Former Mountaineer Steve Slaton was a third round pick by the Houston Texans in the 2008 Draft. He garnered national attention his rookie season by leading all rookies in rushing with 1,282 yards, also breaking the Texans single season rushing record. Since then, due to a case of fumbliitis, injuries, the emergence of Arian Foster, and the Texans loading up at RB, Slaton has dropped further on the crowded depth chart.
Now, with a healthy Slaton returning next season (if there is one), the Texans have three options on what to do with Slaton. Only one option would keep Slaton on the team, but would it be good for Slaton?
In Slaton's 2nd season, he lost the goal line and short-yardage situation position to Ryan Moats at the end of the preseason. He became fumble prone to start the season and lost the starting job to Moats entirely. A month later, he was put on IR for the rest of the season. During that offseason, the Texans signed undrafted free-agent, Arian Foster, drafted Ben Tate in the 2nd round, and Derrick Ward. Ben Tate was injured early in the season and went on IR. Foster's emergence relegated Slaton to only occasional appearances in the Houston backfield and duty on kickoff and punt returns.
With Tate healthy for the upcoming season to back up Foster, the Texans are at a crossroads on what to do with Slaton. There are three options: keep him on the team, cut him, or trade him.
Foster was the league's leading rusher last season, and barring a horrible preseason or injury, Foster will be the Texans starting running back at the start of the 2011 season. The Texans have high hopes for Tate, and like having Derrick Ward on the roster as the reliable veteran. With the Texans having plans for these three guys, it leaves Slaton without a defined role on the team and could possibly be cut. If he is kept on the team, then he may not get on the field very often. If cut, he would be free to sign with whomever he wants.
Slaton still holds value in the eyes of some GMs around the league. His playing time has been sparse over the past two seasons, but has proved that he can perform at a high level. John McClain of the Houston Chronicle reported last week that Slaton could be put on the trade block prior to next season.
"Ideally," wrote McClain, "he looks good in the preseason and they can get something for him. If there is a preseason."
He went on to suggest that a team like the Washington Redskins that employs a zone-blocking scheme, would be a good fit for Slaton. The Skins released Clinton Portis last month, and are searching for a starting running back. Slaton is headed into the final year of his contract and is owed $550,000 for next season, a bargain if he lands on a team that has a role for him.
The Broncos have also shown some interest in Slaton since it's been rumored that he's on the block. They're looking for someone to back up Knowshon Moreno.
Of those two, I'd rather see him go to the Redskins. I think that with the departure of Portis, he would be in a position to see the field more. Ryan Torain was signed from the Redskins practice squad in the middle of the season when injuries were rampant in their backfield. He performed well in a few games, but not enough to cement his role as the definite starter for next season. They finished 30th in the league in rushing last season, so they have nowhere to go but up.
They also face uncertainty at the QB position. Donovan McNabb is not certain to be the starter next year, or even on the team after Mike Shanahan benched him towards the end of last season.
Shanahan is known for making relative unknown running backs into stars (see: Terrell Davis, Clinton Portis). If they beef up their offensive line and add Slaton, he could have a chance to break out, again.