Top fits for the remaining FA RBs

Where will Le’Veon Bell sign?

By: Chris Thomas

In recent memory, it is hard to recall so many extremely talented free agent players still available at this point of the offseason. The reasoning may be that teams wanted to wait till after the draft to see if they could fill the remaining needs on their roster in the early rounds. Teams may also want to wait till training camp to see if the players on their roster have developed to a point where they could fill that need. On top of that in recent years veteran free agents have decided to wait till after the draft and training camp to sign with teams so they can look at a team’s overall roster before signing and skip training camp and get ready for the season with their own personal trainers. 

One of the deepest positions in this free-agent class is running back. Multiple former Pro Bowl running backs are still on the market. There are a couple of teams around the league who could still use a veteran to add to their running back rotation. Here is where the top free agent edge rushers could land.

Le’Veon Bell to the Miami Dolphins

Less than a year ago Le’Veon Bell had the option to sign with the Miami Dolphins. But Bell decided to join the Kansas City Chiefs backfield with 2020 first-round pick Clyde Edwards-Helaire than to become the lead back in Miami or Buffalo. Bell was more interested in joining a championship contender than joining an unproven contender like the Bills and Dolphins who both ended up with over ten wins this past season. 

Bell started his career with the Pittsburgh Steelers where he quickly became known as one of if not the best running back in football. He had three seasons with over 1,800 scrimmage yards and 10+ touchdowns. Bell was voted to three Pro Bowls, named a First-Team All-Pro twice, and Second Team All-Pro once in 2016. After a conflict with the Steelers involving a contract extension, Bell hit the market as a free agent and signed with the New York Jets for 4 years $52 million. He only had 789 rushing yards in his first season in New York. Bell was released by the New York Jets following his return from injury in Week 5. this past season He had demanded that the team trade him, but after not finding a trade partner the Jets decided to release him. Bell rushed for 328 yards and two touchdowns on 82 attempts in games with both teams last season. He only started four games combined for both the Jets and Chiefs.

It felt like the Miami Dolphins were beat out in multiple situations when they attempted to add a star running back this offseason. Miami went after Chris Carson, Kerryon Johnson, and 2021 Second Round pick Javonte Williams at different points of the offseason. But they could not land any of those three backs. The Dolphins were able to sign former Los Angeles Ram Malcolm Brown to a two-year $3.5 million contract this offseason and still have Myles Gaskin on their roster from the year before. Gaskin led the Dolphins in all rushing categories putting up 584 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 142 attempts in ten games (seven starts). Miami also has Salvon Ahmed who was a great find for them last offseason. Last season’s undrafted free agent rookie rushed for 319 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 75 attempts in six games (four starts). 

If Miami signed Bell they realistically cannot expect him to be the player he was in Pittsburgh. But they can hope he can compliment Gaskin by putting up the production that he did in New York. It is at least worth it for the Dolphins to kick the tires on the former All-Pro since their backfield is still very unproven. Miami is expected to still be a run-first team despite adding Will Fuller and Jaylen Waddle this offseason. So it would make sense for the Dolphins to make sure they have as much talent as they can get at this point in their backfield. Miami has playoff aspirations and may look to achieve more. Signing Bell would make sure the Dolphins did all in their power to make sure their backfield isn’t holding them back.

Prediction: Le’Veon Bell signs with the Miami Dolphins for one year $1 million 

Todd Gurley to the Kansas City Chiefs

Out of all of the remaining free-agent running backs, Todd Gurley had gained the most attention from teams. Gurley had visited the Detroit Lions and Baltimore Ravens this offseason. The Lions had an interest in signing Gurley “on their terms“. The Lions would make a lot of sense considering they appear to be embracing a run-first approach with their lack of weapons at receiver, new Lions general manager Brad Holmes was a major part of the Rams front office who drafted Gurley who almost won them to a Super Bowl in 2017-18. Gurley would also be reuniting with former Rams’ teammate quarterback Jared Goff who was traded to the Lions this offseason. However, it appears at this point the Lions won’t be signing Gurley and don’t need to with a backfield featuring D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams. 

During his time in St. Louis/Los Angeles Gurley was one of the most dominant running backs in the league. In three of his five seasons with the Rams Gurley rushed for 1,100+ yards and had over ten touchdowns. In two of those seasons, Gurley led the league in rushing touchdowns. His accolades with the Rams include Offensive Rookie of the Year (2015), Offensive Player of the Year (2017), three Pro Bowls, two First-Team All-Pro selections, and Second Team All-Pro recognition in 2015. Following the 2019-20 season, the Rams released Gurley two seasons into his four-year $60 million deal. He then signed a one-year $5.5 million prove-it deal with the Atlanta Falcons. He rushed for a career-low 678 rushing yards and nine touchdowns on 195 carries. The Falcons decided not to bring back Gurley and elected to sign veteran Mike Davis to a two-year $5.5 million deal. 

