Which running backs are up next for new contracts?

Getty Images

With the Panthers giving running back Christian McCaffrey a four-year, $64 million extension after three NFL seasons, which running backs are up next for long-term deals?

Glad you asked. Even if you didn’t.

Titans running back Derrick Henry leads the list. With four seasons under his belt and currently limited by the franchise tag, Henry will make $10.278 million in 2020 absent a long-term contract. The deadline for a multi-year extension is July 15; otherwise, Henry (who has signed his tender) will play for $10.278 million this year, and he’ll be in line for a second tag at a 20-percent bump in 2021, which amounts to $12.336 million.

Will the Titans give him a long-term deal? That remains to be seen.

Ditto for Cardinals running back Kenyan Drake, who’ll make $8.48 million under the transition tag in 2020. Will the Cardinals sign him before July 15, or is he on a year-to-year arrangement as the Cardinals squeeze every ounce of value of out him before letting him hit the market next season, or tagging him again at a 20-percent bump ($10.176 million)?

Still operating under their rookie contracts are a pair of high-end tailbacks who are a year away from the open market or a tag: Vikings running back Dalvin Cook and Saints running back Alvin Kamara. Both want, and deserve, new contracts. With McCaffrey setting the market at $16 million per year in new money, will either or both try to one-up McCaffrey, or will his deal be the ceiling?

McCaffrey has performed at a higher level than both, generating a rare offensive production (he’s only the third 1,000/1,000 running back) while also being available consistently. Cook has missed 19 games in three years; McCaffrey hasn’t missed one. Kamara has played in 45 of 48 regular-season games, but his numbers pale in comparison to McCaffrey’s — largely because the Saints don’t use Kamara the way the Panthers use McCaffrey.

Still, McCaffrey has averaged 5.87 yards per touch in three seasons. Kamara averages 5.82.

Packers running back Aaron Jones entered the conversation regarding the best in the game last season, with more than 1,500 yards from scrimmage and some MVP support from his quarterback, Aaron Rodgers. Jones also has in 2020 a contract year, at a $2.1 million salary.

Bengals running back Joe Mixon likewise is on deck for a new deal after three seasons, with one left on his rookie contract. He has generated far fewer total yards than McCaffrey or Kamara, and Mixon averages 4.74 yards per touch, more than one yard less than either of them. (Cook averages 5.37 yards per touch, and he became the nucleus of the Minnesota offense in 2019, with more than 300 total touches and more than 1,650 yards from scrimmage.)

Colts running back Marlon Mack has a year left on his rookie deal, too. He had nearly 1,100 rushing yards in 14 games, and the Colts like him — especially given his contract. Do they like him enough to pay him, or will G.M. Chris Ballard eventually find someone to replace Mack?

Also entering a contract year is Steelers running back James Conner, who regressed in 2019 due to injury and the absence of great players around him, especially at quarterback. Before Conner can get paid, he’ll need to re-establish himself — and he may have to first win the starting job in Pittsburgh all over again.

Others who are lurching toward new contracts include Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette, whose fifth-year option is due to be exercised, or not, next month. He’s been a disappointment relative to his status as the fourth overall pick in the 2017 draft, but he fairly quietly had a 1,674 yards from scrimmage in 2019.

Next come the likes of Giants running back Saquon Barkley, Browns running back Nick Chubb, and Buccaneers running back Ronald Jones, who will be eligible for new deals after 2020, along Broncos running back Philip Lindsay, an undrafted free agent in 2018 who will be a restricted free agent next year. After a strong rookie season, Lindsay was less effective in 2019, and the recent arrival of Melvin Gordon on a market-level deal raises questions about Lindsay’s long-term value to the Broncos.

And don’t forget Seahawks running back Chris Carson. A late-round pick in 2017, Carson had nearly 1,500 yards from scrimmage last year before suffering a season-ending hip injury in Week 16. He enters a contract year in Seattle.

The wild-card is Patriots running back Sony Michel. The first rounder embarks on his third season after racking up more than 900 yards in each of his first two seasons. But the Patriots never give big money to running backs, and coach Bill Belichick may be content to squat on Michel for three more years, to make a team-friendly offer in 2022, and to let Michel walk away if he won’t take it.

And so not all of these tailbacks will get second contracts. A small handful will get eye-popping money. Many teams are content to simply chew up and spit out a young tailback, letting him chase a payday elsewhere while replacing him with another young player with full tread on the tires.

36 responses to “Which running backs are up next for new contracts?

  1. Running back’s rookie deals should be fully guaranteed and should only be 3 season with no fourth year option and possible renegotiations/extensions after 2.

