2022 Money Tiers: Running Backs

2022 Money Tiers: Running Backs

The preseason is a great phase to see just how deep a team’s running back room is prior to the season. An already wildly unstable position can get even shakier when an undrafted free agent steps onto the field and proves he can hang. We’ve organized a few dozen notable running backs into financial tiers, providing analysis for each on where things may be headed in the coming months.


Multi-Year Security

James Conner (27, ARZ)

Contract Remaining: 3 years, $21M
Guarantee: $13.5M thru 2023
The #6 running back in 2021 according to PFF has a chance to be even more impactful with Chase Edmonds now in Miami. He’s a 200 rush attempt, 40 catch candidate every year.


Nick Chubb (26, CLE)

Contract Remaining: 3 years, $27.25M
Guarantee: $7M thru 2023
Chubb remains one of the most productive rushing backs in the game, despite a dropoff in his receiving numbers. His cap hit jumps form $5.2M this year to $14.85M next year - nothing a simple restructure can’t fix. 


Breece Hall (21, NYJ)

Contract Remaining: 4 years, $9M
Guarantee: $6.3M thru 2024
Hall will partner with Michael Carter as one of the better, young one-two punches in the game. The #36 selection out of Iowa State can do it all, and found the end zone weekly at the college level. 


Travis Etienne (23, JAX)

Contract Remaining: 3 years, $5.4M (+ option)
Guarantee: $5.4M thru 2024
Etienne’s return from injury is one of the more anticipated in the league this season. The 23 year old weapon is under team control through 2025, so he and Trevor Lawrence have plenty of time to figure this out.


Najee Harris (24, PIT)

Contract Remaining: 3 years, $5.5M (+ option)
Guarantee: $5.5M thru 2024
For the most part, Harris finished off 2021 as advertised, posting nearly 1,700 yards from scrimmage - including a whopping 74 receptions. With the Steelers’ QB position in flux, look for another heavy dose of Harris for a few more seasons.


Leonard Fournette (27, TB)

Contract Remaining: 3 years, $21M
Guarantee: $12M thru 2023
Fournette had offers elsewhere, but returned to the Bucs on a solid 2nd-tier free agent contract. He’s almost certain to see $14M from it over the next two seasons, while he looks to build on a 1,200 yards from scrimmage, 70 catch campaign last year.


Jury’s Still Out

Alvin Kamara (27, NO)

Contract Remaining: 4 years, $59.3M
Guarantee: $16.5M thru 2023
This one’s complicated, as Kamara is facing league suspension due to a battery charge. Delays to that hearing appear to be pushing things back a year, but if/when the suspension comes in, all future guarantees on this contract will void. For now though, Kamara is secure on 2 years, $22.5M.


Year to Year

Cordarrelle Patterson (31, ATL)

Contract Remaining: 2 years, $10.5M
Guarantee: $5M thru 2022
Patterson compiled 52 catches against 618 yards rushing last year, and with the QB situation in a bit of flux, should be asked to do much of the same in 2022. His non-guaranteed $4.25M for 2023 is very much a toss up though.


JK Dobbins (23, BAL)

Contract Remaining: 2 years, $2.4M
Guarantee: $0
Baltimore will slow play Dobbins back into the lineup this year, but there’s no reason to believe he won’t ramp back up into the versatile weapon he was drafted to be. It’s unlikely any type of early extension is coming though. 


Gus Edwards (27, BAL)

Contract Remaining: 2 years, $7.6M
Guarantee: $0
Edwards won’t be ready for the start of 2022 as he recovers from an ACL injury. He’s on a 1 year, $3.25M contract until further notice.


Christian McCaffrey (26, CAR)

Contract Remaining: 4 years, $44.8M
Guarantee: $8.1M thru 2022
McCaffrey’s deal offers a small out of the upcoming season, putting him on immediate notice. With the QB situation still in flux, it’s plausible that the Panthers keep him through 2023 ($12M), especially if he manages to remain healthy in 2022.


