The running back position has been somewhat devalued in today's NFL, but the impending free agency class possesses several high-level ball-carriers that can help improve a team's rushing attack in 2022. Denver's Melvin Gordon is largely expected to be available as he reaches the conclusion of his contract with the Broncos.
Gordon has experienced an underappreciated two-year tenure in Denver. Over the past two seasons, Gordon has produced 2,275 total yards of offense and 20 touchdowns (17 rushing, three receiving) while appearing in 31 of a potential 33 regular-season games. Gordon may be turning 29 in a few weeks' time, but health and productivity have not been an issue for the former Wisconsin standout.
Broncos general manager George Paton has publicly stated
his preference to retain Gordon's services, and his statement makes sense on the surface. Javonte Williams was an electric player as a rookie, but the Broncos would be wise to move forward with a two-headed rushing attack in hopes of keeping Williams fresh and effective. Paton's comments aren't without merit, but it remains difficult to envision Gordon returning to the Mile High City.
Gordon's future in Denver immediately came into question the moment Paton selected Williams in the second round of the 2021 draft. Gordon should ultimately encounter more money, carries, and opportunity elsewhere. Denver possesses a ton of cap space (39.1 million), but the majority of their available financial resources should be spent on a franchise quarterback and elite pass rusher. Gordon should reach the open market with plenty of intrigue surrounding his name.
We've identified three potential suitors for Gordon's services should he depart the Broncos in free agency.
Both James Conner and Chase Edmonds are set to become free agents and general manager Steve Keim may find difficulty keeping both players in Arizona. Keim would be wise to prioritize re-signing Edmonds, who's a younger ball-carrier and possesses a more diverse skill set in the passing game than Conner does.
Conner is also expected to land a sizable raise in pay after scoring an astounding 15 touchdowns last season as the league's premier goal-line back. Conner provided the Cardinals with excellent value on a low-cost one-year contract in 2021, and will now look to rightfully quadruple his salary elsewhere.
Should a scenario play out where Edmonds returns and Conner walks, Keim will search and aim to pair Edmonds with another high-level ball-carrier, as Edmonds lacks the desired size to serve as a true three-down bell-cow. Edmonds is fully capable of doing the heavy lifting in the receiving department while Gordon serves as an asset as an early-down back.
Gordon has never scored less than eight touchdowns in a single season since his sophomore season. He's fully capable of replicating Conner's touchdown production in the backfield. Gordon to Arizona remains one of my favorite metaphorical offseason moves.
The Miami Dolphins were extremely ineffective at running the football in 2021, averaging a pathetic 92.2 rushing yards per contest. Only the Atlanta Falcons (85.4) and Houston Texans (83.6) managed worse per-game averages in that category. Myles Gaskin led the team in rushing with just 612 yards and a well below-average 3.5 yards per carry. Poor offensive line play played a large role in Miami's inability to consistently run the football with success, but a lack of dynamic players in the backfield was also an issue.
Duke Johnson and Malcolm Brown are set to become unrestricted free agents and general manager Chris Grier can use their impending freedom as a legitimate excuse to retool the position. Johnson finished second on the team in rushing (330 yards) despite being a late-season addition that only made five appearances. It's a fact that accurately reflects how grim this situation is.
New head coach Mike McDaniel spent the previous five seasons in San Francisco as Kyle Shanahan's run game coordinator and offensive coordinator. McDaniel's beliefs and philosophies are rooted in a system that places a ton of high-level emphasis on successfully running the football. McDaniel will make sweeping changes to Miami's offensive personnel, and becoming a run-first team is certainly on the table. The Dolphins possess a league-leading $61 million in cap space, via Spotrac. Adding Gordon shouldn't cost more than $5-6 million annually on a short-term deal, which would immediately upgrade their rushing attack while leaving behind plenty of financial freedom to make moves elsewhere.
NEW YORK JETS
The impending offseason is all about surrounding rookie quarterback Zach Wilson with proven playmakers as the franchise signal-caller approaches a crucial sophomore season. An effective running game can often serve as a young quarterback's best friend, and the Jets will aim to run the football more efficiently in 2022 after averaging less than 100 rushing yards per contest last season. General manager Joe Douglas, head coach Robert Saleh, and offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur will make moves to improve this situation going forward.
Tevin Coleman is an unrestricted free agent and only appeared in 11 games last season. Saleh and LaFleur are big fans of Coleman, who they spent time with together in San Francisco before reuniting in New York. Coleman has only appeared in 19 of a potential 33 regular-season contests over the previous two seasons as injuries continue to unfortunately derail his once-promising career.
Michael Carter flashed plenty of promise as a rookie ball-carrier, but the Jets should pair him with a veteran runner seeing that Carter lacks the size to play as a three-down player. Available money also isn't an issue here. The Jets currently have nearly $45 million in cap space, via Spotrac. Gordon would immediately help the Jets become a more efficient offense while taking the ascending, talented Carter under his wing. Gordon spelling Carter as an early-down option while the latter serves as the third-down back would give the Jets more exciting options in their backfield.