Breakdown – 2019 Free Agent Running Backs

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By The Hudsonian, Joshua Hudson

For the third offseason in a row, all eyes are on Steelers RB Le’Veon Bell. And for the last two years, Pittsburgh has slapped him with the Franchise Tag — he signed it in 2017, but refused to last year and sat out all of 2018 as a result. The Steelers have come out and said they will not tag him this year, meaning there will be a bidding war for Bell’s services.

After seeing Todd Gurley sign a 4-year, $57.5 million extension with $45 million in guarantees last year, Bell will undoubtedly use that as a benchmark going into this offseason. Recent reports suggest he has gained significant weight while sitting out — weighing in at around 260 pounds — while his agent refutes those accusations. Remember, Bell came into the league weighing over 240 pounds. (He wasn’t as effective at that weight as he has been at his listed weight of 225 pounds in his more productive years, but I digress.) Now comes the biggest question — which team will be willing to offer Bell the type of contract he seeks?

According to overthecap.com, the ten teams with the most current salary cap space — unofficially, as the league has not yet announced the actual cap heading into 2019 and teams are likely to make cuts and perform contract restructures to generate more cap space — are the Colts ($107.7 million), Jets ($102.4 million), Browns ($79.3 million), Bills ($79.1 million), Texans ($77.9 million), Raiders ($71.2 million), 49ers ($65.2 million), Seahawks ($51.9 million), Bengals ($50.3 million), and Cowboys ($47.8 million). Of those teams, the Jets and Raiders have the biggest need at running back. The Colts could join the bidding, depending on how they feel about incumbent Marlon Mack (we’re huge fans here at Club Fantasy FFL); the Texans have needs on defense, but Lamar Miller hasn’t exactly been an All-Pro; and the 49ers could move on from the injured Jerick McKinnon and pair Bell with Matt Breida in an offensive scheme that has proven to be beneficial for running backs.

Bell will certainly have options. I think the Texans find a way to bring him in to compliment DeAndre Hopkins and Deshaun Watson, leaving the Jets as the biggest loser in this scenario.

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Tevin Coleman should have plenty of suitors as an option at running back that won’t cost nearly as much as Le’Veon Bell. (Photo from http://www.thefalcoholic.com)

New York could find themselves bringing in Tevin Coleman to compliment Isaiah Crowell, creating a better committee than what they’ve had the last few years. Coleman had a career year filling in for the injured Devonta Freeman, but was ultimately overshadowed by the Falcons’ lack of wins. The ongoing debate will be whether Coleman can be a workhorse type back, garnering close to $8 million a year, or a third down type back who gets closer to what Dion Lewis signed for last offseason — 4 years, $19.8 million with $8.25 million guaranteed. For teams who lose out on Bell, Coleman looks like the best alternative.

T.J. Yeldon hasn’t been a starter in Jacksonville, but he’s been productive in the roles he has been given. While filling in for the injured Leonard Fournette last year, Yeldon consistently put up top 10 fantasy numbers in his absence. He is 25 years old and adept as a pass catcher, which teams seem to prioritize these days. The questions most teams will have revolve around his attitude. There was a lot of turmoil in Jacksonville last season and Yeldon was a part of it. If he is brought into a strong locker room — I think the Eagles could have interest and have a locker room full of leaders — Yeldon could be a productive player next season and be an under-the-radar addition.

To me, Bell, Coleman, and Yeldon are the three biggest names available due to past production, future production, and age. There are some other backs looking for reasonable pay days but have question marks surrounding them. Chiefs RB Spencer Ware hits the market at 27, and while he’s been productive in Kansas City, he has ball security issues. It is also widely known how Andy Reid’s system works in favor of running backs, which could cause teams to shy away from offering more than $4 million a year.

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Mark Ingram wants to remain in New Orleans, but the Saints don’t have much available cap space to work with. Can they get a deal done or will Ingram be on the move? (Photo from http://www.neworleanssaints.com)

Saints RB Mark Ingram has minimal wear on his tires — only averaging 165 carries a season over eight years in New Orleans — but will turn 30 before the 2019 season ends. A team like Baltimore could be an option as they need a clear number one back after cycling through the likes of Gus Edwards, Alex Collins, Terrance West, and Justin Forsett in recent years. Some stability at the position with a young quarterback may be sought by new GM Eric DeCosta.

Jay Ajayi is coming off a torn ACL. He’s always been a hard-nosed runner, has a 1,000 yard season on his his resume, and some ability in the passing game. If teams think he is fully healthy, he should be able to land a short term deal around $5 million a year or a one-year, “prove it” deal to reenter the market next year.

Latavius Murray has filled in admirably for the oft-injured Dalvin Cook the last two years, and has shown to be exactly what we all thought he could be — an average running back who can score touchdowns. At 29, teams won’t be lining up to give him huge money or a long-term contract, but he can be a red zone threat and a complimentary back to teams who already have a solid pass catcher in the backfield.

The Raiders have three running backs who are free agents — Marshawn Lynch (33), Doug Martin (30), and third down back Jalen Richard (25). Lucky for them, Richard is a restricted free agent- meaning they can match any offer to retain his services. Lynch and Martin aren’t likely to have huge markets, given their age and average production the last couple of years, but Richard is one of the better receiving backs in the league. The Raiders would be smart to keep him around.

After joining the Redskins late in training camp, Adrian Peterson went on to rush for over 1,000 yards in place of injured rookie Derrius Guice. Guice is likely to return this year, meaning Peterson is likely to move on in 2019. Most other 34-year old running backs wouldn’t see a ton of interest, but after what Peterson managed last year in Washington’s run-first offense while dealing with injuries along the offensive line and at quarterback, a team may give Peterson a chance with a one-year deal to keep moving up the career rushing yards ladder.

Other backs who could switch teams that have made a fantasy impact in recent years include Alex Collins (BAL; restricted free agent), Bilal Powell (NYJ), Ty Montgomery (BAL), Javorius “Buck” Allen (BAL), LeGarrette Blount (DET), Frank Gore (MIA), Jeremy Hill (NE), and Mike Davis (SEA).