The 5 o’clock club aims to provide a forum for reader-driven discussion at a time of day when there isn’t much NFL news being published. Feel free to introduce topics that interest you in the comments below.
While I realize that the Alex Smith trade is all anyone really wants to talk about at the moment, we have at least a half dozen articles about that on Hogs Haven at the moment, so I thought I’d just resume regularly scheduled programming.
OverTheCap recently looked at ten running backs who will be free agents this off-season, and estimated the APY value of their expected contracts.
I thought it might be worthwhile to look at a few of those guys.
The 5 o’clock club has already looked at a free agent running back, Isaiah Crowell.
Today we will look at six other potential veteran free agent running backs from the OTC list that the Redskins could target in March. The estimated contract values are taken from the OTC story.
Carlos Hyde, 49ers - estimated contract: $5.5m
Weight: 235 pounds
College: Ohio State
Draft status: Selected 2nd round, 2014 draft, 57th overall
Hyde has very quietly put together back to back 900+ yard seasons in San Francisco. Hyde’s last two seasons should have helped him with two main concerns.
One is injury. Hyde missed 11 games in his first two seasons and just three in his last two, with none missed this season.
The second is that he was able to be out there in passing situations. In today’s NFL one dimensional runners are worth far less than multi dimensional players and Hyde is proving to be the latter, logging 71% playtime and nearly 50 receptions.
I think the negatives for Hyde are that there are too many weeks where he doesn’t seem to make an impact and that he plays in relative anonymity. He is also 28. None of that really helps in getting the buzz going in February that players like Hyde need to move up in class.
Hyde is a better player than Latavius Murray but I think that Murray had more notoriety as a young player on an improving Raiders team. My guess is their contracts end up pretty similar in the $5 to $5.5 million range.
With 1,288 yards from scrimmage and 8 touchdowns in 2017, Carlos Hyde showed himself to be a talented back, likely to contribute to any team that signs him.
The 49ers have tons of cap space available, and while SF coaches, front office and fans all really liked what they saw in Matt Breida in his rookie season, I can’t see any reason why they would let Carlos Hyde go anywhere in free agency. The Niners are a team that needs to hold onto its talent, and I just can’t see Carlos Hyde being available to the Redskins.
However, if the Niners, for some reason, allow him to test free agency, I could see Jay Gruden being really excited about Hyde as a weapon in the Redskin offense.
Dion Lewis, Patriots - estimated contract: $4.8m
Weight: 195 pounds
Draft status: 5th round, 2011 (by the Eagles)
Lewis’ play at the end of the season is creating that buzz that I mentioned is missing from Hyde and that should only help Lewis in free agency. Lewis was finally healthy for the full season and exploded for nearly 900 yards on the ground and over 200 in the air. He averaged almost 5 yards a carry and had two 100+ yard games down the stretch.
Still Lewis is only a rotational player. He barely passed the 35% snap mark this year and is one of many in the New England backfield. I think there are teams that will shy away from him thinking that outside of the Patriots system he won’t make a big impact even with an increased role. However I am sure there will be at least two teams that see him as a full time player and will pay accordingly.
Lewis is a little older at 28 but doesn’t have miles on him.... Lewis’ salary may be dependent on how the playoffs end. I think there is a wide range for a player like him. $4.5-$5M is reasonable but I think he could go higher. If there is negativity towards him being a Patriots system player he could fall into the $3.5M a year category.
Dion Lewis is a smaller back, and while he is talented, I’m not sure how much he would bring to the Redskins that they don’t already get from Chris Thompson, Byron Marshall and Kapri Bibbs. He had a huge bump up in usage in 2017, with 180 rushes & 32 receptions — in effect, producing as much in a single year as he had in the previous 5 years combined.
Add that to the aura of playing for the AFC Champion Patriots, and there may be a number of teams interested in his services.
Jerick McKinnon, Vikings - estimated contract: $4m
Weight: 205 pounds
College: Georgia Southern
Draft status: 3rd round, 2014 draft (96th overall)
While McKinnon offers little value as a runner he is a very capable receiver/third down back and those players generally receive more interest than the solid, but more traditional, two down player.
With Bilal Powell at $3.75 million a year and James White at $4 million a year, I think McKinnon should slot right in that grouping. He could be back in Minnesota to spell Dalvin Cook, but it may depend on whether or not Murray returns next season.
While McKinnon is explosive, and would fit well into the Jay Gruden offense, even more than Dion Lewis, the running back seems to offer skills that the Redskins already possess on the roster, so I’m not excited by the thought of taking a $4m per year bite out of the salary cap for him.
Jeremy Hill, Bengals - estimated contract: $3m
Draft status: 2nd round, 2014 draft (55th overall)
Is there a team out there willing to take a gamble on Hill? As a rookie Hill was terrific and while not very efficient the two years after he still was able to shoulder a load and is one of the better backs around the goal. This year, however, was nothing short of an unmitigated disaster.
Hill saw his playtime and role reduced and then opted for surgery, which the Bengals clearly disagreed with, after aggravating an ankle injury in practice. There is probably a good chance that the surgery had more to do with free agency and that could turn some teams off.
There was a lot of commentary about Hill’s decision to get season-ending surgery. Some saw this as negative for the player, others criticized the Bengals for their public stance. Marvin Lewis clearly wasn’t impressed:
Bengals running back Jeremy Hill is opting to have season-ending ankle surgery, and head coach Marvin Lewis isn’t happy about it.
“Jeremy thinks he needs to have ankle surgery,” Lewis said on Monday. “Yeah, I think I would be [surprised]. I think he’s consulted a couple physicians; both said that this was something that could wait until after the season but he just felt like it was causing too much discomfort.”
