There are a handful of really good running backs hitting free agency this year, and with the potential that Melvin Gordon leaves, the Chargers should at least consider replacing him. The Chargers currently hold Austin Ekeler as a restricted free agent and Justin Jackson has shown flashes as a compliment, but bringing in a player with a bit more weight could have its benefits. The Chargers will need to eventually lock up Ekeler to a long-term deal, so they shouldn’t break the bank in free agency, but there are players who can be productive and not command a high salary. Below I will give a few fits of players I would be interested in signing.
As fun as it would be to sign a big name like Derrick Henry, the running back position is one that hasn’t been forgiving to teams who have paid top dollar to players not named Ezekiel Elliot. Of the top paid running backs, the only one who has managed to be worth his contract is Zeke. Henry will demand and get a contract of at least $12M/yr. The position takes more injuries than any other group, which is why teams have gone to a running back by committee approach. To dd Gurley, David Johnson, Devonta Freeman and Jerrick McKinnon have all dealt with injuries and Le’Veon Bell is being shopped around for his high cap number after a down year. This makes me cringe at signing Henry, Gordon or Kenyan Drake who all may demand contracts of $8M/year and more for their play. Of those running backs though, Drake is one too watch as he was the hottest back who increased his stock quite a bit at the end of the year.Before we dive in, here is a list of notable free agents.
- Melvin Gordon
- Derrick Henry
- Matt Brieda
- Kenyan Drake
- Isaiah Crowell
- Lamar Miller
- Payton Barber
- Gus Edwards
- Jordon Howard
- Carlos Hyde
- CJ Anderson
- Damian Williams
The player that fits best on this list to me is Jordon Howard. A player who has been mostly available in his short career, Howard missed 6 games this season, but he was highly productive splitting time with Miles Sanders this year. He had 119 carries for 525 yards and averaged 4.4 ypc with 6 touchdowns. Just 25 years old, Howard was a bell cow in Chicago with over 250 carries in each of his first 3 years. Howard has great vision and gets skinny between the tackles, especially with the zone run scheme the Eagles ran. He has the size and pad level you want in a goal-line back. When Melvin Gordon held out last season, the Chargers really struggled in the redzone, and Howard would make a great replacement at a fraction of the price. The Chargers could swipe him up in a 1-year prove it deal, or lock him up as a between the tackles compliment to Ekeler.
The Chargers haven’t had a productive, lightning bolt fast player at the running back position since Ladanian Tomlinson ran a mid 4.4 Forty-yard Dash. Sure, Austin Ekeler may be fast, but not Matt Brieda fast. Brieda wouldn’t necessarily bring the power that I believe the Chargers are going to miss, but he does give the team another dynamic weapon. He was a valuable piece for the 49ers and their success last year, which culminated in a super bowl run. He is averaging over 5.0 ypc in his first 2 years and lead the league for a good portion of the year in yards in 2018. He has dealt with injuries, but when he’s on the field, he’s ready to break one at a moments notice. He can also catch passes out of the backfield. Brieda is under-rated. may not demand the biggest paycheck, and could be a coupon find for coupon Tom.
Carlos Hyde finally hit 1000 yards rushing in his career! The former 49er, Brown and now Texan has been waiting for a year like the one he just had. He isn’t going to break burn anyone, but he will get the short yards when called upon. He has the vision between the tackles and has the size to lower his pads to pick up those hard-fought yards, and that is the type of player the chargers should be looking for. The biggest issue with Hyde has been his availability. He is getting older, so age isn’t on his side either, but the veteran can be a reliable piece to the right team. He was given a golden opportunity by the Texans who didn’t have a back to run the ball after Lamar Miller had a season ending injury. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him return to the Texans who I see as the best fit for his services.
I still can’t find out why Jay Ajayi wasn’t able to get a contract last year. Sure, he tore his ACL the year before, and he has dealt with other injuries involving his lower body, but he was a key contributor to the Eagles Super Bowl. He was a really fun player to watch in Miami. Having been out for 2 seasons, this could be the year he makes a return, and he’s the big back who plays aggressive and fights hard for yardage. He’s still pretty young and maybe the time off put some gas back in the tank. He could be very productive in short yardage situations.
Ideal Scenario: Chargers sign Jordon Howard to a 2/yr – $9M contract ($4.5M/yr) with $5M guaranteed. He replaces Melvin Gordon who leaves in free agency.