    Paying a running back on a second contract is insane as in today’s NFL outside of ADP no running back has had any form of legit staying power after their rookie deal (some have had good/great years in year 6 but that’s few and far between).

    If you shorten the deal then maybe it makes sense to give a top money contract for another 2/3 years. Otherwise it’s absolutely insane to be paying a running back top dollar on anything outside of a year to year basis.

  2. This article is pretty spot on. Good work, Florio. McCaffery is the centerpiece for that Carolina team for sure, but does it seem uncommon how Tepper seems intent on either giving a long, expensive extension or out right booting people in his new administration? If that’s why he retained Hurney-his ability to be a yes man to the owner-than it means that Tepper is the one who is really making these calls on personnel. Maybe he made the right calls, maybe he did not, but either way it does feel like he is “putting his stamp” on the franchise.

    At least McCaffery has proven that he carry the load, and in any way the Panthers could need him. They have a lot of young talent spread around the team, but it remains to be seen how Rhule-and apparently Tepper-will be able to utilize them. If nothing else, I’ll be interested to see how Rhule plans to approach the upcoming season with contractual security for the foreseeable future. Whatever happens, Tepper’s fingerprints are, in my mind, all over it.

  3. The only RB listed in this article I’d give big money to is Dalvin Cook. He’s the most versatile RB in the bunch. He’s got the size to run between the tackles and the athleticism to be a receiver. Henry is a very good runner, but is a one trick pony. Kamara is a very good back in the passing game, but isn’t viewed as a physical runner and that limits his value. Henry and Kamara will get big money, but it won’t be Zeke/CMC big money.

  4. McCaffrey is one he’ll of a running back and I am not a Panthers fan. He is definitely a special player and congrats on the new contract. Henry will get a raise especially for last year stats but not touching CM’s paycheck. Cook, Mack, Dixon, Jones, and Kamara will all follow suit and sign for around the same money….or go on to another team who will.

    Browns fan in me time, don’t care what year: sign Nick Chubb to whatever is reasonable and make it long term. Do the same thing for Hunt because we can have two of the best backs in the league since Byner and Mack. Stay healthy, God bless, and go Browns

  5. Derrick Henry is the best RB in the game and there is no debate. He is actually worth what McCaffrey got.

    6’3″ 240 and durable. Massive bruiser and 4.5 speed.

    I love Aaron Jones and he is without doubt in that top tier of RB’s, but I would trade him right now for Derrick Henry. I’d even throw in a 4th round pick. The durability is a concern and the fact he can’t guarantee me one yard on 4th and 1 is a issue. The Packers also farted around way too much last season on first and goal from the 1 yard line. Get me a beast.

    Is A.J. Dillon the answer? I think he may be. Stay tuned for the draft. You get him in 3rd and you are clicking beer mugs.🍻

  6. The only move for a running back is have a monster year and then hold out. No position absorbs more punishment.

  7. Michel fits the perfect RB mold in NE—not good enough to demand ridiculous money and knows that his success will be better team wise and personally if he stays in NE and performs his role. His career arc will be better if he stays where he is.

    I just wish he could catch the ball. He’d be a lot more dangerous.

  8. This site think everyone deserves a new, huge contract. Kamara has had one great year. Last season wasn’t so good.

  9. The running back position is so odd. One minute a guy looks like he’s the real deal, and 2 years later he’s out of the league or on his third team. Take a guy like Philip Lindsay. I loooove that guy. He’s really explosive, does a lot of things right. But I could also see him getting an injury, then another, and boom he’s gone after a few years and barely makes noteworthy money. I’m really risk adverse, but if I’m a guy like that I’d take a “smaller” contract with more guarantees (say 5 years 40 mil with 32 guaranteed) and be happy and know you’ve set yourself for retirement. Is that terrible to say? To take a smaller contract, take less pressure, be happy and stay in a city you love? Endear yourself to a fan base and always have a second career lined up in broadcast or whatever?

  10. I can promise you this: any team that pays its quarterback over $30 million (average) and a running back near $20 million will NOT win a Super Bowl.

  11. It’s not a question of if someone is “worth it” it’s a question of what is the market value of the position. Justin Tucker is such an elite kicker that you could argue that his “worth” is 10 mil a year, but no one is obviously paying that since the market value of the position, even the ceiling is no where near that. It’s no different than you may be in love with a House and think it’s worth 1 mil, but if the listing price is 600k you aren’t going to willingly give up an extra 400k.

    The truth of the matter is that no RB is really worth 10+ mil a year in comparison to the value you can get for under 5 mil a year. The 2 exceptions currently in the NFL are MCCaffrey and Saquon because of what they do as receivers. At a smaller scale it’s the reason why the Chargers significantly valued Eckler more than Gordon.

