2016 NFL Free Agency: Running Back Overview

Nearly halfway through the 2015 season, we are now at the point where we can start looking forward to free agency in 2016 based on this year’s current performances. This week we will take a brief look at the players who may project to be the top unrestricted free agents this season at the running back position and estimate some potential ranges for a new contract in 2016.

Doug Martin, Buccaneers

Martin has come from nowhere to produce big this season for the Buccaneers. Martin is averaging over 90 yards a game and is on pace for over 1,400 yards this year. Martin’s career arc is relatively unique. He exploded onto the scene as a rookie in 2012, rushing for 1,454 yards and being a threat in the passing game. He was poor in 2013 before an injury ended his season and landed in the doghouse in 2014 while seemingly dealing with more bumps and bruises. To come back to the 1,400 yard level after that is not that normal. Continue reading 2016 NFL Free Agency: Running Back Overview »

NFL Stock Down: Week 6


Every Monday during the season we will take a look back at three players who are entering important stages of their contract that may have hurt their stock in upcoming negotiations with their play on Sunday. In addition we will also look at one player signed in the offseason to a new contract that did not live up to the expectations that his contract sets for the player.

Stock Down

Jason Pierre-Paul– In a chance to be showcased in a big national game, Pierre-Paul continued to disappoint. JPP registered no sacks and outside of a trip up of Nick Foles on a run really made no impact at all. It’s hard to believe how far his star has fallen since he looked like the next big thing a few years ago.

Danny Amendola– Somehow in a game where the Patriots threw the ball 37 times to 10 different receivers, Amendola did not get even one look. The Amendola-Welker switch will probably go down as one of the worst decisions of all time, a decision the Patriots will try to forget when they cut Amendola as soon as the season ends.

Mike Williams– In the biggest game of the season for the Buffalo Bills, Williams somehow found himself deactivated for the game. The Bills traded for Williams in the offseason hoping that he would provide, for one year, a low cost threat to the passing game. Williams, who was also given up on by the Buccaneers, needs to be on the field to try to get himself a job next season.


New Contract Disappointment Of The Week

Chris Johnson– Johnson carried the ball just three times for the Jets on Sunday, looking like an afterthought in the struggling offense. The Jets, who paid Johnson $4 million this offseason, look to have given up on integrating the former star into the offense.  This may be the last regular season stop of Johnson’s career.


NFL Stock Down: Week 5


Every Monday during the season we will take a look back at three players who are entering important stages of their contract that may have hurt their stock in upcoming negotiations with their play on Sunday. In addition we will also look at one player signed in the offseason to a new contract that did not live up to the expectations that his contract sets for the player.

Stock Down

Torrey Smith– Everyone expected a big year from Smith and it’s just not there. Smith had chances and didn’t make the most of them, dropped passes and, at least in one case, did not seem to give the max effort expected of a star player. After the game Smith admitted that this is a trying time for himbut he needs a major rebound over the next 11 games to get the contract he hoped for.

Nick Mangold– Watching every snap of the Jets game was torture for me and Mangold, who is supposed to be the leader of the offensive line, looked terrible. The Jets offensive line was overwhelmed and I don think I’ve ever seen Mangold get penalized and give up a sack on the same play. Mangold carries a $10 million plus cap figure in 2015, making this essentially a contract year for him.

Alex Henery– I’m not sure why no Lions can kick this year but Henery was signed to a one year contract a few weeks ago and will likely be released by the time you read this. This was not just costing the Lions a game by missing one critical kick but multiple ones all game.

New Contract Disappointment Of The Week

Chris Johnson– Johnson was brought in by the Jets to be the speedy compliment to their rushing game and a deadly force in their passing game. Right now he looks stuck in the mud and disinterested in what is a fading season. Johnson’s fumble was the final nail in the Jets coffin on Sunday.



CJ-NO-WAY: Sizing up Chris Johnson’s eventual arrival on the 2014 RB market


Titans RB Chris Johnson is soon to be FormerTitans RB Chris Johnson. He answered “no way” when asked if he’d take a pay cut this off-season, and Tennessee will almost surely cut CJ loose.

