Fantasy Index

header banner img
CHEAT SHEET UPDATES: ON SALE NOW
Win here.

Ian Allan

Free agent backs

Jacobs, Barkley headed for free agency

The starting flag is about to drop on free agency, and I will be interested to see how much the running backs go for. There are some intriguing names available, and each team has an extra $31 million to work with, with the cap rising to over $255 million.

There should be no franchise tag restrictions this year. Last year, Saquon Barkley, Tony Pollard and Josh Jacobs were all limited by the tag, preventing them from negotiating with other teams. Published reports indicate all will be unrestricted this time around, free to shop their wares to all 32 teams.

Derrick Henry and Austin Ekeler are also available, also with no restrictions. And teams looking for younger, cheaper, less proven backs could think about D’Andre Swift and J.K. Dobbins. Those looking for jumbo-sized power backs can think about Gus Edwards and AJ Dillon (in addition to Henry).

The three backs who were franchised a year ago weren’t as productive in 2023 as they were the previous season, but all have plenty of tread left on their tires. They’re all 26-27 years old.

With Henry and Ekeler, they’re clearly in the back halves of their careers. Henry is 30, with 2,030 carries on his odometer. Ekeler is only 28, but he didn’t seem as explosive or dynamic last year (in particular, I remember him getting run down awfully quickly on a play at Lambeau). Teams at this point might be more interested in Ekeler as a third-down type back rather than a featured option.

The franchise tag amounts indicate that running backs won’t be getting big bucks. Over the last 10 years, the salary cap has almost doubled, but the salaries of the highest-paid running backs have risen by only 25 percent – lowest of all positions. The franchise amounts at quarterback, linebacker and safety, meanwhile, have more than doubled. (The franchise amount at running back is now $11.95 million, the lowest of the 22 regular field players.)

FRANCHISE TAGS; LAST 10 YEARS
Position201420192024Increase
QB$16.91$24.87$38.30126%
LB$11.46$15.44$24.00110%
DT$13.12$17.13$22.1068%
WR$12.31$16.79$21.8277%
DE$13.12$17.13$21.3263%
OL$11.65$14.07$20.9980%
CB$11.83$16.02$19.8067%
S$8.43$11.15$17.12103%
TE$7.04$10.39$12.6980%
RB$9.54$11.21$11.9525%
K-P$3.56$4.97$5.9868%
Cap$133.00$188.20$255.4092%

But with an extra $992 million available in salary cap space, I’m thinking there will be a decent market for some of these backs, especially Jacobs and Barkley. I don’t think teams will be handing out contracts averaging $18 million to modest wide receivers while simultaneously ignoring running backs who could elevate their offenses. They may have to settle for shorter-term deals, but some of these backs will be getting paid.

FREE AGENT RUNNING BACKS
Player'23 tmAge
Saquon BarkleyGiants27
Josh JacobsRaiders26
Tony PollardCowboys26
Derrick HenryTitans30
D'Andre SwiftEagles25
Austin EkelerChargers28
J.K. DobbinsRavens25
Gus EdwardsRavens28
Zack MossColts26
AJ DillonPackers25

—Ian Allan

Fantasy Index