Free Agency has not been kind to elder running backs despite their significant track records. The address changes have been few and only Eddie Lacy has been able to really cash in. And even he’s been limited to a one-year, $5.5 million “prove it” contract that has various incentive and weight clauses.
Latavius Murray also made a move from the high-powered Raiders offense to the struggling backfield in Minnesota. Those are the only two backs that so far seem likely to assume a significant if not primary role with their new teams.
Still on the board are several backs that share numerous top ten fantasy seasons on their resume but for various reasons remain unattached and still looking to extend their careers. The one common factor – all are north of the 30-year-old mark.
Adrian Peterson – The signing of Murray signals the pending divorce is certain between the Vikings and Peterson. The 32-year-old back was suspended in 2014, then roared back with 1707 total yards and 11 scores in 2015 before blowing out his knee and missing almost all of last season.
Peterson has been linked to numerous teams but the market for an aged back coming off an ACL injury is scant. He’s certain to land somewhere and to take an active role but the lack of interest already says no NFL team expects to get the same Peterson that was an annual resident in the top ten. Peterson’s availability could linger past the NFL draft so that teams will have a better idea of where he might fit in.
Jamal Charles – The one-time fantasy stud has likewise not found the league clamoring for the services of a 31-year-old back coming off two straight injury-marred seasons. Charles only played three games last year and five in 2015 thanks to knee injuries. He was released by the Chiefs with a ‘failed physical’ designation though he claims to be healthy again.
His stock is low thanks to his recent history and he’ll be far more likely to end up as just a complementary piece wherever he lands. He’s an accomplished receiver but won’t see a heavy rushing load ever again. Charles could end up still waiting for a job into the summer. He’ll end up as a very risky fantasy play no matter where he eventually signs.
LeGarrette Blount – There is no certainty that Blount will end up re-signing with the Patriots even after his career best 1199 total yards and 18 touchdowns. He only scored 30 times over his first six years. He was also set free last year and ended up returning to a one-year deal in April. Coming off a hip injury, he wasn’t considered a lock to remain on the roster but obviously bounced back.
Blount offers little more than goal line duty as a 250-pound back who rarely catches the ball or breaks into the open on a run. At 31 years of age, short yardage is the only role he’ll fill no matter where he signs. This could be another year of returning to New England for less money or even going into the season still looking for a home.
Chris Johnson – The 32-year-old back wants to continue his career but is yet another player with an impressive resume that has simply aged out of favor. He landed on injured reserve last year with a groin injury after only four weeks. In 2015, he seemed to have rejuvenated his career but was lost in Week 12 when he broke his leg.
Johnson should linger and if he is picked up by an NFL team, he won’t be considered for more than spot duty. That 2000 rushing yard season is just a dot in the rear-view mirror from nine years ago.
DeAngelo Williams – The fantasy star of 2015 was a surprise when he covered for Le’Veon Bell during the second half of that season. And he opened 2016 with big games for the initial two weeks again covering for a suspended Bell. But he was limited to only spot duty the rest of the way and missed eight games due to a knee injury.
Williams turns 34-years-old this year and is unlikely to re-sign with the Steelers. This is an especially bad time to extend a career considering the logjam of accomplished yet aged free agents during a year that is considered to be very deep for the position in the NFL draft.