News & Analysis

5 worst NFL running back contracts

NEW ORLEANS, LA - SEPTEMBER 20: C.J. Spiller #28 of the New Orleans Saints runs for yards during the third quarter of a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on September 20, 2015 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

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 we give the bottom five RB contracts (with rookie deals excluded) in the league right now.

[Editor’s note: All cap numbers are from Over the Cap.]

1. C.J. Spiller, New Orleans Saints

Years remaining: Three

Average remaining cap hit (per year): $4.66 million

Year he can realistically be cut: 2017 

The Saints have had little success with their running back personnel in recent seasons, and C.J. Spiller looks like another miss. A contract paying $16 million over four years signed back in 2015 is far from ground-breaking, but it makes him the 15th-highest-paid running back on a per-season basis. The $9 million guarantee also exceeds the majority of his peers.

While Spiller made an impact in the passing game last season, more should be expected of such a well-paid role-player. He managed a career-low 21.1 percent of snaps last season, and was surpassed on the depth chart by a player who had not played a snap since 2011 (Tim Hightower). Incurring $7 million of dead money makes a release this year unlikely, leaving Spiller with a season to prove himself. If he is cut a year down the line, he’ll cost $2.5 million in dead money, for just $2.35 million in savings.

2. DeMarco Murray, Tennessee Titans

Years remaining: Four

Average remaining cap hit (per year): $6.38 million

Year he can realistically be cut: 2018

A new environment could bring out the best in an obviously-talented DeMarco Murray, but he cannot be absolved of responsibility for a dreadful 2015 season. Upon his trade to the Titans, Murray renegotiated a four-year, $25.5 million deal with $12 million guaranteed. The new contract pays him the seventh-most among RBs in terms of average money per season and average guaranteed dollars per season.

That's a hefty sum for PFF's third-worst-graded running back from a year ago. Schematic adjustments and fatigue both contributed to the stark regression of 2014’s rushing leader, but Murray also deserves criticism. His average yardage per rush fell from 4.7 to 3.6, yards after contact per attempt from 2.5 to 2.0, and he broke 46 fewer tackles (71 to 25). His cap hits for the next three years are $12 million, $6 million, and $3 million. Needless to say, the Titans are gambling on a major bounce-back from Murray.

3. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings

Years remaining: Two

Average remaining cap hit (per year): $15 million

Year he can realistically be cut: 2017

Peterson remains an excellent runner, but his contract figures are absurd. No other back had a cap hit in 2016 higher than $9.55 million—Peterson’s is $12 million. He signed a three-year, $44 million deal with $20 million guaranteed. The figures are simply mind-boggling compared with others at his position. The Viking may be the best pure runner in the league, but his $15 million average per season is almost double McCoy’s second-place average of $8 million.

As well as the excessive cost, Peterson’s deficiencies in the passing game make him overpaid. He has earned strongly negative career grades in pass protection and as a receiver, making him ill-suited to a third down role. The other issue is ball security; he fumbled six times in 2015, taking his total to 34 in nine seasons. We wouldn’t expect his next contract to come close to the one he signed three years ago.

4. LeSean McCoy, Buffalo Bills

Years remaining: Four

Average remaining cap hit (per year): $8.51 million

Year he can realistically be cut: 2019

LeSean McCoy also falls into the category of productive, yet overpaid. The Bills did not give up much in the trade with the Eagles (Kiko Alonso), but were required to make a significant financial investment. McCoy negotiated a five-year, $40 million deal with $18.25 million guaranteed at the start of 2015. As mentioned above, it’s the second-most expensive contract on a per-year basis. McCoy’s $3.65 million guaranteed per season is also third-most. In addition, he can’t be cut for a cap saving until 2019, incurring $15.3, $7.88, and $5.25 million in dead money if released in the ensuing three years.

McCoy did not have a bad 2015 season in Buffalo, forming an effective one-two punch with Karlos Williams, but he still ended the year as only our 18th overall running back (78.9 overall grade). He carried 203 times for 895 yards and three touchdowns, breaking 34 tackles. Despite a solid overall season, McCoy will need to crack the top 10 to make his expensive contract a worthwhile investment.

5. Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints

Years remaining: Three

Average remaining cap hit (per year): $4.5 million

Year he can realistically be cut: 2018 

Two Saints make the list, with Mark Ingram coming in at No. 5. Trent Richardson is not the only back to struggle making the transition from the Crimson Tide to the NFL; the 28th overall pick in 2011 has been a disappointment thus far. Despite failing to live up to expectations, the Saints re-signed him to a four-year, $16 million deal (with $6.1 guaranteed) at the beginning of 2015. He responded with his lowest season grade since his rookie year, culminating in a 73.6 overall grade. It’s a lot of money for our 33rd-highest-graded running back. Although he graded positively on the ground and as a receiver, his nine combined hurries resulted in a 44.4 pass-protection grade.

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