New Contract Tracker: Running Backs – Week 10

This new weekly feature will analyse the progress of the running backs that signed new contracts in the 2016 offseason. Each week I’ll select players of interest, discuss their production, and analyse it with respect to the contract that they signed.

Darren Sproles – Eagles

In July this year, the Eagles extended Darren Sproles through 2017, a one year extension for $4.5 million with $500,000 fully guaranteed. Sproles had a down year on offense in 2015, averaging just 3.8 yards per rush, and his lowest receiving yards per game mark since 2008 at 24.3. However, it was in the return game where Sproles really earned this extension with the Eagles, being the only player in the league to take 2 punts all the way, and also being 2nd in the NFL in yards per punt return at 11.7.

The one year nature of the deal made sense in several ways. The most obvious factor was Sproles’ age, as he is one of the oldest backs in the league at 33. Very few running backs in NFL history have kept a high level of performance beyond 34 years old. The Eagles’ selection of Wendell Smallwood out of West Virginia in the 2016 NFL Draft may have also been a factor, as Smallwood showed potential to be an every-down back in the NFL, and the Eagles may not have wanted to commit to Sproles for more than a year or two until they realise what they have with Smallwood.

The value of the extension, $4.5 million, makes Sproles the 12th highest paid running back in the NFL. Sproles’ deal is in the same ballpark as other backs with big receiving roles such as Giovani Bernard ($5.2 million) and Shane Vereen ($4.1 million). In terms of his rushing/receiving production in recent years, it could be argued that he is overpaid considering the greater production and cheaper deals of the likes of Matt Forte, Danny Woodhead and Theo Riddick. However, it is Sproles’ elite punt return production, with which he can change a game instantly, that justified his contract. And in 2016, Sproles has provided even more than the Eagles could have expected.

Sproles has truly been on a tear this season. He is far eclipsing his rushing numbers from his two previous seasons with the Eagles, averaging 34 yards per game compared to 22 and 20 in 2014 and 2015 respectively. Sproles has been given a much greater role in the ground game this season due to his performance, and has even been referred to as the “starting” back for Philadelphia. Sproles has been running very efficiently, at an exceptional 5.0 yards per carry, albeit behind an excellent Philadelphia run blocking offensive line. In terms of receiving, Sproles is as effective as ever, currently 6th in the league in receiving yards for backs with 298. His punt return production as also remained consistent, and while he has failed to score on a return (yet?), he has the 3rd most yards per return (14.07) for players with at least 5 punt returns.

All in all, Sproles has provided excellent return for the Eagles’ faith in him. Paying a 33 year old running back $4.5 million in a year could be seen as a risky investment, but Sproles has been a superbly effective weapon in Doug Pederson’s running back “committee”, complementing the likes of Ryan Mathews, rookie Wendell Smallwood, and Kenjon Barner. Sproles has already overtaken Mathews as the main threat out of the backfield, and should have an important role in the Eagles’ attempts to get back to the playoffs after two seasons out.

Grade after ten weeks: A-

CJ Anderson – Broncos

CJ Anderson was a restricted free agent in the 2016 offseason, and signed an offer sheet with the Miami Dolphins for 4 years, $18 million. The Broncos matched the offer on March 26th to keep CJ in Denver after he contributed plenty to their Super Bowl winning season. At $4.5 million APY, Anderson’s deal puts him at 12th among running backs, alongside Darren Sproles. In the past, Denver front office have shown themselves to be quite frugal and determined to win on their terms in negotiations, and so they must have really valued Anderson to match Miami’s offer and bring him back. There are several potential reasons for this. Firstly, Anderson has been an efficient runner in recent seasons. From 2014 to 2015, Anderson had the 6th highest yards per carry number out of the 39 backs with at least 200 carries at 4.74. Anderson didn’t have huge yardage because of his split role with Ronnie Hillman, but when called upon, Anderson delivered, including in last season’s playoffs where he had 234 yards and 2 TDs in 3 games, with zero fumbles.

Another key reason for the Broncos to bring Anderson back, was their situation at quarterback. Five days before signing back Anderson, the Broncos had let Brock Osweiler go to the Texans for huge money. The Broncos traded for Mark Sanchez the next day, and then drafted Paxton Lynch in the 1st round of the draft, but the quarterback position was anything but settled. The nature of that situation required the Broncos to keep as much consistency and talent in their offense has possible. They were either going to start an unproven youngster like Lynch or Siemian, or a backup-quality QB in Sanchez. Therefore, the Broncos probably felt like running back was a position where they could use talent, resulting in the signing of Anderson followed by the selection of Devontae Booker in the 4th round of the draft.

Anderson’s play in 2016 was perhaps slightly below expectations through seven games, with a career low yards per carry of 4.0, and Devontae Booker began to see more touches than Anderson around Week 7. He did however get into the end zone 4 times. Anderson was then struck with some very disappointing news, as he suffered a torn meniscus during the Week 7 game against the Texans. He has since been placed on IR and will miss the rest of the season.

Looking at the big picture, Anderson’s contract is a good situation for the Broncos. While Anderson had a cap charge of $6 million this season, it drops to $3 million for 2017 and $4.5 million for 2018 and 2019. This front-loaded structure suits Denver who will be accommodating the $9 million cap charge jump in Von Miller’s deal, as well as a $6.5 million jump for Russell Okung. There may also be new contracts for starters Darian Stewart, Matt Paradis, and presumably one of DeMarcus Ware or Shaq Barrett. There are also no more guarantees in the rest of Anderson’s deal, so they can release him at no cost if needed.

Grade after ten weeks: B (inj.)

Here is the full list of running backs that signed new contracts this past year.

NameTeamAPYAttemptsYardsTouchdownsYd/ADYAR rank (min. 80 rushes)Rec.R.YdsR.TDSEASON GRADE
Doug MartinBuccaneers$7,150,0004111812.9n/a6470C (inj.)
Lamar MillerTexans$6,500,00016872024.324th221241B
Chris IvoryJaguars$6,400,0006726714.0n/a9310B-
Giovani BernardBengals$5,166,6678431623.820th342961B
Darren SprolesEagles$4,500,0006130405.0n/a332981A-
C.J. AndersonBroncos$4,500,00011043744.026th161281B
Matt ForteJets$4,000,00018973273.913th231791B+
Theo RiddickLions$3,850,0007529714.0n/a352734B+
Bilal PowellJets$3,750,0004027216.8n/a362400A-
James StarksPackers$3,000,000317502.4n/a9611C-
Alfred MorrisCowboys$1,750,0005720523.6n/a280B
Reggie BushBills$1,500,0009-21-0.2n/a5690D
Lance DunbarCowboys$1,250,0005911.8n/a5560C
LeGarrette BlountPatriots$1,000,000182678123.718th6310A

Will Eddowes is a 20 year old college student from New Zealand. Will is in his second year of study at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, pursuing conjoint degrees in law and economics. Despite living so far away from football, Will has developed a strong passion for the game, particularly the front office aspects of salary cap analysis and team building/scouting.