Joe Mixon (26, CIN)

Contract Remaining: 3 years, $29.1M
Guarantee: $0
Mixon was a big part of the Bengals’ surprise Super Bowl run (1,700 yards from scrimmage, 42 catches, 16 TDs). There’s no reason to believe he won’t be as big of a factor in 2022, which could lead to a restructured extension thereafter. He’s a $12.5M running back in our system right now.


Javonte Williams (22, DEN)

Contract Remaining: 3 years, $4.2M
Guarantee: $1M thru 2022
It was originally thought that Williams would be the workhouse in Denver this season, but the Broncos re-signed Melvin Gordon late in free agency, bundling up that 1-2 attack yet again. The future still lies with Williams, and he’ll have a chance to bust out in 2023, when he also becomes extension eligible.


Clyde Edwards-Helaire (23, KC)

Contract Remaining: 2 years, $3.5M (+option)
Guarantee: $1.6M thru 2022
CEH hasn’t lived up to the billing just yet, and the Chiefs have added more bodies to the RB room to try to shore up the position. It’s probably still his job to lose, but with the guaranteed portion of the contract falling off next March, there’s a lot riding on 2022.


Austin Ekeler (27, LAC)

Contract Remaining: 2 years, $11.25M
Guarantee: $1.25M thru 2022
Ekeler has 282 receptions in 5 seasons, including 70 last year. Toss in nearly 1,600 yards from scrimmage and he remains a vital weapon to Justin Herbert’s bigtime offense. The Chargers have added backs that could eventually replace him, at salaries of $5.5M & $5.75M through 2023, there’s a good chance he sees this contract out.


Isaiah Spiller (21, LAC)

Contract Remaining: 4 years, $4.3M
Guarantee: $736k thru 2022
The 4th round pick this past May should step right in as the complementary piece to Austin Ekeler, and early signs say he’s going to fit well. The bigger his role gets, the more value his $1.1M AAV will provide.


Cam Akers (23, LAR)

Contract Remaining: 2 years, $2.5M
Guarantee: $0
Akers has seen action in just 14 games across his first two seasons after the Rams selected him #52 overall back in 2020. Early projections say the Rams offense could include a lot more emphasis on the run game, so a breakout year - and possible extension discussions - could be in store for Akers. It’s a wait and see situation until then.


Chase Edmonds (26, MIA)

Contract Remaining: 2 years, $12.1M
Guarantee: $6.1M thru 2022
Edmonds will be asked to do a little of everything in Mike McDaniel’s creative offense, and he should respond nicely barring injury. This is a 1 year contract until it’s not though. 


Dalvin Cook (27, MIN)

Contract Remaining: 4 years, $45.9M
Guarantee: $8.4M thru 2022
Can Cook stay healthy enough to recreate the near 2,000 yards from scrimmage performance he posted in 2020? The Vikings have a chance to post huge offensive numbers collectively in 2022, and while Cook’s deal is year-to-year from here out, he’s as good as locked in as any. Keep in mind there’s a civil lawsuit for assault still looming in the next calendar year.


Michael Carter (23, NYJ)

Contract Remaining: 3 years, $2.8M
Guarantee: $0
Carter amassed 1,000 yards from scrimmage - including 36 receptions - in his inaugural season, and should pair up nicely with Breece Hall for an excellent running back committee. He’s year to year through 2024, and extension eligible after 2023.


Elijah Mitchell (24, SF)

Contract Remaining: 3 years, $2.8M
Guarantee: $0
Mitchell missed 6 weeks in 2021, and enters 2022 at less than full health as well. But health is likely SF’s only concern with him at this point, as the youngster posted 1,100 yards from scrimmage in his limited rookie campaign. The Niners are loaded with athletes at this position, so no one player may rise to huge production numbers, but then neither will their contracts as well.


Antonio Gibson (24, WAS)

Contract Remaining: 2 years, $2.3M
Guarantee: $0
Fumbles are officially a problem here, and they appear to be continuing early on in the 2022 offseason. J.D. McKissic was brought back to play robin in this running game, but there’s a very real world where Brian Robinson the #98 selection this past May, could supplant Gibson from his RB1 role sooner rather than later. 


