Two seasons removed from a MVP season, in which he scored a then-record 28 touchdowns and led the league with 1,880 yards, Shaun Alexander's career in Seattle is hanging by a thread.
His people want to know from GM Tim Ruskell what his future is; there's no sense in asking Coach Mike Holmgren, who has no future there, either.
Although built a little heavier than Walter Payton, Alexander has never really been considered a tough guy, a bruiser. He's coming off his worst NFL season (716 yards) since his rookie year when he was Ricky Watters' caddy. Yes, Alexander was plagued by cracked bone in his wrist and then a minor knee sprain, but football insiders immediately questioned his toughness because a bad wrist shouldn't have anything to do with his lack of acceleration and his unwillingness to hit a hole.
Holmgren also babied Alexander. The back didn't want to practice much of the season, so he stood and watched a lot. Consequently, there was no chance for the offensive line and Alexander to restore any timing during critical mid-week practices. Eventually, Holmgren got frustrated with his favorite runner, who looked very pedestrian with a 3.5 yards per carry average.
Holmgren's offense, which spreads the field with receivers, is great for a slashing runner because there are going to be lanes whenever linebackers are dropping into coverage or when defenses employ six defensive backs. But Alexander was never able to take advantage of such opportunities, and his people can rightly blame offensive line coach Bill Laveroni, who was fired at the end of the season. Seattle replaced Laveroni with one of the league's best, Mike Solari, who last worked in Kansas City but learned this offense while with the 49ers.
Although they will take a salary cap hit from the $11 million bonus Alexander received in 2006, it makes sense that Ruskell and the Seahawks will jettison Alexander. He's going to be 31 in August and he looks to be on a downward spiral. Runners are like quarterbacks; they need to be the main man, knowing that the coach has full confidence in them.
But with the big-salary acquisition of ex-Cowboy Julius Jones, whose style suits Holmgren's offense, and also short-yardage guy T.J. Duckett, there will be no room for Alexander. Besides, Mo Morris, who scored as many touchdowns as Alexander last season, remains on Seattle's roster. Morris and Jones are very similar backs. Even before the acquisition of Jones, the Seahawks were prepared to use their first-round pick, 25th overall, on a running back, knowing that the position is very deep in this year's draft.
Everything points to Alexander's departure. And there would be teams interested in him at a reduced salary. San Francisco, Tampa Bay, Denver, Chicago, Detroit and Houston have holes at the position. Five of those teams didn't have a 900-yard rusher; plus with the 49ers, he would be a good fit with Frank Gore.
"We know the type of back Shaun can be," Holmgren said at the end of the season. "I am not ready to buy into the fact that he hit 30 and all of a sudden he can't play anymore."
With that being said, however, Ruskell's moves indicate that he's not necessarily buying into Holmgren's optimism about Alexander, and apparently neither is head-coach-in-waiting Jim Mora.
While speaking of running backs, the Atlanta Falcons looked destined to draft Arkansas running back Darren McFadden with the third overall selection based on new coach Mike Smith's insistence on evolving into a physical team. All Smith has talked about since his surprising arrival in Atlanta is that he wants to dominate both lines of scrimmage. Yes, it is football cliche at its finest, but Smith is genuine about restoring toughness to the Falcons and tossing finesse football in the garbage.
Atlanta started their rebuilding with the huge salary given San Diego's Michael "Burner" Turner, who sat mostly for four seasons behind LaDainian Tomlinson. Turner has always looked like a big-time game-breaker, but the fact remains that Jerious Norwood, who just completed his second season with the Falcons, has gained 1,246 yards while Turner has 1,257 yards while playing two more seasons. It is a huge commitment by the Falcons and, obviously, a bit of a risk.
They talked about Chris Redman being their starting quarterback, but with Turner signed it makes sense that the Falcons will seriously examine the strengths and weaknesses of Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan, who continues to be ranked in most draft expert's top five although some clubs aren't convinced he is a franchise quarterback.
Just like baseball's spring training, this is the best time in the NFL for remaking one's roster and giving fans hope for the future. Seattle has taken a strong stance against one of its best players. The Seahawks are much better for it, especially if they can swing a trade for Alexander. Atlanta, though, is rolling the dice and the upcoming draft should fine tune their focus. Seattle is ready to challenge the Giants in the NFC, but Atlanta still has a long road to climb to respectability.