After Sunday, Johnson will end up having played 3 years and having collected $31 million of the 6 year/ $56 million extension he signed in September of 2011.

What does this mean for Johnson’s future? Once released, he should immediately become the most desirable back in a weak 2014 UFA RB market, which includes an aging MJD, the talented yet injury-prone Darren McFadden, the Giants’ Andre Brown and the Colts’ Donald Brown.

With 950 rushing yards, Johnson needs 50 yards in Sunday’s finale to reach the 1,000-yard mark for his 6th straight season.  If Johnson gets his usual workload, he should reach this feat.  Yet his usual workload (he’s averaging 16.8 carries/game this season) will put him at 269 carries for the year—an average of 288 carries per year in his 6 years as a Titan.  While he’ll still be 28 on next opening day, that’s a lot of tread on his tires.

Reggie Bush, the crop of last year’s free agent RB class, signed a 4 year/$16 million deal with $5 million in guarantees.  While Bush had played one more season then CJ, he had significantly less usage—Bush averaged 138 carries per year over his 7 year span prior to hitting free agency.

It’d make sense if Johnson received a contract in the same range as Bush’s deal. The 2014 cap is preliminary expected to be $126.3 million, which should give teams a little more spending room.  However, even with this extra spending money, I’d be surprised to see any team give much more than $5 million guaranteed to a running back that’s been used so heavily and is primed to enter his decline phase sooner rather than later.

Possible destinations:

Cleveland: The early favorite, the Brown’s will have a ton of cap space and RB is one of their biggest needs.

Oakland: Their cap situation has been restored from the Al Davis days. McFadden will likely depart. I have a feeling GM Reggie McKenzie will spend money in other areas, though, and have faith that Rashad Jennings will be able to handle primary back duties.

Jets: The Jets will also have some money to spend, and CJ would fit in nicely next to Chris Ivory. However, Gang Green may have more pressing needs to fill.

Miami: They lacked playmaking from the RB position after letting Bush leave in FA.  2014 is the last year of Daniel Thomas’ rookie deal…

Andrew Cohen

Stock Up: Week 9


Every Monday during the season we will take a look back at three players who are entering important stages of their contract that may have helped their stock in upcoming negotiations with their play on Sunday. In addition we will also look at one player signed in the offseason to a new contract that exceeded all expectations and provided exceptional value to his team.

Stock Up

Chris Johnson– For one week CJ2K seemed to turn back the clock and look like the back everyone thought he would be when the Titans signed him to the $13.49 million dollar contract. Johnson ran for 150 yards and two scores and was actually a player that could be relied on for more than one big run. Johnson still has a lot of work cut out for him if he wants to stick in Tennessee next year- the team will save $4 million in cap room and $8 million in cash by releasing him– but he at least took one step to keeping his contract in place in 2014.

Riley Cooper– The Eagles receiver became a very controversial figure following some unfortunate remarks he made at a concert, but on the field he has had a career year in his walk season. Hes made the most out of the opportunity that was created by the injury to Jeremy Maclin and has more than doubles his per game output from last season. Riley’s 139 yard game was his second 120 plus yard game in the last 4 and he is now averaging 90 yards per game over that stretch. His improved stats have come directly as a result of Mike Vick being injured and if he continues to be a major target for the younger QB’s the Eagles will be rushing to keep him next season.

Jerricho Cotchery– Cotchery had a 3 TD game on Sunday and his second 90 plus yard game on the year. While the Steelers lost again he is on pace for his best season since 2007 and could get an opportunity to come back to Pittsburgh next year at a raise from his current $1.5 million a year annual contract. While Cotchery will by no means be an expensive player there are many people who likely thought he was finished when the Jets gave up on him in 2011 and the Steelers signed him for the minimum to compete for a job. With the Steelers salary cap problems likely leading to a departure for Emmanuel Sanders, Cotchery has a chance to lock in some good playing time in 2014.

New Contract Player Of The Week

Chris Ivory– There were a number of players who deserved consideration for this, but Ivory dominated his old team and was the offensive catalyst for the Jets in their upset win over the Saints. Ivory ran for 139 yards on 18 carries in a game where the Jets’ QB, Geno Smith, only attempted 19 passes and gained just 115 yards. Ivory had been a bit of a bust for the Jets since he came over in a trade. He’s battled injuries, something he has been saddled with his whole career, and been mediocre when he has been on the field, but on Sunday he was everything the Jets could have hope for.




