This offseason will not feature a wave of NFL running backs commanding top dollar on the open market, but what's interesting is how much more full-flavored the meal is than it was in the two years prior. In 2020, it was Christian McCaffrey owning the market with a record-setting deal (surpassing the mark set by Ezekiel Elliott and the Dallas Cowboys in 2019) that then trickled down to Derrick Henry and Joe Mixon, but pickings were slim after you got past the top-tier talent in the market. It became very hit or miss, but this year's iteration of RB free agents is meaty in the middle -- if you will -- giving NFL teams in search of an upgrade or talented stopgap measure a chance to sign one at a reasonable price, as also dictated by a simple supply-and-demand formula.
Directly inverse to the current quarterback situation in the league, there's a lot of supply and it far outweighs the demand.
There's at least one player on the following list that is seeking a hefty payday, namely Aaron Jones, but it's to be determined if he gets the market-nudging deal he's seeking. In a mid- and bottom-heavy RB free agency pool this time around, it'll be harder for Jones to convince teams they shouldn't go with one or more of the others -- for a lower overall cost. And with that, let's take a look at some players currently without an NFL home until at least the first wave of free agency hits the shore in March.
(Note: The top-10 most notable are ranked by market value -- all values courtesy of Spotrac, if provided.)
1. Aaron Jones
Most recent team: Packers
Market value: $14.6 million
2020 stats: 201 carries, 1,104 rushing yards, 9 rushing TDs, 47 catches, 355 receiving yards, two receiving TDs
Easily the most dominant name on this list, Jones reportedly turned down a deal in January from the Packers that would've paid him as a top-five running back, which indicates where he viewed himself before he went on to have a career rushing-yard season in 2020. He'd land his first-ever Pro Bowl nod in the process and is only one year removed from being the NFL rushing touchdown co-leader with Henry, two achievements that will only drive up his value further -- along with the accompanying fact he's established himself as the other nuclear weapon in Aaron Rodgers' arsenal.
Sure, the Packers could go cheaper elsewhere, but they'd also sacrifice on-field and locker room chemistry, and in an offseason already riddled with speculation surrounding Rodgers. If they don't pay up, however, you can count on another NFL team stepping in.
2. Kenyan Drake
Most recent team: Cardinals
Market value: $8.3 million
2020 stats: 239 carries, 955 rushing yards, 10 rushing TDs, 25 catches, 137 receiving yards
If you're looking for a lesson in how to rebuild a brand, take a course from Drake. After being shoved to the Cardinals by the Dolphins via trade in 2019, he'd hit the ground running (and catching) en route to a career season in 2020, both in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns. Whomever he joins will land themselves a capable dual-threat halfback who once logged 477 receiving yards (2018) and will provide their offense with the added ability of keeping an opposing defense on their heels, and without having to necessarily tandem him with a complementary RB. In prime form, Drake is a problem for defenses, and it won't break the bank to acquire him.
Most recent team: Bucs
Market value: $8.1 million
2020 stats: 97 carries, 367 rushing yards, 6 rushing TDs, 36 catches, 233 receiving yards
Well hello there, Playo- ... er ... um ... Super Bowl Lenny. It's possible Fournette went to Drake's School of How to Rebrand, but then became the professor himself. Jettisoned by the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars ahead of the 2020 season, Fournette immediately agreed to stay in Florida and join Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. , particularly considering he'd initially go from franchise RB to second fiddle behind Ronald Jones before taking over the role of starter when Jones battled injury. From there, Playoff Lenny was born in the postseason and, less than six months after hitting rock bottom, there he was helping to deliver a 27-yard knockout blow to the almighty Kansas City Chiefs to perch himself atop the NFL mountain. Now a free agent, it's likely the Bucs want him back in the building, but his brand is shiny enough at the moment to garner calls from other clubs.
4. Chris Carson
Most recent team: Seahawks
Market value: $7.4 million
2020 stats: 141 carries, 681 rushing yards, five rushing TDs, 37 catches, 287 receiving yards, four receiving TDs
Seahawks) will have to parse when attempting to decide what his salary should be, because the 2018 and 2019 version of Carson is worth more than the below stated market value, but the 2020 version might allow someone to sign him to more team-friendly deal and pair him with an insurance policy at the position., a healthy Carson deserves much more notoriety than he received in his time with Seattle. But because he didn't, he's a fantastic value heading into free agency, and far from the age wall of 30. The only true knock to Carson is his durability -- having missed four regular-season games in 2020 to unfortunately fuel that dark cloud even more -- but he's also only one season removed from a career-high 1,496 yards from scrimmage with nine touchdowns. That's the question his new team (or the
5. Todd Gurley
Most recent team: Falcons
Market value: $5.5 million
2020 stats: 195 carries, 678 rushing yards, nine rushing TDs, 25 catches, 164 receiving yards
Unlike some others on this list, Gurley didn't exactly succeed in re-establishing himself as one of the best running backs in all of football, but he did at least prove himself a viable weapon. His one-year deal with the Atlanta Falcons was a mixed bag of struggle plays -- including one mental error in particular that cost them a comeback loss against the Detroit Lions -- and flashes of the All-Pro who once took over games with the Los Angeles Rams. It's not out of the realm of possibility that Gurley returns to the latter form, but his 2020 season doesn't support that point. That means he'll likely have to accept a reasonable salary on a short-term deal (one or two years) in the hopes of achieving going forward what he didn't achieve in 2020: to position himself for at least one more big payday before his NFL career begins to dusk.
