In an apparent effort to address a tailback position that features plenty of depth but no proven starter, the Denver Broncos recently approached the Chicago Bears about the availability of six-year veteran runner Thomas Jones, ESPN.com has learned.
The bait dangled by the Broncos in their efforts to upgrade at tailback: Disgruntled wide receiver Ashley Lelie, who boycotted the team's offseason workouts and who may not report to camp when the Broncos begin practicing on Friday.
Denver was rebuffed by the Bears but the inquiry offers at least circumstantial evidence that the Broncos may not feel comfortable with their options at tailback. Ironically, Jones suffered a strained hamstring on Thursday as he was taking a pre-training camp exam and the Bears placed him on the league's physically unable to perform (PUP) list.
Chicago officials said Jones will be evaluated daily. Because he is on the active PUP list, Jones can begin practicing in camp as soon as he passes a physical.
The Broncos released veteran tailback Mike Anderson, their leading rusher in 2005, for salary cap reasons this spring, and he signed with the Baltimore Ravens as a free agent. That left Denver with three tailbacks -- former Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne, speedster Tatum Bell and second-year veteran Cedric Cobbs -- vying for playing time. Denver officials have said they are satisfied with that group, but the inquiry about Jones might indicate otherwise.
The top three backs on the Broncos' depth chart have totaled only 15 regular-season starts. Dayne, the most experienced of the trio, has started only three games in the last four seasons and has logged just 105 carries over the past three years. Bell has only one career start and Cobbs has appeared in just four outings.
A first-round pick of the Cardinals in 2000, Jones has resurrected his career since leaving Arizona after the 2002 season and has been especially productive since signing with the Bears in 2004. In Jones' two years in Chicago, he has rushed for 2,283 yards and 16 touchdowns and in 2005 became the only Bears player besides Walter Payton to gain 1,300 yards in a season.
Bears officials said earlier this week that Jones and last year's first-round choice, Cedric Benson, would rotate at tailback. But the hamstring injury suffered Thursday figures to sideline Jones for a few days and might give Denver officials pause about making another effort to pry him free. Jones has two years left on his contract, at base salaries of $2.25 million each in 2006 and 2007, and would like to have his contract enhanced. It's believed that Jones, 28, would welcome a trade.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.