Stock Down: Week 6


Every Monday during the season we will take a look back at three players who are entering important stages of their contract that may have hurt their stock in upcoming negotiations with their play on Sunday. In addition we will also look at one player signed in the offseason to a new contract that did not live up to the expectations that his contract sets for the player.

Stock Down

Antonio Cromartie– In 2012 Cromartie was arguably the best player on the Jets defense often drawing the most difficult assignment and shutting him down. 2013 has been a completely different story. Cromartie has been ineffective and often is spending a good deal of time playing catch up anytime someone puts a move on him at the start of a play. While he was nursing a knee injury yesterday he has been giving up too many big plays on the season and yesterday was no exception as he was toasted by Emmanuel Sanders of the Steelers on a 55 yard touchdown pass. Cromartie is set to earn $9.5 million next season and with a cap charge close to $15 million dollars this is essentially a free agent season for the cornerback. Give the soft state of the CB market and general worries about happens when Cromartie gets older and begins to lose some of that explosiveness, this is as bad a time as any for this kind of season.

Chris Johnson–  Johnson spent a long time trying to get an extension with the Titans following his explosion in 2009 where he rushed for 2000 yards. Finally in 2011 the Titans caved and signed him to an absurd contract making nearly $13.5 million a year with $30 million in guarantees. Johnson, unlike Adrian Peterson, was never able to recapture that real special season and has been little more than one of many overpaid and underperforming running backs. Yesterday Johnson was nearly worthless against the Seahawks rushing for just 33 yards on 12 carries. What’s even scarier is that this was his best game in 3 weeks. His 3 week total is now just 71 rushing yards on 37 carries for an average of 1.9. Johnson has a $10 million dollar cap figure and will earn $8 million in 2014. With just $6 million in dead money he’ll likely be cut and will probably not make $8 million over the span of the entire contract he signs with someone next season.

Ben Tate– Tate had tremendous expectations going into the season and early in the year there seemed to be a chance that he was going to get more work as he looked explosive at times. At some point a team would be convinced that he could be a featured back and he would get his salary in the $5 million a year range. But a few fumbles later and a resurgent set of performances by starter Arian Foster has seen Tate maintain a minimal workload. Tate only saw action on 20 snaps and it seems as if most of them came in mop up time when the game was out of reach.  On the second to last drive he did score a touchdown and pick up a 4th down conversion but that came after being stuffed three times in short yardage situations. All in all he ended up with 10 carries for 12 yards. He needs to get more meaningful opportunities and do better in the opportunities provided to try to get that contract he wants from someone next season.

New Contract Disappointment Of The Week

Greg Jennings– The Vikings paid Jennings big money to help revive their struggling passing attack but for the most part he has just become another limited use piece in the Minnesota offense. Jennings caught 6 passes on Sunday for just 34 yards. He is on pace to have his worst statistical non-injury plagued year since his rookie season. Despite earning $9 million a season he ranks 3rd on the team in both receptions and yards. It’s not all his fault but he’s a perfect example as to why in 90% of the cases you need to have some type of QB in place before spending big money on a wide receiver. The Ponder/Cassel tandem was not that type of QB.

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Revaluing the Running Back Marketplace


Now that contracts have kind of slowed down I wanted to get back into doing positional valuations, this time with a focus on Running Backs. As is usual the raw data comes from Pro Football Focus with the analysis of numbers being somewhat unique. In general I want to grade running backs on 3 categories: Yards After Contact,  Player Generated Yards Before Contact, and Player Generated Yards Per Target.

Yards After Contact

I think this is pretty simple and straightforward. Once touched whatever yards a runner gains are essentially all due to his effort. The average in the league last year was around 2.5. Of runners with more than 50 attempts the best average was actually Justin Forsett, now of the Jaguars, with 4.11 YAC per attempt. Adrian Peterson was second at 3.93 and CJ Spiller third at 3.58.  The bottom three were Beanie Wells, Danny Woodhead, and Bilal Powell. This is the one pure PFF stat.

