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Looking ahead at contract situations is an important dynasty strategy. Free agency, salary cap cuts, and extensions can all have a significant impact on dynasty valuations. This article looks at the running back position.
2018 Rookie Class
The 2018 rookie class is a key watch for contracts throughout the 2021 and 2022 offseasons. With Saquon Barkley the only running back in the class who had his fifth-year option exercised, each running back from the class will be a free agent in 2022.
Nick Chubb is firmly on contract extension watch. While the Browns have Kareem Hunt under contract in 2022, Hunt has a 6.25 million dollar cap hit in 2022, which Cleveland would save if he is cut. A key argument against Chubb has been the presence of Hunt, who siphons off opportunities for Chubb. It is unlikely Hunt is cut, but Chubb has a potentially bigger role on a second contract than he has seen on his rookie contract.
Sony Michel, Royce Freeman, and Kerryon Johnson are 2018 rookies who have disappointed thus far in their careers. All will be free agents in 2022. Michel had his fifth-year option turned down and been the subject of preseason cut speculation early in the offseason. Michel’s career has been a disappointment, but he could see a potential opportunity with a team like Atlanta with an uncertain depth chart. With James White also scheduled to be a free agent in 2022, Damien Harris has the opportunity for a growing role in the offense. Freeman and Johnson will both be on the backup running back radar.
Rashaad Penny has also disappointed, but more for injury reasons than performance. 2021 will be a critical time for Penny to show he is healthy and a free agency producer.
Ronald Jones II has developed as an interior runner since entering the NFL but offers little in the passing game. A Jones trade in the preseason should not be ruled out with a crowded backfield in Tampa Bay. Leonard Fournette and Giovani Bernard are both free agents in 2022, which could leave an opportunity for Ke'Shawn Vaughn to step forward in relevance.
Melvin Gordon III is a 2022 free agent. He has an 8.9 million cap hit in 2021, with 6.5 million in cap savings if cut. His 2021 salary is fully guaranteed, and given the team's cap space, they are unlikely to cut him this season.
Malcolm Brown signed a one-year deal with the Miami Dolphins and could have an opportunity to compete with Myles Gaskin in 2021. Brown has shown attractiveness in the free-agent market, drawing an offer from Detroit when he was a restricted free agent before being retained by the Rams in 2020. Once he hit free agency, Brown landed with the Dolphins. If things broke well for Brown, he could be in line for a Mike Davis type arc to his career.
Tevin Coleman signed a one-year deal with the New York Jets with a coaching staff that knows him from their time together in San Francisco. He is more likely a potential roadblock to rookie Michael Carter II than an elite fantasy option but could see starter weeks in 2021.
Chase Edmonds and James Conner, both with the Arizona Cardinals, are free agents in 2022. With an open job, the competition will be notable to watch. Eno Benjamin is also on the roster, but Arizona would likely address the position before Benjamin sees a 1A opportunity if both Edmonds and Conner left in free agency in 2022.
Nyheim Hines, Jordan Wilkins, and Marlon Mack are all free agents with the Indianapolis Colts. Watching how the position is backfilled behind Jonathan Taylor will be curious. Mack is returning from an Achilles injury, while Hines is more of a receiving centric back than a true backup runner. Wilkins could be the best pure backup for Taylor at the cheapest cost.
David Johnson, Mark Ingram II, and Phillip Lindsay are all 2022 free agents. The Houston Texans have no running back commitment in 2022 on the roster. At his age, Lindsay may be the best bet to start in 2022, but this is a low likelihood event.
Potential cap cuts
Austin Ekeler is due a 5-million dollar salary in 2022. The Chargers could save 3.5 million in cap savings if he is in 2022 but take a 3-million dollar dead cap hit. As one of the best running back free-agent contracts in recent years, Ekeler should be safe in 2022.
Joe Mixon is due no more guaranteed money and could save 3.2 million dollars on the cap in 2022 if cut. There is no clear heir apparent on the depth chart if Mixon is cut, which could protect his roster status.
Derrick Henry has no further guaranteed money in his contract after 2021, with Tennessee able to save 9 million dollars cutting him in 2022. 2020 third-round pick Darrynton Evans is a monitor, albeit undersized and non-prototypical.
In Seattle, Chris Carson due 4.5 million in 2022, with Seattle saving 3.4 million by cutting him. Carson’s contract is one of the murkier running back contracts for those under contract in 2022.
Chicago could save 2.25 million dollars in cap savings by cutting Tarik Cohen. Coming off an injury, the Cohen 2021 season will be relevant for Cohen and Montgomery’s upside.
Green Bay has no more guaranteed money due to Aaron Jones after 2021. In 2022, the dead cap is more than the cap hit (9.75 million to 9 million in 2022), making Jones likely in a two-year window.
Dalvin Cook’s 2022 contract becomes fully guaranteed in March 2022. Minnesota could save 2.7 million dollars on the cap in 2022 if he is cut and save nearly 8 million dollars if cut in 2023.
Mike Davis has no guarantees in 2022, with 2.5 million dollars in cap savings. The cap hit is 3.25 million in 2022, 18th in 2022 at running back position at present. Teammate Cordarelle Patterson is a free agent in 2022.
Latavius Murray can be cut and save 2.3 million in cap this year, and New Orleans could save about 3.5 million dollars cutting him in 2022. There is no clear heir apparent to the Alvin Kamara on the roster behind Murray.