Free Agent Market For Running Backs

Our list of 2015 free agents provides a comprehensive position-by-position breakdown of which players are eligible to hit the open market this year. However, that list of names doesn’t include much context or additional information about those players. So, with March’s free agent period fast approaching, we’ll be taking a closer look this month at the free agent market for each position. Today, we’ll turn our attention to running backs. Let’s dive in….

Top unrestricted FAs:

While the free agent market for quarterbacks lacks a real difference-maker, that’s not the case at running back. The position may have become devalued in recent years, but the lack of impact deals in free agency last winter could largely be attributed to the lack of impact players available. If the NFL’s leading rusher (Murray) hits the open market, he’ll do very well, despite potential concerns about his 2014 workload, or about a production drop-off behind a new offensive line.

Murray isn’t the only potential starter in this group. Mathews and Ingram have been inconsistent since entering the league as first-round draft picks, but have shown plenty of promise, and should provide value if they can stay healthy. Gore and Forsett will both be on the wrong side of 30 by the end of 2015, but are coming off very impressive 2014 campaigns, and I’d bet on them having something left in the tank.

Outside of Murray, the most intriguing name on this list might be Spiller. Like Mathews and Ingram, he has been plagued by injuries in recent years, but his big-play ability makes him very appealing, especially if he comes on the cheap. I could envision Spiller approaching free agency the same way that Jeremy Maclin did a year ago, taking a one-year deal with the hopes of having a big season and landing a more sizable contract the following year.

Rounding out this top tier: Bradshaw and Ridley, who will look to return from season-ending injuries; and Helu and Vereen, who will appeal to teams looking to add a receiving threat out of the backfield.

Other unrestricted options:

Most of the notable names on this list have huge question marks hovering over them as they prepare to enter the open market. McFadden has averaged 3.4 yards per carry or less for three consecutive seasons; Moreno is coming off elbow and ACL injuries that ended his year prematurely; Tate played for three different teams in 2014 and didn’t do much to impress at any of those three stops; and Rice’s production appeared to be on the decline even before he lost a season dealing with the aftermath of his domestic violence incident.

Are there worthwhile backups and change-of-pace options among this group? Sure. McKnight and Antone Smith are a couple of home-run hitters who could shine for the right team, and Powell has shown some potential. There are also several veterans on this list who could contribute on special teams, either in kick coverage or in the return game, which will give them a little more value than the more one-dimensional backs.

Still, given the going rate for running backs these days, many of these players will likely sign minimum-salary contracts with modest guarantees for the 2015 season, if they land with a team at all.

Restricted FAs:

In many cases, these young backs are insurance policies for veteran starters, and while they may not be as cheap as restricted free agents as they were during their first three seasons, their respective teams should have interest in bringing them back.

I anticipate that players like Cadet, Polk, and Dunbar, who have spent all three seasons with their current teams, will be good candidates for the low-end restricted free agent tender. Rainey and Todman should also receive tenders, and may be the backs in this group most likely to draw interest from rival suitors. Neither player figures to head into 2015 as the top running back on his team’s depth chart, but they’ve both been productive in their limited opportunities.

Asiata is perhaps the most recognizable name here, if only because his nine touchdowns in 2014 made him a popular – if unreliable – fantasy football commodity. The 27-year-old has only averaged 3.5 yards per carry in over 200 career attempts, and is older than most of the other players on this list. But with Adrian Peterson a good bet to be traded or released by the Vikings, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Minnesota bring back Asiata.


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