2023 Extension Coming?

Tony Pollard (25, DAL)

Contract Remaining: 1 year, $965k
Guarantee: $0
Pollard is ready to take over the Cowboys’ rushing game, but Ezekiel Elliott’s $12M+ salary is still standing in his way. Will Dallas extend Pollard as the back of their future before moving on from Elliott next March? He’s a $6M running back as a veritable RB2, but that price will likely need to approach $8M as a full-time starter. 


D'Andre Swift (23, DET)

Contract Remaining: 2 years, $3M
Guarantee: $1.3M
Swift caught 62 balls out of the backfield in 2021, proving he’s truly one of the better versatile backs in the game. The Lions made big strides this offseason, and are many experts pick to be the surprise NFC team in 2022. Another strong campaign could mean an extension next March for Swift, who currently projects to a $10.2M contract in our system.


A.J. Dillon (24, GB)

Contract Remaining: 2 years, $2.4M
Guarantee: $0
Dillon is ready to bust out, but he’ll share the workload with Aaron Jones in 2022 once again. With the latter likely falling off of the roster next spring, Dillon could very well gather a new contract before he’s officially given the RB1 keys. He projects to an $8M per year extension currently.It should be noted though that Aaron Jones was let to play out his entire rookie contract, and was extended at the final hour before hitting free agency


Jonathan Taylor (23, IND)

Contract Remaining: 2 years, $3M
Guarantee: $0
Taylor becomes extension eligible after 2022, and if this campaign is anything like last year’s, the Colts may have no choice. The 23-year-old already projects to a 4 year, $65M deal.


James Robinson (24, JAX)

Contract Remaining: 1 year, $895,000
Guarantee: $0
Robinson played well in Etienne’s absence, before an injury of his own slowed his 2021 campaign. His usage alongside Etienne will be something to watch, but with restricted free agency ahead of him next March, it’s safe to assume he’ll stick for a bit. 


Derrick Henry (28, TEN)

Contract Remaining: 2 years, $24.5M
Guarantee: $0
We’re not referencing many 28 year olds on this list - but then again there aren’t many Derrick Henry’s in the world to reference. A foot injury limited his 2021 to just 8 games - 8 games where he averaged 136 yards from scrimmage. If he stays on this course in 2022, a restructured extension is likely in the cards.


Early Releases

Ezekiel Elliott (27, DAL)

Contract Remaining: 5 years, $65.3M
Guarantee: $12.4M thru 2022
Zeke’s been hearing Tony Pollard’s footsteps behind him for the better part of two years now, and that won’t stop in 2022. Elliott is playing on a 1 year, $12.4M, as the remaining 4 years are about as fluffy as NFL contracts get. 


Aaron Jones (27, GB)

Contract Remaining: 3 years, $33.75M
Guarantee: $3.75M thru 2022
Jones’ contract was structured in a pay-as-you-go manner, giving the Packers an out after every season. The almost 28 year old is likely to give way to AJ Dillon after the 2022 season, as his cap hit rises to $20M in 2023.


Nyheim Hines (25, IND)

Contract Remaining: 3 year, $13.9M
Guarantee: $3.3M thru 2022
With the offense now running through Taylor, Hines’ production took a significant hit in 2021. His versatility out of the backfield still makes him valuable, but he’s playing on a 1 year, $3.64M contract for all intents and purposes.


J.D. McKissic (28, WAS)

Contract Remaining: 2 years, $7M
Guarantee: $3.6M thru 2022
McKissic spurred the Bills to return to his role in Washington, where he saw action in just 11 games last season. He’s grabbed 80 receptions in a season not too long ago, and could be seeking an effort like that again in 2022. It’s a 1 year, $4M contract until it’s not.


One & Done?

