The Eagles have a number of needs this offseason, among them a true starting running back. The days of the “bell cow” running back aren’t numbered, but with teams on deep playoff runs in recent years rarely featuring a big workload running back, they aren’t in vogue either.
With that in mind, the Eagles approach of filling lineup holes with at least short term solutions could very well be an option for the Eagles at running back. The draft is considered deep at the position, but that guarantees nothing.
Having traded for Darren Sproles in 2014, Howie Roseman has shown that if the price is right, he’ll bring in a veteran running back. Could the price be right for a free agent this year? As you can probably imagine, it’s not an exciting group of players to chose from.
This will be quick: the Steelers are prepared to give Bell the franchise tag to ensure he doesn’t go anywhere while they work out a long term deal. He’s not going anywhere.
If he hits free agency, a 31 year old player that the Patriots don’t want should be enough to scare off anyone, as should any running back his age coming off a career high in touches.
Jamaal Charles/Knile Davis
We’ll lump these two Chiefs together for the obvious reason, which we’ll cover in a moment.
Charles will almost certainly be a cap casualty. He’s 30, which is already old for a starting running back (of the top 64 running backs by rushing attempts, just seven were in their age 30 season or older), missed 11 games in 2015 with an ACL tear and 13 in 2016 recovering from it, and KC saves over $6 million cutting him. There’s no reason they should bring him back.
Davis is scheduled to be a free agent, re-signed by the Chiefs during the season after they traded him to Green Bay, who then released him, he was then claimed off waivers by the Jets and then cut the next day. He had just 12 carries in five games during his second stint with the Chiefs. They obviously do not have strong feelings about keeping him.
Charles still wants to play, and of course Doug Pederson is extremely familiar with both him and Davis after their time together in Kansas City. But don’t expect Pederson to push for any familiar faces in free agency:
In year two, like I’ve told several coaches down here already who’ve asked me about year one, is we’re going to look at our players this spring. We’re not going to look at Kansas City, or San Diego where Frank Reich was at.
That should also read as a hint that just because someone played for Jim Schwartz before doesn’t mean they will again in 2017.
The Eagles should stay away from Charles for all the obvious wear and tear reasons, and there appears to be no reason to expect them to pursue Davis as a low cost option either.
If you’re looking for an under the radar signing, it might just be Cunningham. His playing time understandably decreased after the Rams drafted Todd Gurley, so despite being 27 when the season starts, he has low tread, with just 264 touches in four seasons. He’s a head-on runner that would give the Eagles a short yardage option they’ll lack without Ryan Mathews. He’s also a solid pass catcher out of the backfield, with 93 career receptions for a very good 8.1 yards per catch (for comparison’s sake, Darren Sproles’ career average is 8.7). And he has added value as a very good kick returner, with a career 27.1 yards per return average on 95 returns.
Starting running back he is not, but Cunningham could cheaply fill some of the void of Ryan Mathews and Kenjon Barner with one roster spot, and let the Eagles enter the draft with the flexibility of not needing a particular type of runner.
Dunbar is similar to Cunningham in that despite being 27, he hasn’t been used much (162 career touches) and saw a decrease in playing time once his team drafted a running back high. He’s been a useful but low usage player during his time in Dallas, averaging 4.1 yards per carry and 10.0 yards per reception from 2012-2014 before a mini-breakout in 2015, when he averaged 80 yards from scrimmage a game in the first five games before suffering a season ending knee injury. The Cowboys have no cap space, so they won’t be able to retain him, he could give the Eagles a low cost pass catching option, but they’d still need someone to fill that short yardage role.
A few years ago Andre Ellington looked like he was ready to break out into a star, but it never materialized. Ellington had a fine rookie season in 2013, gaining 652 yards on a league-best 5.5 yards per carry, and added 39 catches for 9.5 yards per reception. As the Cardinals’ starter in 2014, he regressed heavily as a runner with a paltry 3.3 yards per carry, though he was still an effective pass catcher with 46 catches for 8.6 yards per and played through foot and hip injuries before missing the final three games. He lost his starting job in 2015 when the team signed Chris Johnson and rookie David Johnson emerged as the season progressed. A change of scenery might do him well. He can give the Eagles another pass catcher out of the backfield, but wouldn’t give the team anything in short yardage that they don’t already have.
If he’s not re-signed by the Packers, Lacy would be a big question mark in free agency. He put up back-to-back seasons of over 1400 yards from scrimmage in 2013 and 2014, regressed in 2015 and then bounced back in 2016 before missing 11 games with an ankle injury. With Ty Montgomery ably taking over starting running back duties and the draft heavy at running back, the draft heavy Packers could easily part with Lacy. He’d give the Eagles a tough runner who can catch the ball, but they’d be getting a running back coming off an injury and whose last full season was a disappointment.
The Raiders have a decision to make with Murray, do they retain the starting running back that has coincided with Derek Carr’s ascent, or do they move on from a running back that has been a decent stat compiler with average efficiency? Murray’s 4.0 yards per carry as a starter is middle of the pack, and his 6.7 yards per reception is below average for a starter. He’d give the Eagles a big back they lack, and he has just 7 fumbles on 634 career touches. But he’s likely to get far too much money for what he’s contributed.
Peterson is entering the final year of his contract, and will count for $18 million against the cap. The Vikings have to figure out what they want to do with him. He’ll be 32 when the season starts and is coming off missing 13 games due to injury. If they want to trade him there should be suitors, and if he hits free agency he’ll have his choice of teams who think they’re just a running back away. The Eagles aren’t one of those teams.