Hill hadn’t been on the Bengals’ injury report because he wasn’t experiencing ankle problems to the extent that he’d miss game time. That was Lewis’ main gripe.
“I don’t think he had any instance of [a problem] since this August when he rolled his ankle in training camp, or whatever it was, training camp or warm-ups in a game — I can’t remember what it was,” Lewis said. “One of those times in the preseason. But that’s the only instance he’s had this fall.”
Given Jay Gruden’s relationship with Marvin Lewis, it would seem unlikely that he’d be interested in signing a player that was so clearly in Lewis’ doghouse in 2017.
In addition, the drop off in production from Hill’s rookie season (5.1 YPC) to 2015 & 2016 (3.6 & 3.8) should be troubling for any team.
Hill has the pedigree and measurables to make a lot of people wonder if he is a bust, or just a guy stuck in the wrong situation in Cincinnati. He’s likely to get signed by some team that’s willing to bring him into camp and give him a chance; he wouldn’t be the first reclamation project at the running back position to make his former coaches look dumb, but the idea that Jay Gruden would be the guy who would want to sign Jeremy Hill is one that I have a hard time embracing.
Orleans Darkwa, Giants - estimated contract: $1.75m
Weight: 219 pounds
Draft status: Undrafted Free Agent (Dolphins, 2014)
Darkwa very quietly put together a decent season for the Giants running behind a terrible line for 751 yards and 5 touchdowns. Darkwa is pretty limited as a runner and you don’t get many frills with him, but he consistently had to earn the job all season and week after week he continued to show the Giants he was the best option they had. He really gave a great effort in a complete lost season which counts for something.
Darkwa has a pretty limited track record but should draw some interest and is only 26. He made $1.1 million this past season and should earn at least $1.5 million in 2018. If he finds the right team, and that team may be the Giants, he may be able to get closer to the $1.75M number that Jazcquizz Rodgers signed for this past offseason.
Darkwa is similar to Rob Kelley — who is an inch taller, one pound heavier, and also undrafted out of Tulane. In fact, Kelley’s 2016 full season numbers are very comparable to Darkwa’s 2017 stats:
You can consider this look at Darkwa from NFL.com, who identified him as the single bright spot in a dreary Giants 2017 season:
Not much went right for the 2017 Giants’ offense, but Darkwa proved to be one of the few steady presences. The former undrafted free-agent signee of the Dolphins totaled a career-high 867 total yards and scored five times for an offense that largely struggled to block well or move the ball at all. Darkwa was quietly effective in gaining extra yards this season, ranking sixth among backs with at least 100 carries by averaging 4.35 yards after defenders closed within 1 yard of him. His contract expires this offseason, but the new Giants staff should consider bringing him back as they remake their scoring attack.
Like most of the other backs profiled in this article, I have a hard time seeing what Darkwa brings to the Redskins that they don’t already have on the roster — specifically, Darkwa seems to be a slightly more expensive version of Kelley.
And — really, now — does any Redskin fan want to sign a running back away from the Giants?!
Terrance West, Ravens - estimated contract: $1.1m
Weight: 225 pounds
Draft status: 3rd round, 2014 draft (Cleveland Browns, 94th overall)
I’ve always liked West, dating back to his rookie season with the Browns, and I thought he looked pretty good for the Ravens in 2016.
Still, his career numbers aren’t going to wow anyone.
Originally a calf injury put him on the bench for the Ravens, but he was a healthy scratch for 5 games down the stretch, finally suiting up in late December, but not getting a carry after Week 5. It would be a shocker to see him re-signed with the Ravens.
The Ravens looked pretty good with rookie Alex Collins carrying the water in the second half of the season. If Terrance West leaves the Ravens (and even if he stays) he should be a budget signing.
I’m guessing someone who liked West coming out of Towson in 2014 will dust off the scouting report and pay him the $1m or so that it’ll take to get him into camp. Who knows? That might be the Redskins. West probably wouldn’t even have to move — he could just drive down I-95.
While I wouldn’t ‘stand on the table’ for him, I wouldn’t hate signing West this offseason either.
The final word
Aside from Le’veon Bell and his astronomical salary expectations, I don’t see any running back in the free agent market this off season who is likely to be available and who would create an undeniable improvement to the Redskins running back unit. With a deep running back class in the draft (and a deep quarterback class to push some of those RBs down the board), and slim pickings in free agency, I’m not feeling great about looking to the free agent market to improve the Redskins’ running back unit.
In this case, I feel like the only real choices are:
- Stand pat with the stable of young, unheralded running backs the Redskins currently have (Kelley, Perine, Thompson, Keith Marshall, Byron Marshall, Kapri Bibbs, Dare Ogunbowale, Kenny Hilliard).
- Draft a talented running back early (Derrius Guice, Ronald Jones, Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, Josh Adams, Rashaad Penny).
- Look to improve the RB position with a careful signing in free agency (Carlos Hyde if he’s available; Isaiah Crowell as a ‘safe’ option; Terrance West for a budget signing with some upside potential).
Of the three, my preference is to draft a running back in the second or third round.
But what do you think?
Taking into account player skills & history, as well as expected contract, which potential free agent running back comes closest to fitting the Redskins’ 2018 needs?
This poll is closed
What’s your attitude toward the Redskins running back position?
This poll is closed
The team has "about 30 running backs" and shouldn’t need to add another prior to training camp
The team needs a young, explosive back, and should use an early draft pick to get one
The team needs a proven veteran RB, and should sign one in free agency
They need an entirely different approach to the position than any of the three options offered above