Devin Singletary (24, BUF)

Contract Remaining: 1 year, $2.54M
Guarantee: $0
Singletary broke out slightly last year, compiling 870 yards on the ground, and 40 catches through the air. He’s a solid option for Allen & the Bills, but he’s one of many at this point. If James Cook shows any kind of promise in his rookie campaign, looking for Singletary to hit the open market next March.


David Montgomery (25, CHI)

Contract Remaining: 1 year, $2.79M
Guarantee: $0
Montgomery and the Bears haven’t offered much publicly about a contract extension, leaving some to believe that the running back isn’t interested in sticking around. He’s doubled his production as a pass catcher in each of the past two seasons, making him a viable option on an expiring contract - at just 25 years old. He’ll soon be the next $12M+ running back (somewhere).


Kareem Hunt (27, CLE)

Contract Remaining: 1 year, $6.25M
Guarantee: $1.5M
Hunt wants a bigger role, and a multi-year guarantee, something the Browns don’t appear willing to offer him. It may be a huge year for the running backs in Cleveland, which should act as a nice showcase for Hunt as he approaches free agency (unless the Browns slap a tag on him next February).


Jamaal Williams (27, DET)

Contract Remaining: 1 year, $4M
Guarantee: $1M
Williams is an underrated RB2, compiling 750 yards from scrimmage last season in Detroit. Does another 2 year, $6M extension keep him in the fold, or will the Lions try to get younger here?


Marlon Mack (26, HOU)

Contract Remaining: 1 year, $2M
Guarantee: $250,000
Mack stands to lead a very heavy RBBC system in Houston. The Texans currently have 7 running backs rostered at a combined cap hit of $8.7M.


Josh Jacobs (24, LV)

Contract Remaining: 1 year, $2.1M
Guarantee: $2.1M
Jacobs’ role has been in question all offseason, and his declined 5th-year option certainly didn’t help. Vegas added Brandon Bolden, and drafted two RBs this past May, so it stands to reason that outside of a huge campaign, it’s a 1 and done situation for Jacobs.


Kenyan Drake (28, LV)

Contract Remaining: 1 year $8.25M
Guarantee: $8M
Drake’s 2021 was limited to 12 games due to injury, but he still managed to catch 30 balls and garner 550 yards from scrimmage in that time. His versatility will be vital to what is now quite a potent Vegas offense, but contractually he’s a 1 and done.


Darrell Henderson (24, LAR)

Contract Remaining: 1 year, $1M
Guarantee: $0
He’s found himself on the IR each of the past two seasons, but also showed a good deal of potential in an expanded role last season. With Cam Akers back in the fold, Henderson’s role in a contract year is certain to be reduced.


Damien Harris (25, NE)

Contract Remaining: 1 year, $1.1M
Guarantee: $0
Harris nearly rushed for 1,000 yards last year, so there’s RB1 capability. But with Rhamondre Stevenson drafted in 2021, & Pierre Strong taken this past May, it feels like the Patriots are poised to just churn and burn the RB position for the foreseeable future.


Saquon Barkley (25, NYG)

Contract Remaining: 1 year, $7.2M
Guarantee: $7.2M
When he’s healthy, he’s a 1,000 yards rushing, 50 receptions type running back. Does that warrant a #2 overall draft selection? No. But it may warrant a non-max ($6M-$7M) extension or free agent contract. It’s impossible to imagine anything happening early here, so this is certainly a discussion for February.


Miles Sanders (25, PHI)

Contract Remaining: 1 year, $1.2M
Guarantee: $0
Sanders has seen just 12 games of action in each of the last two seasons, and didn’t find the endzone at all last year, but he’s a 5+ yard per attempt rusher with the ability to catch a few balls a game as needed. Free Agency is more likely than an extension at this point.


Rashaad Penny (26, SEA)

Contract Remaining: 1 year, $5.75M
Guarantee: $5M
The Seahawks brought Penny back on a 1 year deal both to reward his (finally) breakout campaign in 2021, and fill the void that Chris Carson’s neck injury brought. Penny will get another chance to lead this group in 2022, but will almost certainly make way for Kenneth Walker thereafter.