List of Free Agent RBs is Hard to Ignore

Big names abound but at what price?

I never gave a thought to the idea that the Green Bay Packers should use some of their new salary cap money to sign a big name free agent running back.  Never considered it.  You don’t pay big money for free agent running backs, right?  You draft them in the fifth round.  They’re a dime a dozen in the draft, yes? 

But then I happened to come upon the following post on X (formerly Twitter) by ESPN’s Adam Schefter: 

That got my curiosity up.  So I checked on the list of prospective free agent running backs this spring.  It includes Saquon Barkley, Josh Jacobs, Derrick Henry, Tony Pollard, D’Andre Swift, Austin Eckeler, Gus Edwards, Devin Singletary, Zack Moss, Antonio Gibson, J.K. Dobbins, Ezekiel Elliott, D’Onta Foreman and Clyde Edwards Helaire. 

Holy Guacamole!  That’s quite a list.  Basically a Who’s Who of NFL running backs over the last five or six years.  I immediately fell into a state of dream euphoria, envisioning Jordan Love looping a screen pass to Saquon Barkley and watching him take it sixty yards for a score, or handing the ball off to Derrick Henry on third and two and seeing him explode through a linebacker for an easy first down conversion.  Or pitching it to D’Andre Swift and grinning ear-to-ear as he wiggles and waggles through the second level for one big gain after another.  Then, just as the defense is getting ready to succumb, in comes Aaron Jones to finish them off. 

Okay, I hear you.  It’s not gonna happen, I know.   It’s a stupid idea.  Isn’t it?  Or is it?   

Well sure it is.  After all, these guys are free agents for a reason.  Most of them are past their prime or have injury issues.  They’re going to cost too much money.  Money that could be better used to buy help somewhere like safety or linebacker or offensive line.  It’s so much wiser to draft two or three backs in the late rounds.  One of them is bound to be a gem, and then you have him on a rookie deal for four years.  Isn’t that how the Packers found Aaron Jones?   

But is it really that easy?  Do good running backs really grow on trees?  Consider that, since selecting Jones in 2017, Green Bay has drafted Devante Mays, Dexter Williams, AJ Dillon, Kylin Hill and Lew Nichols.  They have tried out free agents Patrick Taylor, Emmanuel Wilson, Tyler Ervin, Tra Carson, Danny Vitale, Kapri Bibbs, Lavon Coleman, Darius Jackson, Tyler Goodson and Nate McCrary.  None of them have played well enough to be a consistently effective weapon to alternate with Jones.  Certainly none of them compare to the names on that 2024 NFL free agent list. 

Let’s look at that list a little more closely.  If you ascribe to the philosophy that 30 years old is the edge of the cliff for running backs, then throw out Henry (30), Ekeler (29), Elliott (29) and Edwards (29).  Saquon Barkley would be the jewel of the rest.  In fourteen games he rushed for just under one thousand yards and six touchdowns last season, and caught passes for four more scores.  At 27, he should still have a couple of highly productive years left.  But you are rolling the dice on his health.  He’s missed 22 games in the last four years.  He reportedly is seeking a long term contract and some team, like the Cowboys, is going to overpay him. 

Josh Jacobs broke out in 2022 with a first team All-Pro season, having run for over 1,600 yards and 12 touchdowns.  But his star faded quickly last year as his rush production was cut in half and he missed four games.  At just 26 years old, Jacobs is a rare combination of speed and power, but the Raiders balked at giving him the big bucks and are willing to let him test the market.   

2023 was the first time in his four year career that D’Andre Swift was able to play more than eight games in a season.  He responded with 1,049 yards rushing and five touchdowns for the Eagles.  He’s just 25 years old and a dead solid home run threat every time he touches the ball.  But the Lions gave up on him because he couldn’t stay on the field, and now the Eagles seem willing to part ways as well. 

The Cowboys had been itching to dump Elliott in order to make Tony Pollard their featured back.  Last year they allowed Zeke to walk and pulled the trigger on making Pollard the man. He responded with 1,005 yards rushing, six touchdowns, and added 55 pass receptions.  Now he wants to get paid.  Apparently Jerry Jones was expecting more, and declined to franchise the 27 year old.   

Singletary, Moss and Gibson are all 26 but all of them were number two’s on their team and not valued enough to be brought back, at least not yet.  The Ravens say they want to re-sign Dobbins, who has been an injury nightmare.  Edwards-Helaire is a former first round pick who was beaten out of a job by seventh round pick Isiah Pacheco. Foreman is basically a clone of AJ Dillon. 

