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2021 NFL Free Agency primer: Running backs

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Arizona Cardinals Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Dolphins are preparing for the 2021 offseason, starting with a review of their own play in 2020, identifying needs for next season, and then designing how to address those needs through free agency and the NFL Draft. The Dolphins will have several critical needs heading into the offseason, especially when it comes to the offensive side of the ball. The team needs to surround quarterback Tua Tagovailoa with upgraded weapons if they want to see their second-year passer take a step forward.

This afternoon, we are going to take a look at the potential free agent running backs who could be on the market when the new league year starts in March. The contract data below is provided by OverTheCap.com. Should Miami target any of these players? Should they wait for the draft to add to the running backs group?

2020 Miami Dolphins running backs group

  • Salvon Ahmed, 22 - Signed through 2021 (2022 ERFA); $780,000 cap number next year
  • Matt Breida, 25 - Unrestricted free agent
  • Myles Gaskin, 23 - Signed through 2022 (2022 RFA); $871,777 cap number next year
  • Patrick Laird, 25 - Signed through 2021 (2022 RFA); $853,000 cap number next year
  • DeAndre Washington, 27 - Unrestricted free agent

Plus - Jordan Scarlett, 24 - Signed to futures contract


Top 10 APY free agent running backs

(Matt Breida is fifth at $3.3 million/year)


Other potential running back targets


I think you can probably rule out just about anyone over the age of 26 or 27. The Dolphins are a young team looking to continue to grow together, which means they will likely be looking for a running back they can lock in to that growth, not necessarily a veteran nearing the end of his career. The exception is, of course, Frank Gore, who at 38 probably has at least another 25 years left on his career.

Jones is going to be the top name on the market, should the Packers look to move on to AJ Dillon. He has 782 carries since being drafted in the fifth round in 2017, picking up 3,364 yards and 37 touchdowns in his career. He should demand attention, and the Dolphins will likely reach out to see if there is mutual interest, but he is not going to be cheap. Dalvin Cook, the only player in the 2017 draft class with more rushing yards than Jones, signed an extension through 2025 that pays him an average of $12.6 million per year. Jones should be close to that, if not surpassing it.

I think the Dolphins should look at Conner. A third-round pick in 2017, Conner does not actually turn 26 until May. He has 532 carries for 2,302 yards with 22 touchdown in his career, including 169 attempts for 721 yards and six scores this year. I would guess the Steelers look to re-sign him, but if he is on the open market, Miami should take a look. He will still likely be expensive, but he will come in lower than Jones.

My guess is, Miami looks to the draft for their running back, potentially using one of their first-round selection to address the position, but if they want to turn to free agency, there are at least options available.