Texans off season positional analysis: Running backs

Foster's future with Texans is cloudy

OCTOBER 18: Arian Foster #23 of the Houston Texans rushes for yardage during the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field on October 18, 2015 in Jacksonville, Florida
OCTOBER 18: Arian Foster #23 of the Houston Texans rushes for yardage during the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field on October 18, 2015 in Jacksonville, Florida (Getty Images)

HOUSTON – As the Texans were the first of the 12 playoff teams to be eliminated, the process of analyzing the roster and managing their cap situation begins in earnest. Position by position, the Texans will have some tough choices to make to re-shape the roster for the 2016 season.

Time to take a look at each position beginning with running backs, where the long-time bell cow, Arian Foster, for the Texans strong ground game could be shown the door before the upcoming season begins.

Houston has four running backs under contract for the 2016 season. Foster, Alfred Blue, Akeem Hunt and Kenny Hilliard all have contracts extending into the upcoming season. 

Veterans Chris Polk and Johnathan Grimes are set to hit free agency.

Each presents a very different case to be a part of the initial plans for the upcoming season. 

Foster, the oldest of the bunch, will be turning 30 before the first game of next season. For most of his time with Houston, Foster has been an elite running back. But for that same time, he's been injured through much of that time. 

He injured his groin during training camp this past season, which led to sports hernia surgery. He was inactive for the first three games of the season, before making his season debut. Just four games later his season would end in Miami, just when the Texans resurgence was beginning. 

Foster blew out his Achilles tendon last in the 44-26 blowout loss at Miami and was placed on injured reserve ending his seventh season in Houston. He also averaged only 2.6 yards per carry on 63 totes, just a year after averaging 4.8 yards per carry the year prior and earning a trip to the Pro Bowl for the fourth time.

He clearly was a different player in 2015, unable to shoot past defenders and instead using his just his strength and still excellent vision and cutting ability to gain whatever yards he could.

The working life of a running back is pretty limited in the NFL, and he carried an incredibly heavy workload in his years as a starter with the Texans. But maybe the larger issue concerning his possible return is his contract situation.

Foster will enter the final year of his five-year, $43.5 million contract he signed prior to the 2012 season. He carries a base salary of $6.5 million with a more significant cap hit of nearly $9 million dollars.  

The expectation is Foster will be released early in the offseason, although there is the possibility of a return with a reworked contract. 

There is also the recovery from the Achilles tendon that must be considered. When owner Bob McNair spoke at the NFL owners meetings, he said the following about Foster's future with the team, "We'll have to see how healthy he is, until we know that, there's really not much you can think about."

Blue filled in as the starter for the second year in a row and really got on a roll late in the season, including the wild card game. Blue will the third-year of his four-year rookie contract. He is due less than $700,000 on that deal. 

Blue gained 254 yards on 56 carries over the final three weeks of the season, then added another 99 yards on 17 carries in the wild card game against Kansas City. He also had a pair of runs of 40 yards or better, plus a 65 yard carry that was called back by penalty.

He will be back, but should be slated for his usual back-up role.

Akeem Hunt joined the team for just the final seven games of the season. While he was used sparingly, he is by far the Texans fastest running back, and the team tried to get him the ball in ways where they could put that skill to work. 

Hunt also handled kickoff return duties for most of his time with the team. He signed a two-year deal and will be in the mix to win a roster spot on the 2016 team.

Hilliard was drafted in the seventh round of the 2015 draft, but after signing his four-year deal, he was waived before the regular season. 

He spent the season on the Texans practice squad and was signed to a futures/reserve contract when the season concluded. 

Hilliard will likely get plenty of looks during the offseason and potentially in the preseason but is likely facing an uphill battle to make the team in 2016.

Polk signed a one-year deal this past offseason, and the veteran seemed to earn the confidence of the coaching staff early on. While he had a carry in all but one regular season game, he had none in the playoff game.

That is likely an indicator of his future with the team. It would be a surprise if he were even brought back to compete for a spot. 

Grimes just finished the final year of his three-year contract and is set to become a restricted free agent this offseason. 

Grimes averaged five yards per carry, easily the best mark on the team among primary ball-carries. He handled some wildcat duties and is a valued pass-catcher and pass-protector. Grimes was probably under-utilized this past season, and while he doesn't possess great speed, he can be a valuable part of the offense moving forward, regardless of what other additions may be made.

Running back is expected to be a position the Texans look at strongly in the upcoming draft. Free agency is also an option and depending on market value, the crop of potential free agent running backs could be impressive, including Miami's Lamar Miller, Tampa Bay's Doug Martin and Chicago's Matt Forte.