Evaluating the 2024 Running Back Market

Evaluating the 2024 Running Back Market

Every time the KC offense runs through 7th round pick Isaiah Pacheco, a running back contract extension dies. The devaluation is real (as you’ve now heard a million times), and it’s only looking worse for the upcoming NFL offseason. We’ll dive into the notable running backs slated for free agency next March, including thoughts on how things may shake out for the current top-paid players in the group.

RELATED
2024 Running Back Cap Hits
2024 Free Agent Running Backs

Josh Jacobs (Raiders, 25)

2023 Salary: $11,791,000
2024 Valuation: $10.75M (4 years, $43M)

Why He Might Get Paid
Despite heading toward Year 6 of his NFL career, Jacobs will be one of the younger pending free agents. Age doesn’t preclude mileage, but with a much larger presence in the passing game the past 3 seasons, he’s a solid, versatile, under 26 year old option for somebody next March.

Why He Might Not Get Paid
The Yards per Attempt have completely fallen off of a cliff (4.9 in 2022, 3.3 in 2023), and he’s fumbling at the highest rate of his career to go along with it. Jacobs was an astonishing 99.5% True Value in our system last year against a $2.1M salary. This year, his 10.7% True Value sees him producing at a $1.25M level.

Most Likely Outcome
How the Raiders proceed next offseason is very much tied to how the last third of the 2023 season finishes out. They’ve turned a bit of a corner, and if Aidan O’Connell is a QB1 worth sticking with next season, then a lot of these current pieces may be kept in house. The Josh Jacobs we’ve seen on our screens this season won’t approach a $10M per year contract, but if he’s allowed to hit the open market, don’t count out a team like Kansas City tossing a value contract at him to bolster their offense next season.

Tony Pollard (Cowboys, 26)

2023 Salary: $10,091,000 (8th)
2024 Valuation: $6.6M (3 years, $20M)

Why He Might Get Paid
Like his former colleague Ezekiell Elliott, Pollard’s ability to handle a pass rush is Top 3 in the league among running backs (not an accident by the Cowboys, who value blocking about as much as any team in football across the board). Dallas doesn’t currently have a viable RB1 replacement on this roster, though there are viable options to consider (Dowdle, Vaughn).

Why He Might Not Get Paid
The Cowboys gifted Pollard a $10.1M franchise tag as he rehabbed himself back to full health, and subsequently took over the RB1 reins for the first time. As a $965,000 player in 2022, Pollard held a 98.5% value in our system. As a $10.1M player in 2023, Pollard currently holds a 10.1% True Value, or, he’s producing at a $1.01M value currently - which just so happens to be his minimum available salary.

Most Likely Outcome
The Cowboys have contracts to hand out left and right this Winter/Spring, including a couple of blockbusters for Prescott & Lamb. A $13M second franchise tag for Pollard seems inconceivable right now, but so does any sort of multi-year guaranteed extension if we’re being honest. Pollard hits the open market, seeking a cap adjusted version of Miles Sanders’ free agent deal (3 years, $20.5M). Green Bay, Chicago, & Buffalo are listening

Saquon Barkley (Giants, 26)

2023 Salary: $10,091,000
2024 Valuation: $6.6M (3 years, $20M)

Why He Might Get Paid
He’s 1 year removed from 1,700 yards from scrimmage, 57 catches, and 10 touchdowns, and has been stuck in one of the worst offenses in all of football this season. He bet on himself with incentives to garner a raise - and won’t earn a dollar extra from them. The Giants probably need to give Daniel Jones 1 more go around as QB1 (thanks to his contract). Does that mean Barkley gets a 2nd tag ($13M) to give Jones as talented a safety valve as possible?

Why He Might Not Get Paid
Barkley is a middle of the pack running back statistically speaking in almost every major category right now. There are a heck of a lot of outside reasons why - but it’ll be tough to justify a multi-year guarantee, despite the fact that Jonathan Taylor’s contract is now on the books for close reference

Most Likely Outcome
Like Taylor in Indy, Barkley’s best chance for a multi-year contract may be right where he currently stands. The Giants have a QB contract problem, a coaching staff trying to save their jobs, and little to no offensive weapons on the roster going forward. With that said, the days of us offering up $10M+ contracts for Barkley appear to be gone, and a 3 year, $20.5M deal is his maximum calculated value. Instead of guaranteeing two years of that at around $13M, why not just pull it all into 2024, with a second franchise tag.

Derrick Henry (Titans, 29)

2023 Salary: $10.5M
2024 Valuation $9.5M (2 years $19M)

Why He Might Get Paid
He’s still that guy. The Titans’ offense has been a mess this season, but Henry enters Week 12 as the #2 rated RB according to PFF. He won’t replicate a near 2,000 yards from scrimmage 2022, but 1,500 yards and 10 TDs are still within reach. Tennessee is probably OK handing the keys to youngster Tyjae Spears next year, but that shouldn’t keep them from considering a short term extension for Henry.

Why He Might Not Get Paid
Henry will be 30 years old by the time this next contract takes shape. As you might imagine, there aren’t many examples of 30+ running backs producing well on anything north of a minimum salary these days, especially as it pertains to the more traditional  between the tackles player. The production still says he should be a high-priced running back, but that’s just not how the business of football operates anymore.

