Last season was a rough one for the Giants’ running game. Even after David Wilson announced that his football career was over at the outset of training camp, there was still hope that Rashad Jennings would carry the mail and be the productive multi-purpose back that the team needed. While Jennings and rookie Andre Williams did have their moments in 2014, New York as a whole gained just 3.6 yards per rushing attempt. That’s not enough for a team that has been built to have balance on offense under head coach Tom Coughlin. Should the front office invest heavily in a free agent back to give the running game a boost heading into 2015 campaign? Here are the best free agents available.
Big Blue signed Jennings to a four-year deal last March, but nearly all of the guaranteed money was tied into the signing bonus. That means that the team can release Jennings with little penalty if they want to go in another direction. In his first year as a full-time starter, Jennings was more productive than Williams, but he also missed five games due to injuries and will turn 30 years old next month. Perhaps most of the running game’s struggles can be blamed on the offensive line, but the Giants could do better than Jennings either way.
Murray is far and away the most valuable running back on the free agent market this year, but he’s also one of the riskiest. During his first three seasons in the league, Murray ran wonderfully when he was on the field, but he failed to put together a full 16-game campaign. That changed in 2014, when Murray ran behind a rock solid Dallas offensive line and gained 1,845 yards on 392 carries. That kind of production is hard to replicate, so teams will have to ask themselves this offseason if Murray can last another full season after such a heavy workload.
The Giants would win a lot of headlines if they managed to take away one of their rivals’ key pieces and added him to their own lineup. However, if they choose to not break the bank, there are other options out there. One of those is late-bloomer Mark Ingram, who once looked like a mediocre professional player after a spectacular college career. In 2014, though, Ingram bounced back from a broken hand to gain 4.3 yards per carry and score nine touchdowns. At just 25 years of age, Ingram looks to have some solid seasons ahead of him.
Someone not hitting free agency for the first time is Forsett. The 29-year-old journeyman had an unlikely career season in 2014 thanks to the Ray Rice suspension. While playing in all 16 games, Forsett fended off younger backs Bernard Pierce and Lorenzo Taliaferro to rush for 1,266 yards and eight scores. Considered to be just a passing-down back throughout his career, Forsett could not be held off the field last season and could be productive again in 2015 considering he has fewer than 600 career carries.
Gore is an ageless wonder who has rushed for at least 1,100 yards and 4.0 yards per carry for four consecutive seasons. He’ll be 32 years old when next season begins, but we’re still waiting for Gore to show signs of wearing down. While his leadership and productivity hasn’t wavered over the years, Gore’s age means that he shouldn’t be counted on as a full-time player in 2015. Like Forsett, he was helped along in 2014 by a very talented offensive line.
Considering the way he has struggled with injuries throughout his career, Mathews could break out and be the next Murray if he finds the right situation. In five NFL seasons, Mathews has gained less than 4.3 yards per carry just once, but he’s also only twice played in 16 games. At 27 years of age and coming off of an injury-plagued season, Mathews could be a good buy-low risk for the Giants as long as they believe in Williams as a back-up plan.