Running backs aren't necessarily a dying breed these days in the NFL, but the position has seen a rapid decline in breakout players and, most importantly for them, big dollar amounts. If you're not Adrian Peterson or LeSean McCoy, it doesn't seem to be paying off to be a running back in the NFL.
This offseason saw multiple starting-caliber running backs hit the open market, and it also saw said running backs almost entirely ignored for the first week of free agency. Guys like Darren McFadden, Maurice Jones-Drew and Knowshon Moreno received such little notice it was unclear if they were even getting phone calls for awhile there.
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SB Nation NFL
But things have picked up in recent weeks, with it all coming to a head on Friday. Three of the top remaining names found new teams on Friday, though that only solves one half of the problem: the part about having a job. The other half, which is running backs not getting paid, is still something of an issue.
To this point, Toby Gerhart and Donald Brown have received the biggest contracts for running backs this offseason. That's a little odd, given that neither have shown a whole lot in limited time in recent seasons, but each will be making $3.5 million per season going forward.
Regardless, all of Jones-Drew, Moreno and LeGarrette Blount found new teams on Friday.
Jones-Drew signed a three-year contract with the Oakland Raiders. It's unclear how much interest other teams had in Jones-Drew, who has been one of the best running backs in the NFL over the past several years. His perceived lack of interest comes from the fact that the Jacksonville Jaguars rode him into the ground, and after a poor 2013 campaign, he doesn't seem to have a whole lot left in the tank.
The 2011 rushing champion will now compete with Darren McFadden, who signed a one-year deal to remain in Oakland this offseason. Moreno was the top running back on the market this offseason, but he went unsigned until late Thursday/early Friday, which was a shock.
Moreno eventually signed with the Miami Dolphins, and while he's certainly going to make a lot more than you or I next year, he's not making as much as you might expect for someone who accounted for 1,038 rushing yards, 548 receiving yards and 13 total touchdowns with the Broncos last season. Moreno's deal is for one year and $3 million, which fits the bill of a "prove it" contract.
Blount turned heads by having a fantastic season with the New England Patriots in 2013. He came in as a backup but started to get plenty of playing time as a power back, and made the most of it. He finished with 772 yards, a 5.0 per-carry average and seven touchdowns. He added 172 yards and four touchdowns in two playoff games. But now he's relegated to what might be a backup role to Le'Veon Bell, as he signed a two-year contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
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SB Nation NFL
At this point, it's good to see that these guys have signed. Tate, Moreno, Jones-Drew, Brown, Gerhart, Blount and many more have already found a home for this offseason. As it stands, the top names have all basically found a new team, even if they're not making as much money as running backs once did.
The position simply isn't as valuable as it once was. The top signed running backs this offseason are making about as much as punters are on average. Last season was the first time since 1964 that a running back was not drafted in the first round. Over the past eight drafts, there's been as many running backs taken in the top five picks as there were in 2005 alone. The passing game is just so much more important at this point.
As far as who is left on the open market, there are a few interesting names.
Andre Brown, formerly of the New York Giants, is probably the best back currently available. He has a lot of value as a backup and possibly a starter. Michael Bush has been a productive backup for his entire career and is available, as is Justin Forsett, Bernard Scott, Felix Jones and Willis McGahee. None of those players are likely to receive more than the veteran minimum, but they could all end up playing in 2014.