By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 24, 2006
As each of the Washington Redskins' reserve running backs heard the news that the team had acquired tailback T.J. Duckett from Atlanta on Tuesday night, their reactions were largely the same. They wavered between shock, anger and frustration, but Coach Joe Gibbs said yesterday that all will make the final roster and contribute this season.
Duckett, 25, is a power back who excels in short-yardage and goal-line situations, and he joins a crowded backfield with franchise runner Clinton Portis, who is recovering from a partially dislocated left shoulder; Ladell Betts, Portis's primary backup the last two seasons; veteran Rock Cartwright, a special teams stalwart who has thrived in limited opportunities carrying the ball; and fullback Mike Sellers, who performed at a Pro Bowl level in 2005 and was filling a power-running role before Duckett's arrival.
Gibbs said he had extensive meetings with the other tailbacks, believes all the runners can coexist and maintained that the trade was not completed solely as a precaution in case Portis's injury lingers.
"They all have big roles for us," Gibbs said of Betts, Cartwright and Sellers. "They're important guys. They're going to be on the football team. This is another person we felt like we could add who's a real good football player."
When Portis was hurt in the first preseason game, he said he thought that opponents would target his shoulder all season, and the injury might linger. Gibbs conceded that Portis's shoulder injury "causes you to think" more about running back depth, but said Portis's rehab is ahead of schedule and that he expects him to be starting in Week 1.
Duckett's reputation and production made him attractive, Gibbs said, and several Redskins coaches knew him from their ties to the Falcons, making them willing to trade the equivalent of a high third-round pick to Denver in a complicated three-way deal (Broncos wide receiver Ashley Lelie went to Atlanta). It's uncertain if Duckett will play Saturday in New England as he adapts to a new playbook, Gibbs said.
"I'm just going to find my role, jump in and do whatever I can to contribute to the team," Duckett said. "Learn as much as I can as soon as I can."
Duckett was drafted 18th overall in 2002, and has averaged 3.9 yards a carry or better in three of his seasons, but had only a 3.1-yard average last season and fell out of favor with the Falcons. He has carried 20 times or more in just three games and has one 100-yard game on 552 carries. Betts has rushed for 100 yards twice in 321 career carries and Cartwright has rushed for 100 yards once in 139 career carries.
Sellers, whose frame (6 feet 3, 278 pounds) is similar to Duckett's (6 feet, 254), was second on the team with eight touchdowns last season and has been groomed for an expanded role. Sellers learned of the trade from a radio report, he said, and suspected he might have to make way for Duckett near the end zone (Duckett has 27 touchdowns in his last 43 games).
"I'm shocked, man," Sellers said. "I didn't even know. I thought we had depth. Maybe they want more depth. I thought I was running good. I felt good in the Jets game [three straight carries for 26 yards Saturday]. Short yardage? I guess they don't want me doing that anymore."
Said Gibbs, "If Mike keeps running the ball like that, we'll keep giving him carries like that."
Betts, a free agent at season's end who has been discussing a contract extension with the team, said he aims to beat out others to retain his spot on the depth chart and in the organization. Duckett's contract also is up at the end of the season and Gibbs said there has been little discussion about adding to Duckett's contract (the matter was broached briefly Tuesday, according to a source, but was not an immediate priority for either side).
"As far as I know my contract talks with the team are ongoing," said Betts, who said he also was "shocked" by the trade. "That's really all I know. I don't know if him coming here affects me or not, but I know we're talking about an extension."
Cartwright, a seventh-round pick in 2002 who averaged 7.4 yards a carry last year on just 27 rushes, said he now figures that his only shot to make the team is on special teams. The trade would also make it increasingly unlikely that fullback Nehemiah Broughton (a seventh-round pick in 2005) will make the team.
"Personally, me and Ladell, when Clinton's out I think we can get the job done," Cartwright said. "And when Clinton comes back we'll have four tailbacks and you only dress three. So the situation is like, what's going to happen? Is someone going to be released or traded? What's the deal? I just have to continue doing what I do on special teams and try to make plays there."
The draft-pick compensation for Duckett will not be known until season's end depending on how the Redskins and Broncos fare in the standings, league sources said. There are four possibilities, and each equals the value of a high third-round pick on a chart used by most NFL teams, with a numerical value attached to each pick.
The teams could swap first-round picks in 2007; swap first-rounders with the Broncos getting an additional fourth-round pick in 2008; swap first-rounders with Denver getting a third-round pick in 2007; or swap first-round picks with Denver getting a third-round selection in 2007 and a fourth-round pick in 2008.
The Broncos had been trying to procure a fourth-round pick for Lelie, a disgruntled player they planned to deactivate or release, but were unable to do so before this deal emerged, league sources said. The Redskins have routinely dealt picks since Gibbs's return to coaching, opting instead to sign free agents and trade for established players. This is their third significant trade with Denver since 2004.
Staff writer Howard Bryant contributed to this report.