Cowboys might be the best fit

Now that he's a free agent, Eddie George has the challenge of finding a team that will offer an adequate salary and opportunity.

Updated: July 22, 2004, 1:18 PM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

During one of their many negotiating sessions over the past three months, Tennessee Titans general manager Floyd Reese reminded the agents for tailback Eddie George that no one remembers O.J. Simpson actually finished his 11-year NFL career playing for the San Francisco 49ers.

And agents Lamont Smith and Peter Schaffer are said to have countered by noting that Kansas City Chiefs star Priest Holmes and Stephen Davis of Carolina have done pretty nicely in their second incarnations.

Eddie George
George
The suggestions from both sides have degrees of merit and flaw. Indeed, there have been running backs who flourished with their second NFL franchises. And just as many backs were rendered anonymous -- Franco Harris, Tony Dorsett, Earl Campbell, among them -- when they departed their original franchises.

So in which category will George, two months shy of 31 years old and with the tread of more than 300 carries per season rubbed off his tires, be remembered when he concludes his career? The guess: Probably somewhere in-between.

To expect that George is going to approximate the mind-boggling numbers registered by Holmes in his three seasons with the Chiefs is a stretch even Elastic Man couldn't make. Holmes has averaged 1,530 rushing yards and 68.7 receptions since moving from Baltimore to Kansas City in 2001. In his career year in both categories, the 2000 season, George ran for 1,509 yards and posted 50 catches.

Things have pretty much been downhill for George ever since, as his nagging injuries have mounted, and his production has slipped. Over the same stretch in which Holmes was frolicking through defenses, George had trouble at times getting out of his own backfield, and his 3.23-yard average since 2001 is the lowest for any NFL back with 500 or more carries in that period.

Several defensive coordinators who game-planned against George the last few seasons said that the eight-year veteran simply doesn't get to the hole very quickly anymore. With a much less explosive first step, in part a by-product of injuries, George lost some power.

Holmes hadn't yet turned 28 when the Chiefs signed him as an unrestricted free agent in 2001. George, as noted, will be 31 in his first campaign for a new team. Notable is that Holmes is only two weeks younger than George, but has 48 percent fewer career carries. None of which suggests George, both on and off the field, won't make a key contribution to his new team this season.

The dicey part is positioning George for success, relocating him to a spot where he can play a relatively important role, and at the best price he can fetch. Since Schaffer and Smith are anything but novices, they doubtless gauged the market before allowing their client to force his way out of his Tennessee contract, and they must have some sense of which teams will have legitimate interest in George as a free agent.

But here's where things get interesting: If he doesn't get a contract that pays him at least the $1.5 million the Titans offered him for 2004, and one that includes at least a second season, then George's ire with Tennessee officials will have been misplaced. And at this point of the summer, with teams poised to report for camp, it might be difficult to find a team willing to slot George as its No. 1 tailback.

With the Titans, he probably would have retained the top spot on the depth chart, with second-year pro Chris Brown taking some playing time away from him. But where is George going to land at this point that he will have the opportunity to take carries from the backs already on hand? Remember, this is a player who has the lowest average per carry, an anemic 3.7 yards, of any back among the top 20 rushers in NFL history.

A true warrior? No doubt about it. George's stature around the league and his locker room presence alone are reasons to consider him. But no one is going to ante up big money just for his leadership qualities.

In alphabetical order, here are the teams for which George might want to play, and which might reciprocate with some interest in him:

  • Dallas: Bill Parcells hasn't made a move the entire offseason to bolster his backfield with a proven tailback and, while George might be more tempting than any of the other runners who were already in the market, the skinny is that The Tuna won't reach for the panic button unless second-round rookie Julius Jones struggles in training camp. George and his representatives privately griped about the quality of the Tennessee offensive line and hinted Titans management didn't do enough to upgrade the unit. They'd better take a long look at the Dallas blocking unit if they thought the Titans' line was suspect.

  • Oakland: The Raiders -- with an eclectic tailback cast that includes Tyrone Wheatley, Justin Fargas, Amos Zereoue, Troy Hambrick and J.R. Redmond -- are the one franchise that could pitch George on getting lots of carries and deliver on the promise. New coach Norv Turner loves having a workhorse back who can pound the ball at the opposition 20-25 times a game. And since they are the masters at signing players to long-term deals that are really only for one year, the Raiders could perhaps outdistance the $1.5 million that George was asked to accept in Tennessee, with a signing bonus and modest base salary. Early indications from the Bay Area are that Oakland isn't all that enamored of George. But, hey, can anyone believe the NFL's most purposely cryptic franchise?

  • Philadelphia: For him to replace the departed Duce Staley in the tailback triad coach Andy Reid deployed in 2003, George would have to swallow some pride, and determine that a potential Super Bowl ring is more important than being The Man. Reid defied the skeptics last season, those who insisted Brian Westbrook was nothing more than a third-down back and return specialist, by turning the second-year back into his starter. The excellent Correll Buckhalter is also on-hand and is a tough inside runner. Certainly the Eagles, who always have cap space available, have the wherewithal to add George to the payroll. This is a team that went out of character this spring, signing Terrell Owens and Jevon Kearse, in an effort to get beyond the NFC championship game hump. And George would be a terrific fit in a locker room filled with classy leaders. It remains to be seen if the Eagles are interested and can promise enough playing time to interest George as well.

  • Tampa Bay: Hey, Jon Gruden desperately wanted to sign Emmitt Smith last spring, and George has more left in the tank than the NFL's career rushing leader. But, again, where is George going to get carries? The Bucs signed free agents Charlie Garner, Jamel White and Brandon Bennett this offseason. Michael Pittman will miss the first three games of the season because of a league-mandated suspension, but there are no plans to release him. Garner is the kind of back Gruden loves, a skittering runner and proven receiver, a back who makes people miss in space. Make no mistake, Gruden loves to hammer the ball at defenses, too, and so he will probably consider George. But this is a depth chart that's already crowded and it will take some adjustments to make room for another back.

    Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.

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