NFL Free Agency’s Best Available Running Backs
And with all of March Madness, you probably also need an update on free agent running backs!
As I’ve mentioned several times previously, early in free agency we saw some big moves, including with DeMarco Murray, Jeremy Maclin, Andre Johnson, Ndamukong Suh, Darelle Revis, Eddie Royal, Harry Douglas, Ryan Mathews, Sam Bradford, Nick Foles, Jimmy Graham and Max Unger.
And there’s the matter of the upcoming draft in about a month, with one of the deepest running back classes in recent history. In fact, Arizona Cardinals’ Coach Bruce Arian had this to say about it:
“This might be the best group (of running backs) top to bottom that I’ve seen in about 10 years. There’s some teams in college running the ball and not just at the top two or four guys but all the way down. There are 15 really quality running backs in this draft.”
With that said, it’s been slow going for free agent running backs so far. But let’s take a look at what’s left as we rank and compile information on the top running backs still available in NFL free agency!
1) Steven Ridley
Ridley only played 6 games in 2014 for the New England Patriots before tearing his ACL ending with only 340 yards and 2 touchdowns. And although he had a down year in 2013 and some ball security issues, there’s still potential to get back to his breakout 2012 season where he put together 1,263 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Who knows if he’ll remain a Patriot, as LaGarette Blount stepped up huge after being picked up for the stretch run. Shane Vereen has moved on to the New York Giants, but Ridley is closer to power back Blount than he is to pass catching, change of pace Vereen. The first question though will be how he recovers from his ACL tear. Reports were that he was 4 weeks ahead of schedule:
free-agent-to-be Stevan Ridley is about 4 weeks ahead of schedule in his rehab for ACL tear; is hoping to be good to go by May
— shalise manza young (@shalisemyoung) February 20, 2015
Which appears to be corroborated by Ridley’s Instagram post:
There’s been some indication that the Vikings, in light of the uncertainty surrounding Adrian Peterson, have inquired about Ridley. Of course, if Peterson stays, there would be little incentive to bring on Ridley. There’s also been some talk that the Cowboys may want Ridley now that DeMarco Murray has moved on to Philadelphia.
Seeing some buzz about Stevan Ridley and #Cowboys this morning. I'm told there's definitely interest on both sides but nothing cooking yet
— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) March 13, 2015
If Ridley recovers as planned, there significant potential for him on another team and he would be well worth an incentive laden one or two year contract. And news should be forthcoming soon, as Ridley is scheduled to make his first visits outside New England in free agency this week.
UPDATE – 4/1/15: Ridley is visiting the Jets after his visit with the Dolphins.
Patriots free-agent RB Stevan Ridley is visiting NY Jets today, per source. He already has visited Dolphins.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) April 1, 2015
2) Pierre Thomas
Pierre Thomas was put in IR at the end of the Saints 2014 season with a rib injury and, although had a relatively cheap contract through 2016, was later cut due to the immense cap constraints the Saints created for themselves.
More #Saints news: They’ve informed veteran RB Pierre Thomas that they are releasing him, source says.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 4, 2015
And although the Baltimore Ravens showed some interest in Thomas, now that they’ve re-signed Justin Forsett, there’s little chance Thomas will get a second look.
There was some rumor that Thomas had visited with the New England Patriots:
Heard from a pretty good source that Pierre Thomas visited #Patriots earlier this week.
— Mike Loyko (@NEPD_Loyko) March 15, 2015
But nothing has resulted from that visit, if it indeed happened. Thomas is now 30 and still could be a good complementary back, but with the running back depth in the draft, it’ll be tough to find a landing spot. Regardless, Thomas seems to be in good spirits:
And at least Mike Reiss of ESPN believes Thomas could be a decent Vereen replacement in New England.
3) Knowshon Moreno
Knowshon Moreno came off a career year in Denver in 2013 with over 1500 yards from scrimmage and 13 total touchdowns. But he got nowhere near that after going to the Miami Dolphins as he played only three games before tearing his ACL.
With Lamar Miller stepping up, there’s little reason for the Dolphins to re-sign Moreno, particularly since he’s coming off the ACL tear. But GM Dennis Hickey noted that there’s still the possibility that the Dolphins will re-sign Moreno:
“His rehab is going well. We’re always keeping our options open.”
He’ll be 28 by the time the 2015 regular season starts, and certainly has some upside, but so far, he hasn’t drawn any free agency interest. He could be a fit in New England, but there’s no indication they won’t simply go to the draft for a complementary running back.
4) Ahmad Bradshaw
Ahmad Bradshaw is going to be a tough sell. After breaking his leg in in week 11 of the 2014 season, the Colts found some stability with Vick Ballard and Dan Herron, and then added Frank Gore in free agency. So it’s unlikely Bradshaw will be back with the Colts. And he seems to be healing slowly, as he was still in a walking boot at the end of January.
And if that wasn’t bad enough for his free agency stock, Bradshaw didn’t do himself any favors getting charged with marijuana possession during a traffic stop.
There’s still potential here, but Bradshaw just turned 29 and hasn’t show much upside in the last two seasons, totaling just over 600 yards in just 13 games.
5) Chris Johnson
Chris Johnson hasn’t been anything near his 2009 2K year, but was far worse in 2014 for the New York Jets having his first ever season under 1000 rushing yards. And as such, the Jets declined Johnson’s $500,000 option bonus, making him an unrestricted free agent.
Unfortunately, Johnson’s decline has been frequently discussed since 2009, so his reputation isn’t going to help him find a home. And coming out and blaming Jet’s former GM John Idzik for his lack of production in 2014 is unlikely to enamor him with any coaching staff.
And to make matters worse, Johnson was arrested for having two semi-automatic handguns in his car in January, and then was involved in a drive by shooting in March. It appears that the shooting won’t effect his health:
Ex-#Jets RB Chris Johnson was released from the hospital after being shot in the arm, source said. No surgery. He’s home recovering
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 9, 2015
And Johnson recently confirmed that he’ll be OK:
Just left from seeing the doc and he said everything looks great! I'll be back in no time! Thank God for his … http://t.co/cfH7lGwlkt
— Chris Johnson (@ChrisJohnson28) March 20, 2015
But he still hasn’t seen any suitors since his release. I still think there’s plenty of gear left, and could see Johnson as a productive veteran on a one year incentive laden contract.
6) Steven Jackson
Steven Jackson showed little burst, but was still one of the best backs after contact in 2014. The Atlanta Falcons decided to go another direction, though, releasing Jackson in February, in all likelihood looking to acquire another running back in the draft:
Falcons released RB Steven Jackson, per source.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) February 27, 2015
Well, at least Jackson himself doesn’t believe he’s at the end of the line, as he had this to say on his own site:
A lot has been written lately about my future. There are questions about my age, and what I have left in the tank. Of that, I will simply say this. For the first nine years of my career, I was used like a battering ram, punishing opposing defenses over four quarters of a game. Maybe you stopped me the first five times I got the ball, but by the 15th or 20th time I got it, late in a game — let’s just say you were really feeling me at that point.
Make no mistake: I can still punish a defense. I still have a warrior’s heart. There are 1,000-yard seasons left in these legs. I know what I am still capable of, and I have every intention of proving it.
We’ll see, as Jackson will be 32 by the beginning of the 2015 regular season, but it’s reasonable to think he at least will get a few looks before the off-season is over.
And don’t forget Mikel Leshoure from the Veteran Combine. As we discussed, he has some potential as well and could be a smart flyer for a team to take.
The Draft is just a month away, but NFL free agency isn’t over yet, so keep checking back and we’ll keep giving you updates!