Would Brian Gutekunst be open to signing a free agent ball carrier?  He told reporters at the Combine this week that draft and develop is his style, but he added "I’ve never been of the philosophy that you’re one player away. I’m not sure that I believe in that. But I do think if there are difference-maker players that are available, I think you have to consider them at all times. Regardless of the price, you pull the trigger on that. But there are so few of them in the National Football League that really tilt the field that if they’re out there, you have to consider acquiring them." 

Keep in mind Gutey kicked the tires on Jonathan Taylor last summer, but decided the asking price was too high.  I’d love to see him put in a bid on Pollard or Swift.  It’s possible the glut of big names on the market, combined with the general devaluing of running backs across the league, will make these guys more affordable than you think. All of them carry risk, but Green Bay is positioned to take a big swing or two.  Sure, they have greater needs at safety and perhaps a few other units, but adding more weapons to this burgeoning offense could make up for a lot of other deficiencies. 

It’s exciting to think about.

But it’s not gonna happen.

Or could it? 

 

 

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Ken Lass is a former Green Bay television sports anchor and 43 year media veteran, a lifelong Packers fan, and a shareholder.

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5 points
 

Comments (35)

Fan-Friendly This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.
splitpea1's picture

March 01, 2024 at 12:27 pm

Probably not gonna happen...As noted, there are better ways to spend money and take the proverbial big swing...And you forgot about Jamaal Williams, also drafted in 2017 just before A. Jones--the two of them made a nice tandem for a few years.

Stick with the draft for RBs.

6 points
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BAMABADGER's picture

March 01, 2024 at 12:28 pm

Pack should draft two RB if the cards fall right. Tenn or FSU RB in 3rd. And the Texas RB that tore his ACL if he drop to 3rd-4th. If not Kentucky/Marshall RBs in later rounds.

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Leatherhead's picture

March 01, 2024 at 06:19 pm

Yes, two. Frequently, a small trade down gives me another pick in the Top 100 and I get two of these premium guys'. Several of these guys would be good players, but the best fit is the FSU RB(Benson). There's other guys, later, at 88 that we can get.

3 points
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SicSemperTyrannis's picture

March 05, 2024 at 12:30 pm

How does Benson compare to #33?

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GregC's picture

March 01, 2024 at 12:31 pm

The only way I could see this happening is if there are no good free agents available at other positions of need, so Gute has a ton of money that is burning a hole in his pocket. Doesn't seem likely, but you mentioned the interest he had in Jonathan Taylor last year. That seems to suggest that maybe something like this is at least possible.

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crayzpackfan's picture

March 01, 2024 at 01:18 pm

Respectfully, no thank you to any of the RB's mentioned. Sorry.

2 points
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LambeauPlain's picture

March 01, 2024 at 01:25 pm

No, not going to happen.

Unless...?

Probably not.

Josh Jacobs' agent just called?

Good things might happen if the call is answered. Power, speed, productive runner and receiver. Might thrive as the running mate with Jones.

6 points
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LLCHESTY's picture

March 01, 2024 at 01:34 pm

Dobbins would be an interesting gamble. Guy has had some bad luck with injuries but a hell of a player when healthy.

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NitschkeFan's picture

March 01, 2024 at 02:17 pm

Sure it is possible. But please include $$ and term any time you discuss a "possible free agent" signing.

Would you sign Barkley for one year and $5 million? I would. 2 years at $10 mill AAV ($20m total guaranteed) no thanks. Take that exercise for every free agent. So someplace in between the 1x5 and 2x10 is my personal breaking point. Where is that breaking point for Gute?

Who wouldn't take Henry at 1 year and $3 million? But 1 year and $12 million, no way.

Extrapolate that to what the team really needs, a free agent SAFETY.

3 points
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LeotisHarris's picture

March 01, 2024 at 03:23 pm

That was a fun and lively read, Ken. Thanks!

Per CHTV rules and regs, the plethora of aforementioned dudes out there looking for work toting the rock shall be ignored, even if it isn't easy to do so. Do not, under any circumstances, make eye contact with D’Andre Swift. No. Don't. Stop it!

3 points
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Tundraboy's picture

March 02, 2024 at 05:30 pm

Yeah that's a list of RBs I would hate to see us sign. More like a Mccarthy era list of past their primes, most likely to be overpaid disappointments.

