Running backs may be more replaceable than ever, but they're sure garnering lots of headlines around the NFL this summer. Between Josh Jacobs and Saquon Barkley , and Dalvin Cook after departing the Vikings, there's no shortage of drama in the backfield.
Truth be told, many of the situations involving disgruntled big-name backs may not be resolved until closer to the start of the 2023 season. Barkley and Jacobs, for example, have until July 17 to strike long-term contracts with their respective teams, or else they'll be required to play under the franchise tag, barring an in-season holdout.
In the meantime, we decided to play matchmaker for some of the most notable RBs with murky futures:
Dalvin Cook to the Dolphins
Proposed contract: 2 years, $21 million
The connections here are well-documented, with Cook growing up in Miami and the Dolphins not-so-subtly eyeing a RB upgrade. In the end, few teams have reason to outbid Cook's hometown team, and while Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson make a serviceable pair for coach Mike McDaniel, Cook's peak speed would make the Dolphins even more explosive.
Josh Jacobs to the Broncos
Proposed contract: 3 years, $39 million
Here's a curveball for you. We doubt the Raiders would prefer to trade their franchise player inside the division, but Denver's new coach, Sean Payton, gushed about Jacobs earlier this offseason, paid decent money for starting RBs in New Orleans, and could use downhill insurance as Javonte Williams returns from injury, with newcomer Samaje Perine better suited for No. 2 duties. Las Vegas could simply rescind the franchise tag if it knows Jacobs is committed to netting a bigger deal elsewhere, allowing the Raiders' quasi-Patriots regime to save an instant $10M and revert to a RB-by-committee approach.
Saquon Barkley to the Giants
Proposed contract: 3 years, $33 million
Of all the notable backs in contract disputes, we least expect Barkley to play hardball in New York, where he rejuvenated his career under Brian Daboll. He's a Giant, through and through, and while the team may rightfully be hesitant to commit lucrative money over the long term, meeting in the middle to make him roughly the eighth-highest-paid at his position feels reasonable.
Proposed contract: 2 years, $16 million
Another Pro Bowler whose most logical path forward is staying put, Mixon almost certainly won't return with his current $12.5M cap hit for 2023, but the Bengals have repeatedly endorsed him otherwise, even amid legal concerns. A pay cut to about an $8M per-year payout through 2024 would allow the partnership to continue for the short term, at just-below top-10 RB money.
Ezekiel Elliott to the Patriots
Proposed contract: 1 year, $5 million
New England has young Rhamondre Stevenson as a potential offensive focal point, but after cutting the injury-riddled James Robinson before he could even make his Patriots debut, they could use proven insurance. Elliott may be past his full-time days, but as a pass blocker and short-term rotational piece, he'd fit right into a typically crowded Bill Belichick backfield.
Leonard Fournette to the Rams
Proposed contract: 1 year, $2.75 million
"Playoff Lenny" fell from grace rather quickly in Tampa Bay, and his physical style has probably taken its toll. But with Cam Akers and Kyren Williams headlining a rather unproven backfield in Los Angeles, Sean McVay might prefer added experience. The Rams may be rebuilding, but they can afford a low-risk rental to give Matthew Stafford some help.
Kareem Hunt to the Commanders
Proposed contract: 1 year, $2 million
Washington has already shown preliminary interest in the ex-Chiefs and Browns standout, , and it makes sense: Brian Robinson Jr. is the expected bell cow, and Antonio Gibson is due for multipurpose snaps under new coordinator Eric Bieniemy. But Gibson insurance isn't a bad idea, and Hunt worked with Bieniemy in Kansas City.
J.D. McKissic to the Vikings
Proposed contract: 1 year, $1.1 million
Minnesota signaled with its release of Cook that it doesn't intend to commit big money to the position, but new starter Alexander Mattison is owed just $2.4M in 2023, and his reserves are relatively unproven. McKissic is a utility-type veteran best known for his pass catching, making him a potential plug-and-play third-down option out of camp.