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RB Index: What's next for Derrick Henry and Saquon Barkley? Team fits for top free agent running backs

We're less than a month away from the official NFL offseason, a time when all 32 franchises will begin the process of constructing their respective rosters for the 2024 season. Before the teams get their turn, I've decided to take my own look at the long list of running backs set to hit free agency in March. It's a group full of big-name veterans, many of whom have played for just one pro team to this point.

After perusing the pool of available players at the position, I've come up with ideal team fits for 10 notable 2024 free agent running backs.

J.K. Dobbins (on injured reserve with a torn Achilles) and Gus Edwards (the 2023 team leader in carries and rush TDs) are set to hit free agency this offseason, while Keaton Mitchell (on IR with a torn ACL) and Justice Hill remain under contract in 2024. But as I wrote back in November, I would love to see "King Henry" lining up in the backfield with Lamar Jackson in Baltimore. With Baltimore operating a downhill run game at the center of its offense, the veteran back would fit perfectly as a physical north-south rusher who’s still capable of breaking a big gain even at 30 years old. With five 1,000-yard rushing campaigns in his last six seasons, Henry’s presence would elevate the unit and make it even more of a pick-your-poison attack than it already has been in 2023 with Jackson’s improvement as a passer. This fit makes too much sense.

No Saquon, no chance. That's my honest opinion on the New York Giants' outlook in 2024. He was one of the few bright spots this season, racking up 1,242 scrimmage yards and 10 total TDs in 14 games. If the G-Men want to win, Saquon is the guy to help them do that, as we saw in his Pro Bowl season of 2022, when the Giants made the playoffs for just the second time since 2011. The running back says he wants to be "a Giant for life," but I'm not sure where the franchise stands. Will the two sides dance around a potential long-term contract again, like last offseason? I don't have time to wait around and see for this exercise. So, why not spice things up and send him to a division rival?!

The Cowboys’ cap situation isn’t ideal, but NFL teams are always doing cap gymnastics these days, so bringing Barkley to The Star isn’t out of the question. Replacing Ezekiel Elliott’s hard-nosed, downhill rushing style with Tony Pollard wasn’t the answer this season. Dallas learned the hard way that it can’t solely rely on Dak Prescott and the passing attack. This offense needs a run game to wear defenses down and keep opponents honest. Barkley is an explosive, multi-faceted threat out of the backfield. 

A few months ago, no one would have guessed the Eagles would ultimately lose five of their last six regular-season games before making an uninspiring playoff exit. The offense had its fair share of struggles on the heels of Shane Steichen leaving for Indy last offseason, but the run game remained effective in his absence, ranking sixth in attempts, eighth in rush yards and fifth in rush TDs (SEE: Brotherly Shove). Swift was a big part of this, as he spearheaded the team's ground attack with 259 carries for 1,049 yards (both easily career highs) while adding five rush TDs -- earning him his first Pro Bowl nod. Having just turned 25 this past Sunday, the former second-round pick of the Lions has plenty left in the tank and showed his playmaking ability every time out. Bringing Swift back to pair with Kenneth Gainwell (both Boston Scott and Rashaad Penny are free agents) feels like an easy decision for the Eagles in an offseason that could be full of tough ones.

After ending an offseason standoff with a one-year deal in late August, Jacobs underwhelmed -- reflecting the entire Raiders offense, which experienced a plethora of in-season changes, including the firing of head coach Josh McDaniels and benching of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. Running for 805 yards at just 3.5 per carry this season, Jacobs was far from the player who led the league with 1,653 rushing yards in 2022 -- even before missing the final month of the season due to injury. It makes sense for Las Vegas to bring him back, though -- and to be honest, I don’t really see him going anywhere else. His ability still can demand defenses to stack the box when he’s healthy, and that would go a long way to helping whoever's under center for this team next fall. 

Pollard's stock likely decreased in 2023. Yes, he eclipsed 1,000 yards in his first campaign as Dallas’ RB1, but his yards-per-carry average plummeted from 5.2 in 2022 to 4.0 this season. I don’t see Dallas bringing him back for another go-around, but I could envision Minnesota scooping up the dual-threat back. The Vikings’ run game was atrocious this season, ranking 29th in the NFL at just 91.4 yards per game. They cannot go into 2024 with Alexander Mattison and Ty Chandler spearheading the rushing attack. (Well, I suppose they could, but they shouldn’t.) Adding a guy like Pollard -- who can add some juice to both the run and pass games -- would be ideal for Kevin O’Connell’s attack. 

After a slow start to the season, Singletary has been a big part of the Texans’ success down the stretch. Logging 689 of his 898 rushing yards over the final nine games of the regular season, the fifth-year back thrived behind Houston’s offensive line and emerged as the team's RB1, taking the job at midseason from Dameon Pierce, who was sidelined with an ankle injury for three games. Singletary has provided Bobby Slowik’s offense with balance, taking some pressure off rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud with his relentless effort as a ball carrier -- illustrated best by his 493 yards after contact since Week 9, per Next Gen Stats. The former third-round pick of the Bills has earned a multi-year deal with the Texans after producing in his first year with the club.

Ekeler's production dropped off significantly in 2023, but he still offers potential suitors a versatile pass-catching weapon out of the backfield. The Chiefs need to upgrade Patrick Mahomes’ options in the passing game for 2024. And with Jerick McKinnon and Clyde Edwards-Helaire headed for free agency this offseason, Ekeler could be a legitimate third-down back for the Chiefs. With great hands and elusiveness in space, the veteran back could provide Mahomes with the kind of reliable target he needs more of.

Elliott had the worst statistical campaign of his career in his first season outside of Dallas, but I largely chalk that up to playing in a lackluster Patriots offense that never found its identity with Mac Jones and Bailey Zappe under center. Likely headed elsewhere with New England trending toward a major rebuild, the veteran could join a young Packers team on a low-end deal, with Green Bay's bruiser back, AJ Dillon, headed for free agency himself. Zeke would pair well with Aaron Jones, providing a physical element to the run game. Plus, Zeke's a guy who could carry the load if Jones can’t stay healthy.

Dillon has missed Green Bay’s last two games due to neck and thumb injuries, and prior to that, he averaged a career-low 3.4 yards per carry in 2023. Still, when Dillon's healthy, I think he can provide a team with a hard-nosed, physical running back to wear down opposing defenses late in the season. That’s why I’ve paired him with Chicago, where he could join Khalil Herbert in the backfield and produce in cold-weather games. With Justin Fields potentially playing elsewhere in 2024 -- opening the door for a rookie at quarterback -- a veteran RB duo would be tasked with carrying a lot of the offensive load.

Edwards was thrust into the lineup as the starter early in 2023, with J.K. Dobbins sustaining another season-ending injury. Edwards fits Baltimore’s downhill rushing style and has produced his career-best campaign this season. Baltimore loves running backs, so just because I already paired Derrick Henry with the Ravens, that wouldn't necessarily preclude them from bringing back Edwards, who scored 13 rushing touchdowns for the league’s No. 1 rushing attack in 2023. It would be a low-end deal for Edwards, but as we know, the fit is great.

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