The Kansas City Chiefs were in the middle of the pack in most major rushing stats last season. However, they were in a five-way tie for 22nd in the league in rushing touchdowns with 13. Only six teams had fewer rushing touchdowns than the Chiefs did a season ago. Having Patrick Mahomes as the face of the offense can be to blame for most of that. However, it would be a major help to the offense to have a running back on the roster capable of punching it into the endzone when they’re close rather than relying upon Mahomes to scramble or shovel pass it to All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce. Clyde Edwards-Helaire was one of the worst running backs in the league in the red zone last season. Within the five-yard line, Edwards-Helaire was one for nine on attempts to punch it into the endzone. Edwards-Helaire is a great pass-catching running back but struggles in short-yardage situations. 

Although Todd Gurley’s health issues have regressed him to the point where he runs like he has been in the league for ten years despite only playing in the league for six, one constant throughout Gurley’s career has been his ability to score when his teams get in close. Since 2015, Gurley has rushed for 67 touchdowns. Last year in arguably Gurley’s worst season he still managed to have nine rushing touchdowns which was tied for 11th last season. Kansas City should consider pairing Edwards-Helaire with a former All-Pro running back for the second season in a row, but pair him with a back who compliments his skillset in Gurley. Signing in Kansas City would give Gurley another opportunity to be a part of a Super Bowl team and allow him to display what he is still capable of. 

Prediction: Todd Gurley signs with the Kansas City Chiefs for one year $1.5 million deal

Adrian Peterson to the Los Angeles Chargers

Adrian Peterson is one of the few running backs in the NFL who definitely will be receiving a gold jacket in Canton, Ohio after he retires. Peterson spent his first ten seasons with the Minnesota Vikings. A majority of running backs don’t even play in the league ten seasons, let alone play as dominant as Peterson had during that span. During his time in Minnesota, he led the league in rushing three separate times and led the league in rushing touchdowns twice. Peterson accumulated multiple accolades including league MVP (2012), NFL Offensive Player of the Year, Offensive Rookie of the Year, seven Pro Bowl appearances, four First-Team All-Pro acknowledgments, and three Second Team All-Pro acknowledgments. He also was a unanimous selection onto the 2010’s All-Decade Team.

Since leaving Minnesota Peterson had defied the odds and continued to be a major part of multiple team’s backfields for the next four seasons. After a tough 2017 season where he split time with the New Orleans Saints and Arizona Cardinals, Peterson ran for over 1,000 yards at age 33 in his first season in Washington. He followed it up the following season with just under 900 rushing yards in his second season in Washington. This past year Peterson started ten games for the Detroit Lions at age 35. As it stands right now Peterson is the fifth all-time in rushing yards in NFL history. 

Last offseason the Los Angeles Chargers gave their lead back Austin Ekeler a 4 year $25.4 million contract. Ekeler had outshined former first-round pick Melvin Gordon and was well deserving of being paid like the team’s lead back. But last season Ekeler got hurt and missed six games last year. The Chargers struggled to run the ball during that six-game stretch. Their best running back when Ekeler got hurt was Kallen Ballage who is now a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

It would make a lot of sense for the Chargers to bring in Peterson for a lot of reasons. Los Angeles is a warm-weather city that is extremely attractive to free agents and playing there could open up opportunities for Peterson in media after he retires. Secondly, his playstyle compliments Ekeler very well. Ekeler is most dominant as a receiver out of the backfield. If Peterson was brought in to Los Angeles, he could take on some of the between the tackles and short-yardage runs while Ekeler can focus on being a receiving threat out of the backfield. The Chargers could even explore the option of having both Peterson and Ekeler on the field at the same time, lining up Peterson in the backfield and Ekeler in the slot as a wide receiver for a couple of plays a game.

Also, another feature of the Chargers that would be attractive to Peterson is the fact that they are considered a borderline playoff team. Despite being one of the greatest running backs to ever play the game, Peterson had only been to the playoffs four times in his career and hadn’t been to the playoffs since the 2015-16 season. At this of his career, Peterson has done it all except play winning and meaningful football. Peterson has only played past the Wild Card round of the playoffs once in his career back in the 2009-10 season.

