Free Agent Running Backs Looking For a Big Payday Are Screwed

Derrick Henry free agent running back.
Derrick Henry free agent running back. / Tim Warner/Getty Images

The NFL running back fraternity is small, and when you talk about the top dogs, it's even smaller. That could make group meetings a little awkward this offseason, considering the former heads of the pack are kind of screwing over the new crop looking for their big pay day.

When looking at the highest-paid veteran running backs in the NFL entering the 2019 season, none of the top six players (based on average yearly salary) averaged more than 4.0 yards per carry. More concerning still, the four highest-paid veteran runnings backs based on guarantees at signing heading into 2019 (Todd Gurley, Le'Veon Bell, Devonta Freeman, and David Johnson) didn't rush for over 1,000 yards or lead their teams to the playoffs.

Meanwhile Chiefs running back Damien Williams ($5.1M total contract value) and 49ers running back Raheem Mostert ($8.7M) continued a trend of proving low-cost running back options can succeed on the biggest stage.

Of course, this all comes back to this year's group of free-agent running backs, headlined by Derrick Henry. While there's no denying Henry's importance to the Titans (led league in rushing, singlehandedly led them to the AFC Championship), there is a clear trend that overpaying for a running back puts your team in a bad salary-cap position. The simple fact is, it's become a replaceable position.

Now I'm not saying Henry or guys like Christian McCaffrey are easily replaceable. I'm saying that winning a Super Bowl does not require a great running back. In fact, the last time a team won the Super Bowl with a great running back was the Seahawks in 2014 with Marshawn Lynch. That was the year before he signed his biggest contract.

Henry is the biggest free agent running back this year with Carlos Hyde and Melvin Gordon behind them. Next year, it will be McCaffrey, Leonard Fournette and James White. While all of them are talented, it's hard to imagine teams handing them a $90 million contract like the Cowboys did with Ezekiel Elliott this past offseason. After all, they're now in a bad salary-cap situation and no closer to winning a Super Bowl than any of the others team with high-priced running backs.