Jets shore up backfield, acquire Barlow from 49ers

Filling their need for an every-down tailback in the absence of star Curtis Martin, the New York Jets on Sunday acquired five-year veteran Kevan Barlow from San Francisco in exchange for an undisclosed pick in the 2007 draft.

A league source said Sunday night that the pick involved is a fourth-round choice that can become a higher selection if Barlow reaches predetermined performance levels, but neither team confirmed that.

The deal is contingent on Barlow passing a Jets-administered physical. On Tuesday, New York voided a deal that would have brought Lee Suggs to the Jets in exchange for defensive back Derrick Strait after the Cleveland tailback failed a physical because of his left knee.

Barlow, 27, missed four games in 2005 because of a knee injury.

"We have been impressed with Kevan's production in both the running and passing game," Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum said. "We feel Kevan will complement our running back group, and he will come in and compete for playing time."

It will be an upset, however, if Barlow is not the Jets' opening day starter.

A third-round choice in the 2001 draft, Barlow is known as a talented but sometimes enigmatic performer. But he has demonstrated in the past that he can carry the load associated with being a team's No. 1 tailback. He was in competition with Frank Gore for the starting job in San Francisco, but the 49ers obviously felt the second-year pro from Miami was a better player and that they had sufficient depth at the tailback.

"This is a great opportunity for Kevan, because of New York's need for a running back," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said in a statement released by the team. "Kevan has been committed to our program and done well. With the depth at running back, we felt we could make this move."

Barlow has appeared in 72 games and started 30, and he rushed for 3,614 yards and 24 touchdowns on 891 carries. His best season was in 2003, when he carried 201 times for 1,024 yards and six touchdowns. The former University of Pittsburgh standout also has 137 catches for 1,143 yards and three touchdowns.

The Jets will inherit Barlow's contract, which has three seasons remaining at base salaries of $2.5 million (2006), $3.25 million (2007) and $4 million (2008).

New York was exploring other options at tailback and had sent a scout to watch Atlanta's T.J. Duckett in Saturday night's preseason game. It is thought there were substantive discussions about the possibility of acquiring Duckett, a former first-round draft choice who has played well for the Falcons in two preseason outings.

The Jets' desperate need for a tailback stems from Martin's inability to practice because of a knee injury. A 12th-year veteran, Martin, 33, has spent the first three weeks of camp on the physically unable to perform list and has not practiced. There is some fear that Martin, the fourth-leading rusher in NFL history, could be forced to retire.

The Jets' running game was productive in Saturday night's preseason game, but the team wanted a tailback with more experience than Derrick Blaylock and Cedric Houston, who occupied the top two rungs of the depth chart in Martin's absence.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click hereInsider.