6. James Conner
Most recent team: Steelers
Market value: $5.4 million
2020 stats: 169 carries, 721 rushing yards, six rushing TDs, 35 catches, 215 receiving yards
It feels like it was just yesterday when Conner was being dubbed the next big thing at RB. That didn't materialize, but he's still very much a thing at RB, when given the chance. The pass-happy Steelers got away from their run game in a major way in 2020, and that plan helped torpedo a season that initially saw them go 11-0 before the arm on Ben Roethlisberger became the team's biggest liability. That is to say Conner's more-than-respectable production from last season could've been far greater and more equivalent to what he did in 2018 when he rushed for 973 yards and 12 touchdowns, adding another 497 receiving yards and one receiving TD to the stat line for good measure. If Conner lands with a team dedicated to making sure the run game is a key part of the offense, he could be an absolute steal.
7. Marlon Mack
Most recent team: Colts
Market value: N/A
2020 stats: Missed 15 regular season games + postseason with injury
It was a season he'd love to forget and, unfortunately for Mack, it happened at the worst possible time. He entered 2020 ready to level up his NFL value in a contract year but instead found himself injured and sidelined for the season after Week 1. His value takes an added hit when factoring it the injury itself was a torn ACL, and that's not something teams want to hear as they prepare to shell out millions in free agency. That said, if Mack is back to form in 2021, he'll be the same guy who rushed for 1,091 yards and eight touchdowns in 2019, a tasty follow-up to his 2018 season, when he ran for 908 yards and logged a career-high nine rushing touchdowns. Keeping in mind these numbers were achieved while sharing the load and it's not difficult to see Mack getting a lot of interest to open up free agency, but his recent injury will likely anchor his asking price.
8. Mark Ingram
Most recent team: Ravens
Market value: N/A
2020 stats: 72 carries, 299 rushing yards, two rushing TDs, six catches, 50 receiving yards
It was an unceremonious parting of ways in Baltimore, but Ingram fully understood the team's decision to release him in mid-January. He was set to enter the final year of his contract with the Ravens in 2021, and it would've come equipped with a $5 million salary. If you use that as a marker and paint it in the appropriate context, it would be difficult to fathom Ingram landing a payday equal to or near what the Ravens themselves deemed unpalatable. Ingram still has tread left on his tires but he's on the wrong side of 30 and that marker combines with a down season in production this past year, to make him a solid RB2 option if married to a more dynamic starter. Still one of the more notable names in this free agency pool, the three-time Pro Bowler will presumably find work somewhere, especially when considering he ran for 1,018 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2019.
Most recent team: Lions
Market value: N/A
2020 stats: 156 carries, 604 rushing yards, seven rushing TDs, 12 catches, 101 receiving yards
Is Peterson still a name to consider in 2021? You bet your backside he is. Much like Tom Brady in Tampa Bay, the future Hall of Fame running back continues to outright defy Father Time as he, unlike Brady in Tampa Bay, chases the ever-elusive Lombardi Trophy. He felt he still had a lot to give the Washington Football Team before they jettisoned him and moved on to younger pastures, knowing he likely wouldn't sniff the Super Bowl with the Detroit Lions but successfully proved he's still got the juice -- even if the container is only half-full. Fact is, the four-time All-Pro rushed for a combined 1,940 yards and 12 touchdowns in his two seasons prior to landing with the Lions, and was more than simply an afterthought as Detroit worked to refine D'Andre Swift. And when Swift missed time with injury, it was Peterson barreling ahead as if this was yesteryear, when it's really just a generational talent clearly in possession of the Time Stone.
10. Frank Gore
Most recent team: Jets
Market value: N/A
2020 stats: 187 carries, 653 rushing yards, two rushing TDs, 16 catches, 89 receiving yards
Speaking of future Hall of Famers who outperformed some of their younger RB counterparts in 2020 -- Gore again waved off retirement in 2020 and provided a steady hand to a Jets team marred with tumult. He may not be the red zone threat nowadays as he once was or as Peterson can still be, but there's no denying Gore's ability has stuck around much longer than most. There are rumors the five-time Pro Bowler would like to return to the same 49ers team that once gave him the nod as their third-round pick in 2005, and not for a retirement farewell. Gore wants to play more football and be a key part of the offense, while understanding fully that likely won't be as a starter. Given the 49ers sudden need at the position -- thanks to Tevin Coleman and Jerick McKinnon being set to hit free agency -- it would make sense they'd give him a call. Gore still has good value, and as he preps to eventually call it quits, he'll be very picky about which jersey he puts on last (especially after muddling through a year with Gang Green).