All 32 NFL teams have now turned their attention to the offseason, and free agency provides a great opportunity for them to improve their rosters. Sure, it's not as important as the draft, but picking up a proven star is always exciting.
Running back is probably the one position that doesn't reset the market every offseason. We'll see when someone approaches Christian McCaffrey's numbers again. It's true the NFL has become a passing league, but a dual-threat running back can change everything for your offense, and this class features several studs. Below, we will break down 10 of the top running backs looking for new deals in the coming months.
1. Saquon Barkley, 26, (New York Giants)
Just 11 months ago, Barkley was reportedly worth a fourth-round pick on the trade market. Well, he's worth a lot more now. Barkley reminded the NFL world this past season that he's one of the best running backs in the league by rushing for a career-high 1,312 yards and 10 touchdowns. He caught 57 passes for 338 yards as well.
Barkley was a huge reason why the Giants returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2016. Under first-year head coach Brian Daboll, Daniel Jones and Barkley formed a bit of a dynamic duo, as both helped the Giants rack up 2,519 rushing yards, which set a single-season franchise record. The Giants would be smart to run it back with Barkley, and general manager Joe Schoen has already admitted he's a player they would like to have back.
Projected AAV: $12.3 million, 6th among RBs (via Spotrac)
2. Josh Jacobs, 25, (Las Vegas Raiders)
Jacobs picked the absolute best time to have a career year. After the Raiders declined his fifth-year option, Jacobs led the NFL in yards from scrimmage with 2,053, and scored 12 total touchdowns. If you're wondering what his chances of returning to the Raiders are, he said during Super Bowl week that he would be fine playing on the franchise tag if the Raiders added significant offensive help, and that if the Raiders acquired someone like Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, it would "change a lot of dynamics" with his own future.
Jacobs proved this past season that he can be one of the best running backs in the NFL, and he just turned 25. If the Raiders don't want to pony up the dough, someone else will.
Projected AAV: $12.8 million, 4th among RBs (via Spotrac)
3. Tony Pollard, 25, (Dallas Cowboys)
Pollard is another running back who had a career year when it mattered most. The Cowboy picked up Pro Bowl honors this season after racking up a career-high 1,378 scrimmage yards and 12 touchdowns, and flashed his versatility as an offensive weapon. In 2022, the Cowboys averaged 5.7 yards per play with Pollard on the field. As for Ezekiel Elliott? 5.0 yards per play. Pollard also led all running backs this year in yard per touch (5.9).
One of the bold predictions I made for the offseason was Pollard being the most popular back in free agency if he doesn't get franchise-tagged.
Projected AAV: $9 million, 9th among RBs (via Spotrac)
4. Miles Sanders, 25, (Philadelphia Eagles)
Sanders racked up a career-high 1,347 yards from scrimmage and 11 touchdowns in 2022, as the Eagles made it all the way to Super Bowl LVII. He rushed for 90 yards against the Giants in the divisional round, and then 42 yards and two touchdowns in the NFC Championship game before managing just 16 rushing yards in the Super Bowl.
The former No. 53 overall pick out of Penn State earned Pro Bowl honors for the first time this past season. He's averaged 65.1 rushing yards per game since entering the league, and rushed for a career-high 74.6 yards per game in 2022.
Projected AAV: $7.2 million, 10th among RBs (via Spotrac)
5. David Montgomery, 25, (Chicago Bears)
Montgomery has rushed for at least 800 yards in each of his four seasons with the Bears, and now he has the opportunity to hit the open market. The Bears had the No. 1 rushing offense in the league this past season (177.3 yards per game), although that was in large part due to Justin Fields. The quarterback rushed for 1,143 yards, while Montgomery came in behind him with 801. While he may not be seen as the top back in free agency, Montgomery is a tough runner who will attract interest. It's also worth mentioning that the Bears have enough financial resources to keep him in the fold.
Projected AAV: $7.2 million, 10th among RBs (via Spotrac)
6. Kareem Hunt, 27, (Cleveland Browns)
Hunt recorded just 678 yards from scrimmage and four total touchdowns in 2022, and could be playing for a different team in 2023. The 27-year-old wanted an extension last offseason, didn't get it and then was reportedly involved in trade talks -- but ultimately not dealt.
Maybe Hunt could search for a team where he would be the No. 1 back. In his first full season with the Browns back in 2020, Hunt recorded 1,145 yards from scrimmage and 11 total touchdowns. He has plenty of ball left.
Projected AAV: $7 million, T-10th among RBs (via Spotrac)
7. Damien Harris, 26, (New England Patriots)
Harris played in just 11 games in 2022, and recorded 559 yards from scrimmage and three total touchdowns while Rhamondre Stevenson took over the Patriots' backfield. Just a year ago, Harris recorded his first 1,000-yard season and scored 15 total touchdowns. The former third-round pick out of Alabama has been productive when healthy, but injuries have caused him to miss multiple games in all four of his seasons.
Projected AAV: $7.1 million,10th among RBs (via Spotrac)
8. Jamaal Williams, 27, (Detroit Lions)
One of the most interesting players in the NFL. The veteran Williams is coming off of a career year in which he recorded his first 1,000-yard rushing season, and led the NFL with 17 rushing touchdowns. Williams isn't considered to be one of the top backs in free agency, but he's a durable, reliable player who is also a leader in the locker room. I can see him remaining in Detroit. It feels like Dan Campbell and Ben Johnson really appreciate him.
Projected AAV: $4.1 million, T-18th among RBs (via Spotrac)
9. Devin Singletary, 25, (Buffalo Bills)
The running back position is likely one the Bills will be looking to upgrade this offseason, and that means Singletary could be gone. The Florida Atlantic product crossed 1,000 scrimmage yards for the second straight season and added six total touchdowns in 2022. In 61 career games for the Bills, Singletary has recorded 3,151 rushing yards and 16 total touchdowns. Keep in mind the Bills drafted James Cook last offseason and traded for Nyheim Hines in November.
Projected AAV: $5.5 million, 17th among RBs (via Spotrac)
10. Rashaad Penny, 27, (Seattle Seahawks)
Here's an interesting one. Sure, Rashaad Penny's name may have become synonymous with injured reserve, but I think he's well worth a look. Apart from numerous injuries, the former first-round pick is also known for going on tears.
Take the end of the 2021 season, for example. Penny rushed for 135 yards and one touchdown against the Bears, 170 yards and two touchdowns against the Lions and then 190 yards and one touchdown against the Arizona Cardinals in back-to-back-to-back weeks. In Week 4 against the Lions this season, Penny rushed for 151 yards and two touchdowns before fracturing his fibula the next week. Penny won't command top dollar, and maybe a change of scenery would be good for him.
Projected AAV: Not available, but he signed a one-year, $5.75M deal last March.
Other FA running backs of note
- Raheem Mostert (Dolphins)
- D'Onta Foreman (Panthers)
- Boston Scott (Eagles)
- Samaje Perine (Bengals)
- D'Ernest Johnson (Browns)
- Jeff Wilson (Dolphins)
- Alexander Mattison (Vikings)
- Jerick McKinnon (Chiefs)
- James Robinson (Jets)