4 NFL Running Backs Due Big Contracts in 2021

| August 1, 2021 4:40 am PDT

It seems like over the past few years, the running back position has become more and more undervalued. Because of this, a lot of people think it’s a terrible idea to give a running back a big contract.

In some cases, that’s true because a great offensive line can make even mediocre running backs look good. However, there are elite running backs in the NFL that absolutely deserve their contract.

Christian McCaffrey leads the way, as he makes just over $16 million a year. Alvin Kamara and Ezekiel Elliott are just behind at $15 million.

I believe there are a few more running backs deserving of that big contract. Let’s look four running backs that could get paid big money soon.

4. Kareem Hunt: Cleveland Browns

Kareem Hunt’s NFL career has been a little tumultuous to say the least. The Kansas City Chiefs selected Hunt in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft.

Hunt’s career got off to an amazing start. Just look at what he did in his first five games:

  • Week 1: 148 rushing yards and one touchdown, 98 receiving yards and two touchdowns
  • Week 2: 81 yards and two touchdowns, 28 yards
  • Week 3: 172 yards and one touchdown, 11 yards
  • Week 4: 101 yards, 20 yards
  • Week 5: 107 yards, nine yards

He went on to finish his rookie season with a league-high 1,327 yards and eight touchdowns. Hunt also added in 455 receiving yards and three touchdowns.

While not as great as his 2017 season, Hunt was in the midst of a pretty good 2018 season. However, the Chiefs released him late in 2018 after a video surfaced of him assaulting a woman.

Hunt signed with the Cleveland Browns in the 2019 offseason. The NFL suspended him for the first eight games, so he didn’t make his Browns debut until Week 10. Hunt played a backup role to Nick Chubb. Though he didn’t do much on the ground in 2019, he had 285 receiving yards.

Cleveland continued to use Chubb and Hunt together in 2020, giving the league one of the best running back tandems in the NFL.

Hunt even got some time as the lead back when Chubb missed four games. Interesting enough, Hunt had his best game of the season when Chubb returned, where he had his first 100-yard rushing game in two years against the Houston Texans.

For the season, Hunt rushed for 841 yards and six touchdowns. He also had 304 receiving yards and five touchdowns.

Now typically, you don’t see a lot of older running backs get a big deal. Hunt has two more years left on his current deal. That means he’ll be 28 years old by the time he begins playing on his new deal.

A big thing going in Hunt’s favor is his usage. Outside of his rookie season, he hasn’t had a season with over 200 attempts. That’s definitely going to keep him fresh longer than most running backs, which is a big reason why I think he can get a good contract.

I can’t imagine he’ll get anywhere near $15 million a year. However, I could see Hunt in the $8-10 million per year range.

He currently makes $6 million a year and should receive a pay raise when someone signs him to be a starter.

3. Josh Jacobs: Las Vegas Raiders

Josh Jacobs didn’t really have a standout career at Alabama like most running backs do. However, Jacobs came on late in his junior year, and this late-season surge moved him up draft boards.

The Las Vegas Raiders selected Jacobs in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft. He immediately became a big part of the Raiders’ offense.

In his first career game, he rushed for 85 yards and two touchdowns. He carried that strong performance all the way through his rookie season.

Jacobs missed three of the final four games of the season, but that didn’t stop him from rushing for 1,150 yards and seven touchdowns.  Despite missing those three games, just look where he ranked in rushing yards per game in 2019.

Player Rushing Yards Per Game
Derrick Henry 102.7
Nick Chubb 93.4
Josh Jacobs 88.5
Christian McCaffrey 86.7
Ezekiel Elliott 84.8

The other four players on that list rushed for over 1,300 yards that season. It just puts into perspective how great of a rookie season Jacobs had.

Las Vegas certainly noticed Jacobs’ strong rookie season when they handed him the keys to the offense in 2020. Despite having the third-most attempts in the NFL, Jacobs finished with just 1,065 yards. That number did rank in the top then in the NFL, but his 3.9 yards per carry ranked 43rd. He did, however, have 12 touchdowns.

A big reason for Jacobs’ struggles was his offensive line. According to Pro Football Focus, the Raiders finished the season ranked 24th out of 32 teams.

So, Jacobs will be eligible to sign an extension following the 2021 season.

However, if Las Vegas picks up his fifth-year option, he’ll be with the team through 2023. Jacobs’ current contract pays him just under $3 million a year.

I’d have to think Jacobs wants to get that pay raise as soon as possible.

This season is going to tell a lot about his value. The Raiders added Kenyan Drake to the backfield. Drake rushed for 955 yards and ten touchdowns last season. However, the Raiders have made it known Jacobs is still their lead guy and Drake is more of a receiving option.

If that’s true and Jacobs has another 1,000-yard season, he could start talking his way into the $12 million a year range. Joe Mixon and Aaron Jones each signed for that amount per year within the last 12 months. Both of those guys were coming off a pair of 1,000-yard seasons when they signed.