  12. I always love the comment section when it comes to paying Running Backs…the commenters always make the case for why Emmitt Smith is the greatest player in NFL History…Jerry Rice…? Ppbbbbttttt!!! Someday someone will surpass his numbers…especially if more games are added to the schedule…but the Running Back position is unaffected by adding more games…because it’s all about wear and tear…and based on that metric…Emmitt is also the toughest SOB to play the game as well…4000+ carries…? #Untouchable

  13. The RB position is brutal on an almost Hunger Games level. Underpaid for years and then the lucky survivors get the payday, while the rest become chronically injured role players. Rules should make teams pay them at least a year earlier.

  14. aj66shanghai says:
    April 14, 2020 at 1:23 am
    Chris Carson? His ceiling is a car dealership in Tukwila. Love him though!
    This is pretty close to true. Hasn’t played a full season in his college/pro career but man the guy is a force when out there and very likeable. Imagine being the Vikings and having to deal with soft as charmin Dalvin Cook declaring to be the best in the league.

  15. I’m glad to see Aaron Jones get some attention, which is rare. Two things surprised everyone but the Packers last year; the defense improved and Aaron Jones improved. Rodgers was his solid-leader self, and the Packers unexpectedly and enthusiastically came one game short of the SuperBowl. They did it with a new head coach, all-new scheme, and a front office shake-up. They’re young, experienced, and determined. Rodgers can benefit from the lay-off. He and Danica keep themselves in unbelievable physical condition. I’m really looking forward to the upcoming season (TBD.) Aaron Jones could be leading the “highest paid running back” conversation……next year.

  16. It’d be pretty hilarious if the Cardinals went and signed ANOTHER back to a big contract right after getting rid of David Johnson. You’d think that couldn’t possibly happen but then you look at their GM and know it’s extremely possible.

  17. You B. Crazy says:
    April 14, 2020 at 1:08 am
    The only RB listed in this article I’d give big money to is Dalvin Cook. He’s the most versatile RB in the bunch. He’s got the size to run between the tackles and the athleticism to be a receiver. Henry is a very good runner, but is a one trick pony. Kamara is a very good back in the passing game, but isn’t viewed as a physical runner and that limits his value. Henry and Kamara will get big money, but it won’t be Zeke/CMC big money.

    A RB who hurt his shoulder in college……missed time…..tore his ACL his rookie season…..and missed significant time last year due to clavical/shoulder/hamstring injuries…..I’m not saying he’s not a great back, but that’s the one that you single out??…..really??

  18. xlivsaints says:
    April 14, 2020 at 11:49 am
    Trade Kamara or let him walk. He’s replaceable on the cheap.

    I have a feeling the Saints will trade him if the offer is right, a la Brandin Cooks, who the Saints traded for a 1 ar the top of his market before his rookie deal expired. Kamara was banged up this past year and there is no guarantee his production will be the same as it was the first two years. That said, he is a model citizen, is reputed to be very intelligent, and may not seek top dollar. Ryan Ramczyk (2X All Pro in 3 years) is due up next year and will command, and deserves, top dollar. Cant pay everyone…

  19. Smart teams would probably do what Frisco is doing, and that is running back by committee, instead of putting all the eggs and money in one basket.

  20. Dont forget Damien Williams, who many felt could have been the MVP of the Super Bowl for the Chiefs. His contract is up after this year, hes kind of good.

  21. No way Vikings paying Cook that kind of money, but Packers cam give Aaron 15 million a year which will cripple the world class team. Lol

  22. Cook has yet to show he can play a whole season without getting hurt. He was banged up when we needed him late last year. No way he lasts 17 games next year. Look at SF. That’s the way to roll.

  23. freefromwhatyouare says:
    April 14, 2020 at 4:12 am
    Derrick Henry is the best RB in the game and there is no debate.
    With takes like that its a good thing your only a pretend owner with fake stock.

  24. RMoss84HOF says:
    April 14, 2020 at 4:
    With takes like that its a good thing your only a pretend owner with fake stock.

    As opposed to what, a grown man that’s still a Moss fanboy?

  25. I love Aaron Jones, but if the Packers can get Jonathan Taylor, they should and let Jones go for a 3rd rd compensatory pick. Then do the same with Taylor in 4 years. keep recycling them. RB is a 4-5 year career for 90% of them. Frank Gore is an anomaly.

  26. RMoss84HOF says:
    April 14, 2020 at 4:
    With takes like that its a good thing your only a pretend owner with fake stock.


    With takes like that, it is a good thing you’re not an English teacher.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Not a member? Register now!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.