Player Generated Yards Before Contact

Running the rushing numbers for all teams we can determine just how many rushing yards are attributed to an offensive line keeping hands off a player. Last season the top 3 were the Chiefs (2.59), Titans(2.23), and Seahawks(2.15) while the Panthers pulled up the rear (0.98). I adjusted each teams numbers to exclude the specific runner in question which allows us to determine just how many yards before contact that player generates compared to all other runners on the team. In essence this tells us if a player is hitting the hole faster than others and determining yards before contact that are attributed to the runner as much as the up front blocking. The top 3 in this category were Chris Johnson (1.74), Jamaal Charles (1.36), and Maurice Jones-Drew (1.15). The worst three were Peyton Hills (-1.71), Rashad Jennings (-1.21), and Fred Jackson (-0.98).

Player Generated Yards Per Target

The average YPT last year among runners was about 6.19. With that in mind we can calculate how many additional yards a player generated on pass routes than an average running back. On a per catch basis the best players with at least 20 targets were Isaac Redman(6.0), Ahmad Bradshaw(3.7), and Danny Woodhead(3.42).


By adding those numbers up we can calculate how many additional yards a player generated for his team last season as well as his average Yards Per Touch. It should come as no shock that Adrian Peterson comes in first with 1504.9 credited yards. Quite simply Peterson carried that team in a manner few other players could. He generated close to 600 yards of additional offense compared to a regular player. The next closest player was Alfred Morris at 1069.6 yards but he only generated around 185 yards of additional offense.

That being said the most interesting number might be that of the Bills CJ Spiller. Spiller only touched the ball 250 times last year but in doing so generated 1019 additional yards. At 4.08 YPT he actually rates even higher than Peterson, who was second at 3.88. This is based primarily on the fact that Spiller is a terrific receiver while Peterson is below average. On a Yards Per Run basis Peterson outpaced Spiller 4.55 to 4.35. While it is certainly questionable that Spiller can carry the ball as much as Peterson and continue to hold up those two are so far and away the best in the NFL that nobody should even debate anyone else at this point as being the best two backs.  Of course you cant pay Spiller at that level until he proves he can handle the ball as much as some of these other players, but he’s deadly.

When you look for “cross your fingers” high upside players, Mike Goodson and Justin Forsett come to mind. Both barely made the 50 touch minimum cutoff but both put up good numbers in limited showings.  Montell Owens and Isaac Redman were also surprising high finishers. Owens is a limited showing guy while Redman is strictly from his efforts in the passing game last year. I was also shocked o see DeAngelo Williams in the top 10. Maybe his team being so bad up front and his lack of usage has more to do with how poor his regular numbers are moreso than his play.

On the opposite end of the spectrum come names like Shonn Greene who was below average in every category but got tons of touches to create decent overall numbers. Still he was far better than Darren McFadden, a high priced bust on the Raiders who should be let go based on his numbers while Trent Richardson was an absolute disaster as a rookie averaging just 1.19 player generated yards per touch.

Financial Analysis

I wanted to create a matrix that would re-distribute the dollars that are currently being spent on the NFL players that made my 50 touch cutoff. To do this I added up all the APY values for the players in the current NFL season to create the “runners market”. For those players who are without deals I just assumed they would be replaced by a UDFA making an average of $495,000 per year. The average APY is around $2.692 million and total value just under $210 million.

Originally I just planned to determine a players total yards generated above the average and use that as his value above the baseline of $2.692 million. Great, except immediately I realized how badly that was overstating players values who got a lot of use (Greene, Richardson, Steven Jackson, etc…) to inflate their yards despite the fact that it was not productive use. Now that does not mean that you simply look at a category like Yards per Touch to determine value either. Some credit needs to be given for a player who is capable of shouldering a load even though the numbers are so bad. My gut feeling tells me that their numbers would likely be better if used less and maybe that is something for teams to consider when signing such players.  I tend to think that was the feeling the Titans had with Greene.

To best compensate I calculated the players yards and compared it to the expected yardage of an average player. If the ratio was below 1 I penalized the player. For example Richardson only gained about 70% of the expected yards so I considered his 379 yards to be equivalent to paying for 265 yards. With those adjustments in place I was able to redistribute all the league dollars based on performance above or below the average score.

