The man who has scored more touchdowns than all but 12 people in NFL history says he would play for a minimum salary.
More than five months have passed since that April afternoon when the Seahawks announced they were releasing the franchise’s all-time leading rusher.
Five months in which Shaun Alexander stayed patient, waiting and watching for the opportunity to open up like one of the holes that he’s made a living running through.
Five months in which Alexander essentially has been running in place.
The easy joke would be to say that it isn’t all that different from his final two seasons in Seattle. But that’s not all that nice, and it’s not really true either, since it was less than two years ago that he ran for more than 100 yards against the Bears in a playoff game in Chicago.
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And now? Nothing. At least not yet, something that reflects both the perilous career path of an NFL player and a more subtle shift in a tailback’s workload.
He visited Cincinnati and New Orleans in May and there have been other teams interested.
He’s working with www.HGTVPro.com, billed as the rookie commissioner of an online football pick-em league. His foundation donated $25,000 to teach chess to students in his home state of Kentucky through the America’s Foundation for Chess.
Yet the man who has scored more touchdowns than all but 12 people in NFL history has struggled to find work and told The Associated Press on Friday he’d play for a minimum salary.
Alexander has been working out at the University of Washington and is healthy and in great shape, but there has been a shift in the NFL. Teams are starting to look for complements in the backfield, not just cornerstones. That’s why Tennessee used its first-round pick on a running back when it already has LenDale White and why Dallas drafted Felix Jones even though the Cowboys have Marion Barber.
For five seasons, Alexander was that Atlas of Seattle’s running game. He averaged 330.6 carries per season. Not one player reached that total last season. Clinton Portis led the NFL with 325 carries, the lowest league-leading total in 17 years.
And in Alexander’s absence, the Seahawks will be turning to the tandem of Maurice Morris and Julius Jones, but coach Mike Holmgren scoffed at the idea that a committee of tailbacks has become a trend in the NFL.
“If you have LaDainian Tomlinson, you are not going to platoon him,” Holmgren said. “You want him carrying the ball as much as he can carry the ball as much as he can until he gets tired.”
That’s how Holmgren handled Alexander, giving him as many carries as he could take and now he stands 571 yards short of reaching 10,000 yards rushing in his career.
But this is the big-boy league. There’s not a lot of room for hurt feelings and bruised egos. The Pro Football Hall of Fame is where you get lifetime-achievement awards, not NFL locker rooms.
And the end can come quickly. Rich Gannon won the league’s MVP award in 2002. He played 10 games over the next two years and that was it. Steve McNair shared the NFL’s MVP award in 2003, played two more seasons with Tennessee and then got shipped off to Baltimore.
Curtis Martin won the league’s rushing title in 2004, famously finishing one 1 yard in front of Alexander. He played 12 games the next season and then never recovered from a knee injury.
Jamal Lewis was a first-round draft pick in 2000, same year as Alexander. Just like Alexander, he surpassed 1,000 yards rushing in four of his first five seasons. He averaged a career-low 3.4 yards per carry in 2005, stayed south of 4 yards in 2006 and then Baltimore let him go. With Cleveland last season, he gained 1,304 yards and averaged 4.4 yards per carry.
In fact, Baltimore linebacker Bart Scott pointed to Lewis as an example last season when he was asked about Alexander in December.
“Has Shaun Alexander lost a step?” Scott asked rhetorically. “I think they were saying the same thing about that about a guy like that was once in Baltimore, who’s now having a great season in Cleveland. I heard that story before.
“I’m not buying that piece of cheese.”
Meanwhile, Alexander is ready at home, just waiting for a team to nibble.
Danny O’Neil: 206-464-2364 or firstname.lastname@example.org