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HarryHodag's picture

March 01, 2024 at 04:31 pm

....and the reason all of those backs are on the market is because....(drum roll)....their teams didn't think they were worth the price! Most of them have many miles on their wheels as well. Never forget another axiom: just because they work in one system doesn't mean they necessarily will work in another.

The smart money on running backs is in youth. Most of the upper level college players are more than capable of playing year 1 in the NFL. Bijon Robinson is a good example. If one of those backs would work for the veteran's minimum or just above(they won't) it might be worth it. Otherwise, hire a running back much less costly with far fewer dings in their fenders.

Running backs and wide receivers are a dime-a-dozen. No need to spend big money to probably get the same production. If you think that isn't true, look at the Packers wide receiver corps. Great production at a much reduced cost.

2 points
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Bitternotsour's picture

March 01, 2024 at 04:40 pm

Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a winner.

It's likely we already have Aaron Jones successor/compliment on the roster. No need to waste draft capital or free agent dollars. Put the money into the guys who open the holes, not the guys who run thru them.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

March 01, 2024 at 05:03 pm

I think it is not true.

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Leatherhead's picture

March 01, 2024 at 05:41 pm

I think RBs and WRs are fungible, for the most part. But not the exceptional ones, and you should try to hang onto those guys in their prime.

I am re-examining whether it's better to have an RB who is 21-24 or one who is older, on a second contract, maybe 25-28. I mean, this RB is the engine of the offense that you hope will power a Super Bowl run, and maybe experience and reliability are useful in a playoff run. We could maybe get one on the cheap and put him behind a really good offensive line.

1 points
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MooPack's picture

March 01, 2024 at 04:44 pm

From some reports A. Jones talks on restructure is coming. Dillon not likely to be resigned. Packers are going to draft one if not two RBs. Save the money for Safety.

4 points
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Leatherhead's picture

March 01, 2024 at 06:21 pm

Reading my mind today, Moo. IMO, this draft class has some real possibilities for the Packers at RB. I'm beating the drum for Benson and Allen.

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PhantomII's picture

March 02, 2024 at 01:48 pm

Benson/ Shipley and Wright...Brooks if ready or later round still on the mend. We need 2-RB's..Other than Jones there is nothing that cannot be easily replaced. One of Benson-Brooks and one of Wright-Shipley...That would put us in a nice spot in 2024 and beyond...GPG

1 points
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SicSemperTyrannis's picture

March 05, 2024 at 12:35 pm

I'd love to see all day Ray from TN develop behind #33, but yes there's a ton of RB talent to choose from in this draft.

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golfpacker1's picture

March 01, 2024 at 04:52 pm

Slow your roll boys and girls. The top RBs have been getting $10 million plus for years. Our own Aaron Jones makes more than that. If we could sign a relatively young Josh Jacobs for $5 to $7 million per year for 4 years, why in the world would you say no. He is still a kid with a ton of talent and would solve our RB problem.

I have read Joe Mixon also might be cut by the Bengals. He is older @ 27 but has been a very productive RB rushing & catching passes. He took a paycut to stay last year down to $5 million per year and still ran for 1000 yrds and caught 50 passes.

Nick Chubb, the only RB making more than AJ, is rumored to be a coming cut for the Browns too.

I also just read that the Aaron Jones contract negotiations are not going well, so we could be looking at a trade or a cut. Jones salary this year is $11 million and his cap # is $17 million.

If we take a RB in the 3rd with #88 or #91, we should still be selecting from 1/2 dozen Top 10 RBs. Those should be considered to be bell-cow type #1 RBs. And there will be a fair amount of good RBs in the later rounds too.

We can't just discount the idea of a FA because of the heavy interest we had in Jonathon Taylor. Jacobs would be the prize because of his age, talent, and lesser injury history.

2 points
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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

March 01, 2024 at 05:06 pm

All the draftniks are telling me it is a bad year for #1 RBs. Maybe one prospect worth a second rounder and a few worth a late-ish 3rd rounder.

2 points
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Leatherhead's picture

March 01, 2024 at 05:59 pm

I think if you put a Day 2 RB of your choice behind a line that gets upgraded with two early draft picks , then I think we'd we be fine without Jones in the short term. Unless of course he's a knucklehead.

Brent Fullwood to Forrest Gregg: Hey Coach....did you ever play in this league?