The Results

Not surprisingly the numbers work out that the upper echelon of the market is hyperinflated, which is certainly no surprise. Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson are both position busters and could almost never do anything to justify the salary they receive. Peterson had arguably the best season a back has ever had but there are enough good backs and ultra low salaries that the value just is not there at the high end. Peterson’s salary under this formula would be just under $11.4 million, a 19.8% decrease from his current APY.

I have 15 backs in my actual salary database that make over $5 million a year and of those 15 this metric indicates that only CJ Spiller, Jamaal Charles, and Marshawn Lynch are underpaid. Most of the others are grossly overpaid. McFadden, Maurice Jones-Drew and Jonathan Stewart should have their salaries reduced by over 70% each. The big money jumpers would obviously be the rookies, with Alfred Morris leading the way giving you an $8 million or so performance on an APY less than 600K a year.  The Redskins are getting absolutely incredible production from Morris and fellow rookie QB RGIII for pennies which is how they survived last year despite major salary cap problems.

Of those players unsigned, Ahmad Bradshaw and Michael Turner should be able to give a team something significant and Felix Jones would also be an interesting player. In some ways its hard to believe they are not signed. In Turners case it probably needs to be the right situation in that he likely benefitted from an explosive offense making some situations a bit easier. Bradshaw and Jones have to have the injuries scaring teams off, Bradshaw in particular. Bradshaws numbers are all very good but he is injured a lot. It is difficult for teams to prepare when you have a player constantly coming in and out of the starting lineup. Still if he performs as he did last year he will give you around $5 million in value for probably the veteran’s minimum. If you make certain your offense is never in a position to over-rely on his presence you can mitigate the injury risk.

There were a handful of players whose projected salaries were so low that they don’t belong in the NFL anymore. They were Curtis Brinkley, Peyton Hills, Rashad Jennings, Ryan Williams, Shaun Draughn, Tashard Choice, and Toby Gerhart. Hillis was arguably the worst back in the NFL last season. Other players who would be close are Fred Jackson, whose projection probably does not meet his minimum salary, and Cedric Benson.

Here is the full list of players: All headers should be sortable. Please note that players like Bradshaw have their salary change based on a rookie FA salary.


