud of the touchdown pass, which makes him the first non-quarterback to throw a TD pass in franchise history. It also makes up for his only other career pass attempt, which got intercepted. Jones-Drew’s production has increased the past several weeks because the offensive line has been more consistent and he’s more involved in the passing game. He says catching passes doesn’t result in as much pounding as running through the line of scrimmage, so he’s fresher in the fourth quarter. I expect him to get 20 touches tonight.

Upon Further Review: Texans Week 10

November, 11, 2013
11/11/13
8:00
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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- A look at four hot issues from the Houston Texans' 27-24 loss to the Arizona Cardinals.

[+] EnlargeBen Tate
Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesBen Tate will aim to boost the Browns' offense with his physical running style.
Andre Johnson wasn't giving up those touchdowns: Texans receiver Andre Johnson was a big part of what kept Houston in the game. He caught a first-quarter touchdown and a fourth-quarter touchdown, barely getting his feet in. He admitted after the game that Arizona cornerback Patrick Peterson had good coverage on him, but added that wasn't going to get in the way of his own determination to come down with the ball.

Should the Texans have stayed on the ground more? Ben Tate, now the Texans' starting running back with Arian Foster headed to injured reserve, thought the Texans should have run the ball more in the second half. "I felt like it was working," he said. "I don’t understand why we went away from it. Besides that, I really don’t know. We just can’t play one half of football every week. If we were playing one half of football, we’d be doing great right now, but there’s two halves." The Texans ran the ball 14 times in the first half and seven times in the second half. Tate said that while he wasn't 100 percent (still recovering from broken ribs) he felt he was effective and could have carried more.

The feat of the foot: A few weeks ago when I approached punter Shane Lechler to tell him how close he was to 50,000 career punting yards, long snapper Jon Weeks jokingly indicated fatigue at hearing about how good Lechler is. The punter lightly indicated it had more to do with being old. He doesn't care much about punting yards as a statistic, but on Sunday he went over the 50,000-yard mark. Only five other punters have reached that landmark, according to ESPN Stats and Information. More than anything it indicates longevity. Lechler, who is in his 14th season, said he wants to punt for 20 years.

Critical Arizona score: The Cardinals took a three-point lead into the fourth quarter, but it turned into 10 when Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer found Andre Roberts 5 yards beyond his defensive back, Brice McCain. "All out blitz," McCain said. "My eyes were bad. Double move. He beat me." Wade Phillips said it was probably his fault for blitzing then, "but it was a little more desperation at that time, although we came back and still had a chance."

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