The running back position is one of concern for the Buccaneers as they head into the 2008 offseason.
Running backs Michael Pittman and Michael Bennett are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents in March and Cadillac Williams is looking at a long road to recovery after he sustained a torn patellar tendon in Week 4 vs. Carolina.
Although those players' futures are uncertain, one player the Buccaneers intend to have around for the 2008 season and beyond is RB Earnest Graham.
Graham, 27, did an admirable job of filling in for Williams and Pittman in 2007, rushing for 898 yards (4.0 avg.) and 10 touchdowns while hauling in 49 passes for 324 yards.
As a result of the former undrafted free agent's success, Tampa Bay's running game finished the 2007 season ranked 11th in the National Football League.
Graham is entering the final year of his contract, which is scheduled to pay him $605,000 in base salary. After negotiating his own two-year contract extension in 2006, Graham has hired agent Drew Rosenhaus to represent him in hopes of earning a new and more lucrative contract.
That meeting could take place as early as next week in Houston, where the East-West Shrine Game practices will be held leading up to the college all-star contest on Jan. 19.
"We have several players that are in the last year of their deals," said Allen. "[Quarterback] Jeff Garcia is one of them and there are several others. We've already set up a meeting with [Earnest's] representative and we'll set up a meeting later on to talk about it."
The Bucs remain optimistic that Williams, a 2005 first-round draft pick and NFL Rookie of the Year, will be a significant contributor in 2008. However, the Bucs have deemed the running back position a priority this offseason given the circumstances surrounding Williams, Pittman and Bennett.
"It will have an impact," Allen said of Williams' injury and rehab. "The good news is we get to see him everyday and you can see the progress being made. There's no doubt that Carnell is going to do everything in his power to get better. If someone can come back from that injury quicker it's Carnell Williams."
Although there's a chance the Bucs could re-sign Pittman, 32, or Bennett, whom they traded 2008 and 2009 conditional draft picks to Kansas City for in exchange for his services back in October, the Bucs could also look elsewhere.
Several running backs, including Michael Turner (San Diego), Mewelde Moore (Minnesota) and Julius Jones (Dallas), are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents in March.
The Bucs could also turn to the 2008 NFL Draft, where they are scheduled to pick 20th in the first round, to help address their running back position.
"It's definitely a position of concern," said Allen. "It is an area that needs to be addressed."
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