Most Likely Outcome
If the Titans were going to be OK seeing Henry play in another uniform, they would have traded him at this past Halloween deadline. They didn’t, so it’s only right to assume they’ll keep him in the fold for the remainder of his career. Henry gets a 2 year, $12M extension to handcuff/split carries with Spears through 2024, with a veritable option for 2025.

Austin Ekeler (Chargers, 28)

2023 Salary: $6.25M
2024 Valuation: $7.5M (3 years, $22M)

Why He Might Get Paid
Versatility. The Yards per Rush attempt are at an all-time low right now, but Ekeler is still a major weapon in the passing game. He should be on multiple team’s radars this spring if the Chargers let him get to the market. Across a full 2022 season, Ekeler was a 90% value against a $5.5M salary.

Why He Might Not Get Paid
Ekeler attempted to hold out prior to the 2023 season for a new contract or more current year money. He settled for a $1.75M incentive package that all but vanished when he missed 4 weeks due to an ankle injury. So, unsuccessful holdout + contract year injury + position that is already massively devalued usually = far less than fair market value for next contract.

Most Likely Outcome
The Chargers don’t have a viable replacement for Ekeler on this roster, but major shakeups may be coming to both sides of the ball (and staffs) this winter. Ekeler signs a 1 year, $7M + incentives contract (the mysterious Dalvin Cook deal).

D'Andre Swift (Eagles, 24)

2023 Salary: $1.7M
2024 Valuation: $5.5M (4 years, $22M)

Why He Might Get Paid
Versatility and a career year with the best team in football. Swift is one of many young weapons in Philly, but he’s still well on pace to post career numbers both in rushing and receiving. The last guy who played this role (Miles Sanders) scored a 4 year, $25.4M contract in free agency. Also, he’ll turn 25 years old in January.

Why He Might Not Get Paid
Fumbles & a bit of year to year inconsistency. It’s hard to place too much value on the up and down experiences he went through in Detroit, but teams can point to just about anything to suppress a running back salary these days.

Most Likely Outcome
Philly has made this position a revolving door annually for quite some time now, so a multi-year extension wouldn’t seem to be the obvious choice - but we’re going to make it anyway. Here’s why. If the Eagles let this player walk into free agent (franchise tag probably not ideal with their cap situation), one of the teams seemingly primed to pounce could be NFC rival San Francisco. Kyle Shanahan has long been looking for a proper handcuff for Christian McCaffrey, whose magic is bound to run out here soon anyway. 3 years, $18M to stay in Philly.

NEED TO BE MENTIONED

Devin Singletary (Texans, 26)

2023 Salary: $2.75M + incentives
2024 Valuation: $4.3M (1 year, $4M)

Dameon Pierce's injury. has thrust Singletary into the spotlight. He's thrived, and should be considering a true RB1 role elsewhere if Houston won't pony up a little extra dough to keep him in the fold.

Zack Moss (Colts, 25)

2023 Salary: $1.1M
2024 Valuation: $4.6M (2 years, $9.2M)

Jonathan Taylor's absence was Moss' gain. He's not an 18-week every down back, but he showed more than enough to stick in this league as a complementary RB2 in a good system.

JK Dobbins (Ravens, 24)

2023 Salary: $1.4M
2024 Valuation: $2M (1 year, $2M)

Talented, versatile, the prototypical 2020s running back, when healthy. The injury bug has been devastating time and time again here.

D'Onta Foreman (Bears, 27)

2023 Salary: $2M
2024 Valuation: $3M (1 year, $3M)

Foreman hasn't found a complementary role that he hasn't been able to be successful in. That will continue for 2024.

Gus Edwards (Ravens, 26)

2023 Salary: $3.3M
2024 Valuation: $3.6M (1 year, $3.6M)

An absolute touchdown machine, especially in the red zone. Baltimore would be foolish to move on here.

A.J. Dillon (Packers, 25)

2023 Salary: $1.3M
2024 Valuation: $3.6M (1 year, $3.6M)

Never really got going in Green Bay and should have a chance to restart his career elsewhere this March.

Antonio Gibson (Commanders, 25)

2023 Salary: $2.7M
2024 Valuation: $3.6M (1 year, $3.6M)

Fumbles kept his touches (and valuation) at bay, but there's a lot of potential value if he signs with a good team at near minimum.

Ezekiel Elliott (Patriots, 28)

2023 Salary: $3M
2024 Valuation: $2.8M (1 year, $2.8M)

Somehow became the focal point of the Patriots' offense in 2023, and should be able to keep his career alive based on blocking prowess alone.

Dalvin Cook (Jets, 28)

2023 Salary: $7M (+incentives)
2024 Valuation: $4.3M (1 year, $4.3M)

It was the offseason of Dalvin, and the inseason of not Dalvin. Cook needs to shave a few million off of the asking price and find an offensive line this spring.

POTENTIAL FREE AGENT ADDITIONS

Alvin Kamara (Saints, 28)

2 years, $36.8M remaining
2024 Valuation: $4.6M (2 years, $9.25M)

Kamara is still a nice piece to the Saints' puzzle, and Derek Carr is fully guaranteed through 2024, but as per usual, New Orleans will need to find cap space in the coming months. A rip it up and start over could very much be in the cards here.

Aaron Jones (Packers, 28)

1 year, $12M remaining
2024 Valuation: $5.2M (1 year, $5.2M)

Jones' midseason injury probably means the last of him in a Packers' uniform. He'll likely need to settle for a show-me contract with a bunch of attainable incentives, but he can certainly still help a good team in the right situation.