Cleveland Browns running backs coach, Wilbert Montgomery, made waves this week when he had some harsh words for his unit in regard to none of them wanting to be the guy. On Tuesday afternoon, more fuel was added to that fire, as a Sports Illustrated report surfaced that the Cleveland Browns have had internal discussions in regard to current free agent back, Ray Rice.
— Nate Ulrich (@NateUlrichABJ) August 9, 2015
A free agent since video footage was released in regard to him attacking his then fiancé in an elevator, Rice has seemingly been untouchable by a league cracking down on distractions and negative behavior off the field. However, with the Browns running back unit underperforming and injured, it seems the team is mulling around various options to bolster this unit.
Head coach Mike Pettine was asked about the Rice rumors on Tuesday. He stated, “Of course it’s a natural question here because of [Browns running backs coach] Wilbert [Montgomery], and because I was with Ray when he was a Ravens rookie (in 2008) and know a lot of people in Baltimore. Obviously Wilbert was his position coach for Ray’s first six years in the league (2008–13). I’m not going to say it didn’t come up in discussion, but at this point we’re not there yet.”
Not being there should be the understatement of the year from this quote, as Pettine had harsh words following the incident last season. He said it would be really difficult to coach him after seeing what he did, especially for a father with daughters.
With this in mind, there should be no world in which the Browns seriously consider Rice as an option if they are not sold on the running backs on the roster. Instead, they should consider one of the following three players if they feel the need to up the veteran quotient and push their young backs over the course of the rest of the preseason.
Someone who was on my free agent wish list, the 30-year old Thomas spent his entire career with the New Orleans Saints prior to hitting free agency. Despite rushing for 3,745 yards and 28 touchdowns and catching 327 passes for 2,608 yards and 12 touchdowns, the free agent market for the eight-year veteran is seemingly non-existent at this time. In fact, he left Houston without a deal following the injury to Arian Foster which is going to keep the Texans’ superstar out for an extended period of time this season.
So why is he the best fit right now for the Browns? First off, he is used to battling it out with younger backs from his days in New Orleans, and was still able to carve out a solid role for himself on the team. Sharing the backfield with Mark Ingram, Darren Sproles and many more during his tenure there, the Saints always found a way to use him. Secondly, he would bring exactly what the Browns need to their passing game out of the backfield right now—especially if Duke Johnson is out for an extended period of time.
Coming off a fractured fibula and set to serve a one-game suspension to open the season due to a marijuana possession charge, Bradshaw remains a free agent at this time. However, the former New York Giant and Indianapolis Colt could still provide an excellent boost to the Browns running back unit—even if he has to miss the opener.
Over his eight-year career, Bradshaw was known as the speed component to the Giants backfield. He racked up 4,843 yards on 1,052 carries (4.6 yards per attempt) and 36 touchdowns during his career—with the majority of those yards coming with the Giants. He has never had below an average of 3.9 yards per attempt in a season, and is coming off of three consecutive years of 4.6, 4.5 and 4.7 in the time in which most running backs are “on a decline” according to many analysts.
On top of the rushing impact, he has also caught 177 passes for 1,429 yards and nine touchdowns. This means he would fit the Browns need for a receiving back if Johnson is out for an extended period of time, and like Thomas has proven to be okay with sharing carries with other backs during his career.
Okay, so 85 percent of you probably have no clue who Josey is—and he is a complete deviation from the veterans on this list. However, he is a player I followed closely in college at Missouri who could have had a very good career before he suffered a knee injury at the end of the 2011 season that derailed his ascension to one of the best in all of college football. He would bounce back after missing all of the 2012 season because of this injury in 2013, prompting him to leave early for the 2014 NFL Draft.
In his collegiate career, the 5’8” and 195-pound back who ran a 4.43 40-yard dash at the combine put up 2,771 yards and 30 touchdowns in three seasons. Before hurting his knee in 2011, he had an incredible 8.1 yards per-carry average—carrying the ball 145 times for 1,168 yards and nine touchdowns in 10 games. After missing 2012, Josey came back to run for 1,166 yards and 16 touchdowns on 174 carries in 2013.
Showing an electric ability and second-gear unmatched by many in college football, it was surprising to see him go undrafted in 2014. He ended up signing with the Philadelphia Eagles after the draft, but was cut despite having a very strong camp due to the numbers game with the Eagles backs. He put up the best preseason by an Eagles back in a long time, rushing 34 times for 225 yards and he caught three passes for 39 yards. In fact, he led the NFL with a 6.6 yards per-carry average in the preseason.
From there, Josey signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars practice squad and then was signed off their practice squad by the Minnesota Vikings in December. His tenure with the Vikings ended during the offseason, as he signed with the Toronto Argonauts in the CFL. Now, I do not know the rules of breaking a contract in the CFL—but if the Browns came calling, Josey would likely take the chance at the NFL once again. Though he would be another young back to add to the group, his speed would bring another element to the Browns backfield that Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West do not have.