INDIANAPOLIS - The path to finding the Cardinals’ starting running back starts here. The NFL scouting combine not only gives the team an opportunity to sort through one of the deepest running back drafts in a few years, but also the chance to figure out if trading for Travis Henry of the Buffalo Bills might be a better solution.
"We’re looking for a guy that’s going to be here with us for three, four, five, six years and have a lot of productivity along the way," Cardinals coach Dennis Green said earlier this week on the NFL Network.
With the eighth pick in the draft, the Cards can probably pluck one of the top three running back prospects: Cedric Benson of Texas, or Auburn teammates Ronnie Brown and Carnell "Cadillac" Williams.
Henry is the other likely option.
Green and Cardinals vice president of football operations Rod Graves aren’t scheduled to meet with the media until Saturday. In the meantime, the idea of a swap of Henry for Arizona offensive tackle L.J. Shelton hasn’t gone away.
Bills general manager Tom Donahoe said Thursday the Bills will give the Cardinals the same chance to visit with Henry as the Cards did with Shelton last week. Donahoe also said he has talked to five teams about trading for Henry. As for acquiring Shelton, "We don’t have a crystal ball," he said.
Bills coach Mike Mularkey said it wasn’t certain Henry was going to be traded at all.
"It’s going to be for the right price," Mularkey said. "If it’s not the right price, you need him back. You need two quality backs."
Green was purposefully vague when talking about where he would find a new running back. But he also said there might be players who are a "better fit" than others, and implied getting a draft pick for Shelton is preferred.
"We know this," Green said, "draft picks are what you like. When you talk about trading you want to look at that American system of developing some of the greatest talent around. And the more players you can draft, the better off you are."
One NFL scout said Thursday that Brown is the best all-around back of the top three prospects, while Williams is the most explosive. Benson, a punishing downhill runner, has been the most productive but also has some character issues relating to a couple of arrests.
Even if the Cardinals don’t draft a back at No. 8, they could take one in the second or third round and pair him with the rehabilitating Marcel Shipp for a solid tandem.
"There are enough of us in the draft that teams can wait and get a good back," West Virginia running back Kay-Jay Harris said. "It’s a good thing for the teams — I don’t know if it’s good for the backs."
EXTRA POINTS: Drew Rosenhaus, the agent for Cardinals receiver Anquan Boldin, said there was nothing new to report on contract talks with the team other than: "We are continuing to have dialogue." Boldin, under contract through 2006, wants a new contract while the Cards prefer an extension.
Rosenhaus’ demeanor changed when asked if anything was going on with another of his Cardinals clients, cornerback Duane Starks, delivering a terse "no comment." Starks, used in a nickel role most of the season, is a candidate to be released because of his hefty $3.6 million salary. . . .
Quarterback Jeff Garcia’s agent, Stephen Baker, said six teams are interested in his client, although he would not confirm whether one of the teams is the Cardinals. With regard to Garcia, Graves already has said the Cards were "keeping the door open."