We’ll see if Jacobs can continue to put up big numbers behind a weak offensive line.

2. Nick Chubb: Cleveland Browns

Now, we’re getting into the guys who can challenge McCaffrey’s $16 million a year. The Cleveland Browns selected Nick Chubb in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft.

Initially, the Browns used Chubb in a backup role, but that changed halfway through his rookie season.

Chubb took over as the lead back in Week 6. From there, he really proved his worth. He rushed for over 100 yards four times in 2018, including a 176-yard game against the Atlanta Falcons. Chubb finished the season with 996 yards and eight touchdowns. In the ten games Chubb started, he averaged 82.3 yards per game.

Here is a list of running backs who had more than that in 2018:

  • Ezekiel Elliott: 95.6
  • Todd Gurley: 89.4
  • Joe Mixon: 83.4

That’s it. That’s the list!

I should also mention Chubb’s 5.2 yards per carry ranked fifth in the league.

Like most fans expected, Chubb elevated his game in 2019. He went off for 1,494 yards and eight touchdowns. His amazing season included seven games over 100 yards. Perhaps his most impressive came in Week 4 against the Baltimore Ravens. Chubb rushed for 165 yards and three touchdowns.

The arrival of Kareem Hunt tempered expectations for Chubb going into 2020. However, his production barely dropped off. Despite missing four games, Chubb rushed for 1,067 yards and a career-high 12 touchdowns.

His carries per game did drop from 19 to 16, but his efficiency went up. His 5.6 yards per carry was a career high. Chubb has averaged over five yards per carry in all three seasons of his career.

Because Chubb wasn’t a first-round pick, his contract doesn’t have a fifth-year option. That means he’ll be a free agent after this season. Chubb is definitely the type of running back that deserves a big contract.

Even Marshawn Lynch has pointed out what a natural, dominant runner he is.

He will be turning 26 years old at the beginning of the next season, so this is a perfect time to give him a big deal.

factor playing in is his usage. He only cleared 200 carries once in a season. He is certainly capable of a heavy workload but why overwork him when you have Hunt?

Dalvin Cook makes $12.6 million a year and I’d say Chubb is on his level, if not better. Once you adjust for inflation, you have to think Chubb will get more money than that. Honestly, I think $13 million a year is the floor for his next deal.

If he has another great year, I wouldn’t fault him for asking over $15 million a year.

1. Saquon Barkley: New York Giants

Following a stellar college career at Penn State, Saqoun Barkley had high expectations laid out for him going into the NFL. His potential was so high that the New York Giants drafted him number two overall in the 2018 NFL Draft, despite needing a quarterback.

Remember, top-tier quarterbacks like Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson also went in this draft.

Barkley quickly showed everyone the Giants made the right choice. He rushed for 106 yards and a touchdown in his first career game. His pace slowed just a bit during the middle part of the season, but look what he did from Weeks 11-14.

Week Rushing Yards Rushing TDs Rec Yards Rec TDs
11 142 2 10 1
12 101 1 41 1
13 125 0 21 0
14 170 1 27 0

He finished his rookie season with a league-leading 1,307 yards and 11 touchdowns. Barkley also had 721 receiving yards and four touchdowns.

In 2019, Barkley missed three games with a high ankle sprain. However, the injury didn’t stop him from posting his second consecutive 1,000-yard season. Most of his other stats did go down, but Barkley had the best game of his career in Week 16 against the Washington Football Team.

We saw Barkley rush for a career-high 189 yards and one touchdown on 22 carries. He also added in four receptions, 90 receiving yards, and one touchdown.

Unfortunately, he only played about five quarters in 2020 before an ACL tear ended his season.

New York already picked up Barkley’s fifth-year option. That means he’ll be with the team at least through the 2023 season. Honestly, it may be in the Giants best interest to wait until next season to sign Barkley.

Though Barkley tore his ACL in September 2020, there’s a chance he won’t be ready for the start of the 2021 season. I’m sure the Giants would like to evaluate Barkley and see if he is the same player after he heals from ACL tear. If so, then the big contract is an easy decision.

At full strength, he is arguably the best running back in the league. If Barkley shows out next season, I firmly believe he will top McCaffrey’s $16 million a year.

Which RB Gets the Next Big NFL Contract?

This one comes down to Nick Chubb and Saqoun Barkley. When healthy, both guys are among the best running backs in the league. This situation looks a lot like that of Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson.

Whoever gets paid first is going to be topped by the other guy. Depending on when they sign, I think they can both top McCaffrey’s contract.

Josh Jacobs likely won’t get close to those guys, but he should get a deal over $10 million a year.

If you like reading about NFL contracts, be sure to check out my other positional articles below.

Nicholas Sterling

Nicholas has been a Sports Writer with GamblingSites.com since May 2021. He has a rich sports background, writing about NASCAR, NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, Golf, etc. Nick is always ready for a new challenge.

He enjoys rooting on D.C. sports teams, including the Commanders, Wizards, and Capitals.

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