Differing from previous years, the NFL is set to have multiple key free-agent running backs in the upcoming offseason, including Saquon Barkley, Josh Jacobs and Tony Pollard. All three were franchise-tagged by their respective teams in the 2023 offseason but will test the free agent market this year, despite the value of the running back position swaying in the past few seasons.

Other running backs that will be free agents in the upcoming season are Derrick Henry, Austin Ekeler, D’Andre Swift, J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards, Devin Singletary, Zack Moss, Ezekiel Elliot and Clyde Edwards-Helaire. None of the players are expected to be franchised tagged by their current teams and will all be on the open market in what might be the most talented free agent classes of all time.

Other skill positions, like quarterbacks and receivers, have seen a steady rise in pay over the past few years but the same can’t be said about the running back position. Many of the league’s top quarterbacks are currently making over $50 million a year, while some receivers are netting in close to $25 million a year. But it isn’t the same case for top-ranked running backs, like Christian McCaffrey, who was responsible for 18 touchdowns in 2023 but is only making $16 million a year. With the lower average pay for a running back in the NFL, the players testing the market this year might end up signing for lower than they may have initially expected.

However, the NFL announced that the 2024 salary cap for teams will be 13.6% higher than last year – a record high $255.4 million per team. With that extra cap space teams might try to make room for the running backs set to hit the market, and though the position hasn’t been paid comparatively high in the past few years, one of those players could become the new highest paid running back in the league.

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Jonathan Taylor of the Indianapolis Colts was the most recent running back to confirmed to a long term contract, signing in October for $42 million over three years. Taylor was the league’s leading rusher in 2021, but his contract averaging about $14 million a year is the amount this year’s free agents can expect offered by teams. With the value of the running back becoming more and more minimal, some of the players will be signed to larger contracts, but many might be forced down to the second-tier of pay, perhaps making only $2-3 million a year. While the value of the running back continues to change, their pay will do the same, and teams will be able to sign players to shorter, lower paying contracts because of the position’s interchangeability.

The 2024 NFL free agency opens on March 13 at 4 p.m. EST.

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