Are the Steelers a Good Fit For Kenyan Drake?
By Calvin K @calvin_sgf)
Kenyan Drake has had a solid 6-year career and is one of the top free agents at running back this year. However, his uneven play in 2020 might prevent him from getting an elite-RB salary. Drake is coming off a season where he piled up 1,092 yards from scrimmage and 10 touchdowns. Those numbers are solid, but Drake’s general efficiency was down this year. Drake averaged a modest 4 yards per carry in 2020, the lowest mark of his career.
The lack of efficiency was unusual for Drake, as he’s usually known as an effective runner who does a lot with his touches. Drake wasn’t exactly bad this season, but he wasn’t the game-changing player that can draw a huge salary. However, his history of success should at least garner some interest. Here are five possible destinations for the sixth-year pro.
Arizona Cardinals (Re-sign)
There’s a good chance that Drake re-signs with Arizona, and it might be in the Cardinals’ interest to give him a new contract. Drake wouldn’t be as expensive as an elite-tier player like Aaron Jones, and he still gave value to the Cardinals even in a down year. If Drake is willing to take a more reasonable salary (under $10 million per year), giving him a new deal could be a good move.
Drake is good between the tackles, and he’s also a serviceable pass-catcher. Chase Edmonds, Drake’s backup, is a good receiving back as well. However, Edmonds is only under contract for one more year, so the Cardinals could consider signing Drake as a longer-term option. The Cardinals could also choose to give Edmonds a cheap extension as a change-of-pace guy, which would be helpful in extending Drake’s career (Drake is 27). Arizona has S19.5 million in cap space, so they would be able to afford Drake’s contract. This isn’t to say the Cardinals should overpay for him, but giving Drake a (relatively) sizable contract might be a good investment.
New York Jets
Adam Gase is gone from New York, and Robert Saleh is in his place as the new head coach. Saleh will immediately get to work at addressing the team’s many holes, including their void at RB. Current starter Frank Gore (age 37) can’t play forever, and he wasn’t nearly as efficient in 2020 as he was in years past. Fortunately, the Jets have plenty of cap space (approximately $75.5 million), so they’ll have the flexibility of looking to free agency for an RB.
New York’s cap flexibility gives them the chance to pursue Aaron Jones, who is easily the top running back in free agency this year. However, Saleh is a defensive-minded coach, so he may decide to invest the majority of his resources on that side of the ball. If that happens, the Jets will probably want a cheaper option at running back, and Drake would certainly be more affordable than Jones.
Drake will probably receive about $9 million a year wherever he goes, while Jones may get close to $15 million. That could make Drake more enticing for the Jets, and he certainly has the talent to stabilize the running back room. Drake might not be a true workhorse in New York, but he is a solid player, and at the very least, he would be a reliable option for a team that desperately needs one.
The Steelers have major issues at the running back position. Starting running back James Conner was plagued by injuries again this year, and even when he was on the field, he was inefficient, slowing down the rest of the offense. Pittsburgh seems likely to move on from Conner this offseason, so they’ll almost certainly be in the market for a new running back. Drake could be a good option, as long as he doesn’t demand an elite contract.
The Steelers’ cap situation (nearly $19 million over the cap) could entice them to look to the draft for an RB. However, the draft isn’t a guaranteed fix, and Drake could provide some veteran stability at the position. Pittsburgh knows (for the most part) what they’d be getting in Drake. That could make him tempting for the Steelers, who have been in turmoil at RB ever since Le’Veon Bell’s departure.
New England Patriots
Like the Jets, New England has a lot of cap space (about $68.5 million, fourth-most in the league). However, head coach Bill Belichick is unlikely to make a huge move at running back, given his tendency to use a timeshare at the position. This essentially takes New England out of the running for Aaron Jones, but it’s still feasible that the Patriots pursue Drake as a more affordable option.
Surprisingly, the Patriots had the third-most regular season rushing yards out of any team in 2020. However, a lot of those yards came from Cam Newton, who isn’t expected to return to the team after his struggles this year. Damien Harris is a decent player, but Belichick may decide to look for more stability at the running back spot. In New England, Drake would likely be a two-down back, with James White and Rex Burkhead operating as pass-catchers on third downs. The two-down role is similar to the one Drake occupied in Arizona, as backup Chase Edmonds easily outpaced him in receptions, catching 53 passes while Drake caught just 25.
The Patriots have a lot of cap flexibility, but they don’t have nearly as many holes on defense as a team like the Jets, making them more likely to spend elsewhere. Several defensive players who opted out of the 2020 season will return for New England, giving their already-solid defense a nice boost. This could make it tempting for the Patriots to sign Drake, and he would fit into the team nicely as an affordable, but talented, running back option.
Myles Gaskin was very good for Miami this season, but there has been talk that the Dolphins will pursue another running back. The Dolphins have about $35.5 million in cap space, so they could easily make a push to sign Drake. However, it’s far more likely that one of the other four teams listed gets him instead – for a few reasons.
Because Gaskin had success this year, the Dolphins may just sign a depth RB instead, leaving Gaskin to take the majority of the carries. There isn’t much reason for the Dolphins to overspend on a position that isn’t a huge need. Miami’s salary cap space could be used to upgrade their wide receivers and defense, and that feels like a better use of their cap room. The main reason the Dolphins make this list is because they’ve been rumored to want another RB, but they are still unlikely to be a destination for a higher-profile back like Drake.