Adrian Peterson1369215.8-79.91504.93.88$11,397,526-19.8%
Alfred Morris100184.4-15.81069.63.09$8,100,4801357.5%
Marshawn Lynch872157.122.81051.93.11$7,966,3416.2%
C.J. Spiller742158.6118.81019.44.08$7,720,41250.4%
Chris Johnson557480.5-34.21003.33.22$7,598,393-43.7%
Jamaal Charles634387.2-30.0991.23.10$7,506,97539.0%
Doug Martin1005-207.488.5886.12.41$6,710,657295.5%
Matt Forte597186.3-25.0758.32.60$5,743,010-24.4%
Frank Gore68237.823.7743.52.60$5,630,966-12.1%
Ray Rice606146.7-16.9735.82.31$5,572,579-20.4%
BenJarvus Green-Ellis576190.7-56.8689.52.37$5,222,08174.1%
Reggie Bush468193.5-4.9656.62.51$4,972,63624.3%
Ahmad Bradshaw55020.384.2654.52.68$4,956,630901.3%
DeAngelo Williams56212.469.5643.83.46$4,876,168-43.3%
Arian Foster76643.1-110.8570.11.79$4,317,651-50.4%
Stevan Ridley716-52.3-17.0553.12.18$4,189,244467.4%
Vick Ballard531-2.03.5513.12.34$3,886,102592.5%
Michael Turner50367.1-51.4472.22.15$3,575,946622.4%
LeSean McCoy5046.1-22.7465.31.92$3,523,733-60.8%
Willis McGahee39633.029.2458.22.37$3,470,29846.1%
Steven Jackson693-183.117.9444.81.78$3,368,961-15.8%
Jonathan Dwyer43358.8-48.6443.12.55$3,356,100153.7%
DeMarco Murray40026.5-2.6422.62.16$3,200,461330.5%
Isaac Redman332-45.5114.1400.63.11$3,033,620129.3%
Pierre Thomas29227.675.6395.22.74$2,993,1048.4%
Shonn Greene593-76.5-9.8379.51.72$2,874,326-13.8%
Joique Bell24529.982.9357.82.67$2,709,851330.1%
Ryan Mathews479-20.5-69.7341.71.74$2,587,756-45.3%
Bryce Brown382-14.9-55.3311.72.44$2,360,931339.1%
Daryl Richardson27266.6-28.8309.82.54$2,346,592374.1%
Bernard Pierce376-67.3-14.9293.92.56$2,225,577235.2%
Danny Woodhead12927.4136.7293.12.53$2,220,09826.9%
Donald Brown25918.112.6289.62.48$2,193,6275.1%
Jacquizz Rodgers256-14.237.0278.81.90$2,111,443278.6%
Darren Sproles9092.891.7274.52.23$2,079,117-40.6%
Felix Jones232-3.451.7272.92.06$2,066,420317.5%
Mike Goodson1714.496.0271.55.32$2,055,882-10.6%
Justin Forsett259-1.213.3271.14.11$2,052,990105.3%
Jonathan Stewart23514.120.9270.02.45$2,044,662-72.0%
Maurice Jones-Drew19698.5-25.3269.12.69$2,038,387-73.3%
Trent Richardson558-168.4-10.3264.81.19$2,005,300-60.9%
Darren McFadden41818.9-100.8251.01.30$1,901,153-72.9%
Marcel Reece200-7.956.8248.92.24$1,884,75592.0%
Andre Brown245-13.3-0.6231.12.72$1,750,570-13.5%
Mikel Leshoure431-45.7-64.4227.01.29$1,719,523100.3%
Robert Turbin1794.038.7221.72.24$1,679,213162.7%
Knowshon Moreno296-44.318.5220.21.70$1,667,998-51.2%
Kendall Hunter20328.3-14.2217.12.68$1,644,193165.3%
Shane Vereen133-3.987.1216.23.09$1,637,33589.2%
Montell Owens9153.751.1195.83.92$1,483,214-51.9%
David Wilson18927.5-21.7194.82.60$1,475,158-11.7%
Mark Ingram431-124.9-32.9192.91.69$1,460,766-21.2%
Ronnie Brown11551.724.6191.32.01$1,448,43072.4%
Mike Tolbert139-10.651.5179.92.22$1,362,421-45.5%
Bilal Powell19756.6-39.4179.11.69$1,356,771122.4%
Michael Bush262-61.415.0165.41.75$1,252,535-64.2%
Jackie Battle208-26.915.2164.91.78$1,248,732152.3%
Brandon Bolden1622.6-1.4163.22.81$1,236,285154.9%
Montario Hardesty13636.9-8.7157.72.45$1,194,01367.9%
Lamar Miller14013.11.7154.82.72$1,172,13381.3%
Alex Green284-27.5-48.2149.81.36$1,134,49676.1%
William Powell13523.6-10.3143.21.88$1,084,677126.0%
Rashard Mendenhall12210.46.3138.82.31$1,050,943-58.0%
Ronnie Hillman15716.1-12.2126.41.69$957,24127.6%
Cedric Benson156-14.64.2123.71.71$936,50113.5%
Beanie Wells12030.217.8122.41.89$927,35287.3%
LaRod Stephens-Howling257-24.8-67.2120.21.30$910,66316.8%
Daniel Thomas212-82.726.1119.61.47$905,64911.9%
Ben Tate171-13.5-19.0119.01.82$901,59523.4%
James Starks158-8.4-6.1115.21.91$872,16171.0%
Fred Jackson276-112.5-$735,882-83.1%
Curtis Brinkley76-12.92.852.01.29$394,038-20.4%
Ryan Williams136-40.0-17.950.81.20$384,463-69.3%
Toby Gerhart95-30.30.449.80.93$377,414-61.4%
Shaun Draughn107-30.9-$367,905-11.3%
Rashad Jennings195-122.9-12.329.50.50$223,669-64.5%
Tashard Choice923.7-46.728.50.96$216,083-72.3%
Peyton Hillis206-145.1-$151,535-69.4%