Continuing our series on the NFL’s best and worst contracts, we turn our attention to running backs. Teams can be especially prone to overpay at this position, as memories of statistics long past can cloud judgement moving forward. Below, however, we give the five most team-friendly RB contracts (with rookie deals excluded) in the league right now.
1. Lamar Miller, Houston Texans
Years remaining: Four
Average remaining cap hit (per year): $6.5 million
Lamar Miller’s four-year, $26 million deal with only $14 million guaranteed is even more of a steal, considering that it was signed this offseason. While not an insignificant financial investment, Miller’s contract is much more reasonable than other high-level running backs, especially considering the ever-increasing cap.
PFF's fourth-highest graded running back a year ago has the sixth-largest cap hit average per season, but is only making slightly more than the rest of the backs rounding out the top 10. The devaluation of the position around the league led to some outstanding deals for teams this offseason, including Miller’s departure for Houston. The former Miami Dolphin ended 2015 with an 85.6 overall grade, finishing with 2.8 yards after contact per attempt and 28 broken tackles. He should be an excellent fit with the Texans, and didn’t cost a fortune.
2. Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Years remaining: Five
Average remaining cap hit (per year): $7.15 million
Another deal signed this offseason, Martin’s contract is very similar to Miller’s. He pocketed $15 million guaranteed up front, and was given around $7 million per season. The dollar amounts are relatively high for the position, but are a long distance from redefining the market. Martin’s contract is also front-loaded like Miller’s, enabling the Bucs to realistically move on as early as 2018.
An early divorce appears unlikely, however, if Martin continues to perform as he did in 2015. He ranked second among RBs a year ago with an 87.8 overall grade. (Only Le'Veon Bell earned a higher overall grade, though appearing in just six games.) The talent Martin flashed as a rookie was displayed consistently last season; the Bucs’ running back led the NFL with 57 broken tackles on the ground, and finished third with an average of 3.1 yards after contact per attempt. His power enables Tampa Bay to bully teams on the ground.
3. Rashad Jennings, New York Giants
Years remaining: Two
Average remaining cap hit (per year): $2.94 million
The Giants may have drafted Jennings’ replacement in fifth-round pick Paul Perkins (UCLA), but the incumbent will take some shifting. He may not be the most eye-catching back, but his dependability makes the four-year, $10 million deal he signed back in 2014 very team-friendly—even for a role-player. In fact, Jennings will be making less than a number of runners on rookie contracts.
Jennings is allowed to play to his strengths in Ben McAdoo’s offense, with Shane Vereen rotating onto the field for passing snaps. The 25th-ranked running back in terms of average cap hit per season finished 15th at the position in 2015 with a 79.1 overall grade. Jennings' 4.4 yards per attempt (2.8 after contact) highlights his consistent ability to make the best he can of the creases available.
4. DeAngelo Williams, Pittsburgh Steelers
Years remaining: One
Average remaining cap hit (per year): $2.57 million
Williams’ career looked over after injuries decimated his tenure in Carolina. The Steelers were willing to gamble on a resurgence, and have been richly rewarded. After Le’Veon Bell’s injury, Pittsburgh turned to Williams to carry the load. He responded with the highest overall grade he’s recorded since PFF began grading games in 2007. Williams tied for PFF's fifth-highest overall grade among RBs in 2015, finishing with an 81.1 rushing grade. At $2.5 million next season, he represents one of the best-value backups in the league.
5. LeGarette Blount, New England Patriots
Years remaining: One
Average remaining cap hit (per year): $1.03 million
On the field, Blount has been one of the most productive rushers since he entered the league in 2010. He has had trouble actually staying on the field, however. Injuries again curtailed his season in 2015, and the Patriots missed him in the playoffs. Blount is among the league’s most bruising backs when he is on form; last year, he broke 34 tackles on just 165 carries, ending the season with a 77.1 rushing grade. If they can all remain healthy in 2016, New England will have an outstanding stable of running backs.