2 points
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dblbogey's picture

March 01, 2024 at 11:13 pm

Didn't Fullwood get a 4 on the Wonderlich intelligence test, out of 50?

1 points
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Packer_Fan's picture

March 01, 2024 at 05:32 pm

I remember in 1996 when Wolf who was draft and develop, picked up Robinson as safety, Santana Dotson, a LB who didn't play until the playoffs and then picked up Andre Rison during the season. that was four players who contributed a lot.

The Packers are close. But they are not a complete team yet. I do not favor what happened with Rodgers. Draft and develop and never fully get there a second time. There is no reason to wait a few years to get there. The time is now. I like how the Patriots would every few years be ready to win again.

I see a veteran safety and perhaps a RB to match with Jones. And try to coax Bak for one year at a reduced price. Perhaps keep one or two of Savage, Nixon and Owens.

Gute needs to stay agressive.

2 points
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Bitternotsour's picture

March 01, 2024 at 10:37 pm

Wolf wasn't draft and develop. He used the hell out of free agency and traded draft capital for Favre.

2 points
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Starrbrite's picture

March 02, 2024 at 02:03 am

Last year, I was one of those supporting pursuing J. Taylor. I still think, what if?
On the the other hand, I did not want to give their asking price which allegedly included, Watson.
My feeling now is we should draft someone. If we did pursue a FA RB, my choice would be Jacobs.
If we’re going to spend money—let’s do it on a Safety.
Go Packers!!!

2 points
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HarryHodag's picture

March 02, 2024 at 11:06 am

The Packers were in cap hell when a possible trade was discussed but I was really excited to get Taylor. He's a stud with all the things you need in a running back. If you look at the impact losing Watson had on the 2023 team, giving him up in a trade would have been a relatively small price to pay. Can you imagine a running attack with Taylor and Aaron Jones?

Watson is an injury waiting to happen and it will again.

-1 points
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Starrbrite's picture

March 02, 2024 at 10:10 pm

I like it Harry—well said. And you’re right—Taylor is a stud.

0 points
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Matt's picture

March 02, 2024 at 05:05 am

What would be the point of having 2 RB1s with high paycheck in our cap situation?
What would be the point of exchanging Aaron Jones for another expensive running back with high mileage?
The answer for both questions are: it is pointless. Especially considering what kind of person Jones is. You don't let guys like him go and forget. You try to keep him for as long as it's possible.
It could only make sense if you would like to add game changers like CMC, Henry or maybe Ekeler (if we believe they could still be their old selves). Jones is in the tier behind these guys. I don't see why Barkley (with all the hype) is superior to Jones, not to mention Jacobs. Please don't make me laugh with ones like Pollard, Zeke.

0 points
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golfpacker1's picture

March 02, 2024 at 09:19 am

It will come down to money, mainly. Jacobs is projected to get over $10 million per year. That's too much for multiple reasons. Really, anything over $3 million for a FA RB is too much. Full speed ahead with the draft. If we pick one with #88 or #91. we will be choosing from a really good group of complete RBs. Then another later, I hope Isaac Guerendo, and we will be set for the future.

1 points
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SicSemperTyrannis's picture

March 05, 2024 at 12:41 pm

Guerendo's going earlier than that.

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HarryHodag's picture

March 02, 2024 at 11:02 am

It's easy to ignore. Resign Aaron Jones and draft a couple of rookies. No need to bring in old, dinged up running backs with lots of treadwear and dents.

2 points
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Starrbrite's picture

March 02, 2024 at 10:11 pm

Yep

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Qoojo's picture

March 02, 2024 at 01:10 pm

" I immediately fell into a state of dream euphoria, envisioning Jordan Love looping a screen pass to Saquon Barkley and watching him..."

All I could think of when reading this is that Jones can do all that, and is just as good or better than the list. Jones main concern is health and availability. But that list is mostly guys that have lost a step which is why they are going to be FAs. I say "mostly" because i am not familiar with all the RBs.

Try to sign Jones to cap friendlier deal, add more competition to RB group through draft or cheapo FAs, then spend that money getting decent Safety help or even OL. A couple of those RBs I wouldn't even want if cheap because they will be similar to Robinson.

1 points
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mrtundra's picture

March 03, 2024 at 07:22 am

The list of FA RBs is hard to ignore and so is their cap hits. Hard no on FA RBs, IMO.

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