Prediction: Adrian Peterson signs a one year $2.5 million deal with the Los Angeles Chargers

Frank Gore to the Arizona Cardinals

Similar to Adrian Peterson, Frank Gore is one of the only running backs still in the NFL that will be enshrined in the NFL Hall of Fame shortly after he retires. He has played for four different teams over the last four seasons. But Gore began his career with the San Francisco 49ers. During his ten seasons with the 49ers, he had been named to the Pro Bowl five times and was named a Second Team All-Pro in 2006. After leaving San Francisco, Gore played three seasons with the Indianapolis Colts and followed that with one-year stints with the Miami Dolphins, Buffalo Bills, and New York Jets After only starting one game his rookie season, Gore has started 217 of 227 games since 2006-07. That is an unreal feat for a running back. Gore has the NFL record for most games played for a running back (241) and is the first player in NFL history with 12 consecutive seasons with 1,200+ scrimmage yards. A resume like that earned him a spot on the 2010’s All-Decade Team.

It is unclear what to expect out of the Arizona Cardinals backfield this upcoming season. Their projected starter Chase Edmonds has only started four games in his career at this point and has never reached 500 rushing yards in a single season. Last season Edmonds took snaps away from starter Kenyan Drake being the team’s primary receiving back. He had a career-high 53 receptions for 402 yards and four receiving touchdowns last season. They also signed former Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner to a prove-it one year $1.75 million deal. In Conner’s first season as a starter in 2018-19, he was voted to the Pro Bowl after rushing for 973 yards and 12 touchdowns along with 497 receiving yards. Since then multiple injuries have kept Conner off the field or limited in the action he has seen. Pittsburgh decided to move off of Conner and go in another direction at running back.

The best-case scenario for Arizona’s backfield in 2021-22 is for Kliff Kingsbury’s offense to put Conner in a position to play similar to his best similar to what it did for Kenyan Drake while reducing his carry count having him split carries with Edmonds. For a team that has playoff aspirations, there is a lot of uncertainty in Arizona’s backfield. That is why the Cardinals should bring in Frank Gore. Over the last couple of seasons, Gore has remarkably been extremely consistent with his production despite being in his late thirties. At worst Gore could be a veteran presence in a locker room filled with both veterans and young players. But if Conner cannot remain healthy and Edmonds struggles to play like a lead back, Gore can be a safe option in the backfield that could be good for between 8-12 carries a game.

Arizona is also a great landing spot for Gore because it has been the final landing spot for multiple veterans and future Hall of Famers looking to finish their career in a great warm-weather city. At age 38 Gore will likely be playing his final season this year if he hasn’t already.

Prediction: Frank Gore signs a one year $1.75 million deal with the Arizona Cardinals

Duke Johnson Jr. to the Atlanta Falcons

For just over half of a decade Duke Johnson Jr. has been one of the best complimentary backs in the league. Despite only starting 17 of 91 career games, he has been an important part of the offenses he has played for during his time in Cleveland and Houston. During each of his first three years in Cleveland, Johnson had over 800 scrimmage yards. In his last season in Cleveland Johnson’s role was reduced. Then after receiving a three-year contract extension Johnson asked to be traded and was moved to the Houston Texans for a 2020 Third Round pick. Johnson had a career-high 410 rushing yards in his first season in Houston then split carries with David Johnson this past season. The new Texans administration cut Duke Johnson this offseason.

The Atlanta Falcons lost their best two running backs Todd Gurley and Brian Hill in free agency. They replaced them with veteran running back Mike Davis. The Falcons signed Davis to a two-year $5.5 million deal after a career year with the Carolina Panthers.

Davis was drafted in the fourth round by the San Francisco 49ers in 2015 then after two seasons was claimed off waivers by the Seattle Seahawks. Seattle started Davis for six games in 2017 after being activated off the practice squad late in the year. The following season Davis posted career highs in a rotational role. Davis signed a two-year $6 million deal with the Chicago Bears in 2019 but did not finish his first season with the team. He was claimed off waivers by the Carolina Panthers. During his first full year with the Panthers this past season, Davis was forced into a large role because of multiple injuries to former All-Pro Christian McCaffrey. Davis showed during his twelve starts last season that he is capable of being a team’s starting running back. T

His performance last season was enough for the Falcons to feel comfortable with Davis being their lead back next season. Based on Atlanta’s running back depth chart Davis may be the workhorse back for the Falcons next season. For a team trying to be competitive in 2020, it is risky having Davis as the team’s only capable running back on the roster. Atlanta should add a veteran backup or change of pace back in case Davis gets hurt or needs help carrying the load. That role would be perfect for Duke Johnson. That is the exact role Johnson had last season in Houston. Johnson could serve as Davis’ primary backup and take a couple carries a game when Davis needs a breather.

Prediction: Duke Johnson Jr. signs a one year $990,000 deal with the Atlanta Falcons

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