This week I wanted to take a quick look at the free agent running backs and it is certainly slim pickings this year. Outside of a handful of players it is likely that most running backs land in the minimum or close to minimum category. There may be some talented players who are released during the offseason to spruce the list up a little, but this has to be one of the weakest free agent groups in recent memory.
1. Le’Veon Bell, Steelers
Running backs can be a very tricky group to figure out and Bell is no exception. Since coming into the league there has been no more dominant player at the position than Bell, but we have seen dominant players in the past erode pretty quickly. Bell has also had multiple injuries and a 4 game suspension so there are clearly questions as to how many games you can expect him to play.
There is no reason to think that Pittsburgh would let him walk away so if no extension is reached they will use the franchise tag on him which should bump his price since the tag will cost over $12 million. The question is can he get a deal worth $10M a year? In recent years the only player to do that was Marshawn Lynch on a short term contract with the Seahawks and Im not sure if that counts. Right now the realistic top of the market is about $8M.
Range: 5 years, $9.5-10.5M a year, $16-19M in guarantees, $16-19M guaranteed at signing
2. Latavius Murray, Raiders
Murray should fall into that good, but not great category of running backs. He’s probably a bit too streaky for some tastes with games in which he looks like a high level player and others where he looks like a replacement level player. The Raiders have never really trusted him to be a workhorse player, and those are rare anyway in the NFL, so teams should view him as a complementary player. Murray probably had more to gain with the Carr injury than anyone but failed to make any impact down the stretch, which is a negative. It’s hard to see a non-contender looking at Murray unless they are just desperate for a name.
Murray should fit in with the CJ Anderson, Gio Bernard, Chris Ivory, and Lamar Miller grouping, with the high end depending on if there is a team that sees enough upside to reach in that $6+ million mark for him. I don’t believe that will happen at this point with him settling into the lower range of a lesser upside player.
Range: 4 years, $4.5-5.5M a year, $7-9M in guarantees, $7-9M guaranteed at signing
3. Eddie Lacy, Packers
If it wasn’t for injury Lacy would be the clear number 2. Despite whatever shortcomings he may have, he is a better player than Murray with far more upside, but he missed 11 games this season with an ankle injury. Lacy started out on fire with back to back 1,100 yard seasons but struggled in 2015 as his weight became a talking point. Lacy claimed he lost 20 pounds in 2016 and was back to looking like a 1,100 yard runner before the injury derailed his season.
In some ways his career arc is not terribly different than Alfred Morris who fell from his position as a star in the making to trying to grab a reasonable contract as a backup. Though Lacy’s last five games were better than Morris’ walk year numbers, I don’t know if five games erases a really bad 2015 campaign. Lacy could probably benefit from signing a 1 year contract and playing well, though at this position there is always a big risk in a 1 year contract. My guess is he’ll go longer term with an incentive laden contract that has more upside than Murray’s contract.
Range: 3 years, $3.5-$4.5M a year, $5-7M in guarantees, $5-7M guaranteed at signing, significant incentives
4. LeGarrette Blount, Patriots
2016 was a great year for Blount, racking up 1,161 yards and 18 touchdowns as the Patriots starting running back. That said, Blount will be 31 and with enough questions to where he probably doesn’t get a big look in free agency. There are some players who can be very productive, but that productivity is heavily tied to the organization they play in. The last time Blount left New England he was a disaster and the Steelers cut him after 11 games, at which point he re-signed with New England and played well. I think that makes it hard to capitalize on free agency.
Range: 1-2 years, $1.5-$2M a year, $500K-1M guaranteed
Best of the Rest: Jacquizz Rodgers, Fozzy Whittaker, Tim Hightower, Robert Turbin, Matt Asiata, Rex Burkhead, Danny Woodhead, Lance Dunbar
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.