Free agency preview: Running backs

Two of the top seven backs, according to, have already agreed to deals, but there is plenty of talent and potential to be had with those still on the open market. We break down the pros and cons of the top backfield talent available in free agency.

DeMarco Murray, Dallas Cowboys: After using their franchise tag on WR Dez Bryant, the Cowboys are taking a gamble that the market won’t be as robust for Murray. However, he led the NFL in rushing yards by almost 500, tied for the lead with 13 touchdowns, and led the league with 85 rushing first downs. He isn’t just the best back on the open market, he was the best back in the league in 2015 and that can be a rare combination in free agency. The word of caution, however, is that 2014 was the only year he exceeded 1,200 yards in any of his four seasons.

Justin Forsett, Baltimore Ravens: After six seasons of relative anonymity, Forsett proved what he can do when given the chance to be a full-time starter. He started 14 games in 2014, double the amount he had in his first six seasons combined. He wasn’t the rushing leader, but he was the leader among running backs in yards per carry with a very healthy 5.39, more than a half-yard better than Murray. He was second to Murray with 40 rushes of 10 yards or more. Baltimore may want him back, but he’s also reportedly getting interest from Washington and New Orleans.

Mark Ingram: New Orleans Saints: The Saints struck soon enough in re-signing Ingram. He made it to the “negotiating period” with other teams on Saturday, but no further. The Saints re-signed him to a four-year, $16 million deal before interest could get too heated with him. He had his best season as a pro last year, with career highs in rushes (226), yards (964) and touchdowns (nine).

Frank Gore, San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers were engaged in contract talks with their long-time workhorse back before Saturday’s negotiating period opened but failed to come to a deal, and he then reached a deal with the Philadelphia Eagles, who traded away LeSean McCoy. Gore has spent all 10 of his NFL seasons with the 49ers, starting all but one game played in his last nine years there. But with almost 2,500 carries and over 11,000 yards rushing, and at 31 years old, it’s unclear who much Gore has left. Only once in his career has he rushed for 1,300 yards, and that was in 2006 in his first year as a starter. Now the question is how he will hold up in Chip Kelly’s fast-paced offense.

Shane Vereen, New England Patriots: He started six games in the Patriots’ backfield carousel last year, most of them in the middle of the season before the acquisition of LeGarrete Blount in November. However, Vereen never got more than 11 carries or 90 yards in a game, finished the season with 96 rushes for 391 yards, and those are both career highs over four seasons in New England. Still, he is reportedly looking for a deal that will pay him roughly $3.5 million per season. What he proved in the last two seasons is that he is every bit as valuable catching passes out of the backfield, hauling in 52 for 447 yards in 2014, and garnering 47 receptions for 427 yards in 2013.

Ryan Mathews, San Diego Chargers: In five NFL seasons, Mathews has been a 1,000-yard rusher twice – 1,255 yards in 2013 and 1,091 in 2011, starting 14 games in each of those seasons. He is also a solid pass-catcher with 146 receptions for 1,110 yards over his five seasons with the Chargers. The big question with him is an extensive list of injuries, and knee and ankle injuries in 2014 limited him to six games played. He has played in less than 10 games in three of his five seasons.

Stevan Ridley, New England Patriots: He likely won’t cost much, as he is recovering from surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament, but can he be a full-time back? He is only 26 years old, and his 1,263-yard season in 2012 is testament to his potential. He started a career-high 12 games then, but has only started 11 games over the last two seasons, when he has rushed for 773 yards (in 2013) and 340 yards (last year before his season ended with the knee injury six games in).

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Still to come: Wide receiver
OFFENSE: Quarterback | Running back | Tight end |
Offensive tackle | Offensive guard | Center
DEFENSE: Defensive tackle | Defensive end | Outside linebacker |
Inside linebacker | Safety | Cornerback


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