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Which NFL running backs should and should not get paid from now through 2021

The NFL running back position has become as lucrative as ever after several enormous deals changed the market’s landscape.

Todd Gurley and David Johnson led the way with massive extensions after superb campaigns coming into last season. With Le’Veon Bell’s historic holdout last season culminating in a bag of cash from the New York Jets, running backs are getting the idea that they can stay off the field until they get their money.

Bell proved it works, and now¬†Ezekiel Elliott and Melvin Gordon are seeking to go down similar paths if they aren’t handsomely rewarded for their services. Elliott and Gordon are not the first, and won’t be the last, to call their boss’s financial bluffs.

We’ll be looking at numerous important NFL backs who will be unrestricted free agents and after a brief evaluation of their talent and importance to their respective teams, all of these backs will either be deemed likely to get a big deal or hard-pressed to get their way, and labeled as such (DEAL or NO DEAL).

LeSean McCoy, BUF (2020 FA)

Shady McCoy has been with Buffalo since 2015, amassing 3,814 rushing yards and 25 rushing touchdowns. However, he rushed for a career-low 514 yards last season on just 3.2 yards per carry.

Those paltry contributions, not to mention his age, leave him not only unable to demand an extension but also unlikely to get much on the open market.

Verdict: NO DEAL

Lamar Miller, HOU (2020 FA)

Miller’s case is a bit more complicated. Since his move to Houston from Miami in 2016, he has 2,934 rushing yards, a solid number, and he’ll be 28 once he is set to hit the open market. However, having only a single 1,000-yard season in three NFL seasons, it doesn’t scream big bag.

After the team surprisingly waived heir apparent D’onta Foreman this week, there isn’t an obvious candidate to dethrone Miller. He won’t be able to hold out to force Houston’s hand, but a short-term contract makes some sense.

Verdict: DEAL

Melvin Gordon, LAC (2020 FA)

Melvin Gordon

ClutchPoints

He may be in the prime of his career in his mid-twenties but Gordon just can’t stay on the field. Although he played 16 games in 2017, a year in which he only averaged 3.9 yards per carry, he’s missed 9 games across his other 3 professional seasons.

Last year was the only year he averaged more than four yards per attempt. Austin Ekeler lurks behind him on the depth chart. Maybe someone will pay up but it seems pretty certain that the Chargers won’t, and he likely won’t get his way with his current holdout.

Verdict: NO DEAL

Derrick Henry, TEN (2020 FA)

After averaging 4.9 yards per attempt last year, he finally delivered on the promise he showed in college at Alabama. If he turns in another NFL campaign like the one he just had, he’ll get his money.

Verdict: DEAL

Kenyan Drake, MIA (2020 FA)

Although he only has 1,358 rushing yards over his three professional seasons, he has quietly averaged 4.5 or more yards per carry each year. He has also played in 16 games every season, showcasing incredible durability. The only reason he had paltry yardage totals was because he shared carries with Jay Ajayi or Frank Gore in all of those seasons; now it’s his backfield.

His per-carry average suggests he’ll post a 1,000 yard rushing season if he is the featured back this year, especially if he keeps his remarkable healthy ways alive. Give this 2019 breakout candidate his bag.

Verdict: DEAL

Jordan Howard, PHI (2020 FA)

Jordan Howard

CP

Howard is still young but after getting traded from Chicago to Philly, he has to worry about fending off draft selection Miles Sanders for the majority of carries before worrying about the thickness of his wallet.

Verdict: NO DEAL

James White, NE (2021 FA)

He’s a big part of the passing attack in Foxborough, while sophomore Sony Michel handles the handoffs. Watching how the Patriots cycle through position players around Tom Brady, it’s hard to envision a future where the Patriots give a big contract to White.

If they re-sign him, it’ll be to a small contract, so he’d be better served testing the open market if he values money over the opportunity to win more NFL rings.

Verdict: NO DEAL

Damien Williams, KC (2021 FA)

He hasn’t proven much outside of the last few games of last season, as he took over after Kareem Hunt’s departure. He averaged 5.1 yards per carry, though 50 regular season carries is barely a sufficient sample size compared to others on this list.

He contributes as a receiver too, so if he is to be KC’s back in the future, he’d need to get near 1,500 total yards to be thought of as part of the team’s future. That’s unlikely, so we’ll put a damper on expectations for a deal.

Verdict: NO DEAL

Dalvin Cook, MIN (2021 FA)

Dalvin Cook, Vikings

ClutchPoints

Latavius Murray is gone. He’s now the featured back in Minnesota’s offense, without a notable handcuff. Health is a major concern, as he’s only played in 15 games while missing a whopping 17 contests.

He’s averaged over 4.5 yards a carry so there’s upside here but until he proves he can stay on the field, he’s not getting paid like the big boys.

Verdict: NO DEAL

Joe Mixon, CIN (2021 FA)

After finishing with one of the best rushing totals in the NFL, there’s no reason to expect he’ll fall off a cliff, especially since he’s barely old enough to buy alcohol. Joe Mixon, enjoy your paycheck.

Verdict: DEAL

Alvin Kamara, NO (2021 FA)

He’s the workhorse in what is set to remain one of the best offenses in the league. He’ll be able to hold out as long as he wants to but given their Super Bowl trajectory for years to come, he’s likely going to keep playing.

Verdict: DEAL

Ezekiel Elliott, DAL (2021 FA)

Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys

Two rushing titles in three years is awesome. He’s not a model citizen off the field but he’s too good on the field to not get his dough. Jerry Jones, pay the man.

Verdict: DEAL

James Conner, PIT (2021 FA)

After watching the Le’Veon Bell saga unfold here, there’s no reason to expect they’ll cave to Conner if he holds out if they didn’t pay Bell. They’ll pay him in the offseason, if he keeps up his play, and not a minute sooner.

Verdict: DEAL

Marlon Mack, IND (2021 FA)

908 rushing yards in just 12 games is outstanding. If he stays on the field for more than 12 games, that’s easily 1,000 yards. Two more seasons will prove whether he can be the featured back. We’ll judge him off his contributions in 2018 for now.

Verdict: DEAL

Aaron Jones, GB (2021 FA)

He’s a solid complement to Aaron Rodgers but in 12 games last year, he only posted 728 rushing yards. That’s less than Marlon Mack did in the same amount of time. He can’t hold out and until he comes closer to 1,000 yards in a season, he won’t get a big contract.

Verdict: NO DEAL

Chris Carson, SEA (2021 FA)

Carson put up 1,151 rushing yards in just 14 games on 4.7 yards per attempt. If he keeps that up, he’ll see a few more zeroes added to the end of his account balance.

Verdict: DEAL