The Vikings Free Agency Options at RB
Vikings Territory previously examined the quarterback position, and now it’s time to look at running back — namely, the Vikings’ free-agency options at RB, from the expensive superstars to the cheap journeymen. What can Minnesota do in the position of free agency?
The Vikings Free Agency Options at RB
Alexander Mattison disappointed after finally getting his chance to be the RB1 in Minnesota. He was usurped by Ty Chandler by the end of the season, while Chandler provided more spark to the Vikings’ offense. Improvement in the run game will once again be a point of emphasis for the Vikings this offseason. There’s no money to be saved by cutting ties with Mattison, and Chandler did enough to warrant remaining in the mix. Both should remain on the roster, but who will join them?
Kene Nwangwu is almost exclusively a kick returner, a skill virtually being phased out of the game with recent rule changes. Myles Gaskin and DeWayne McBride will be around for training camp. If neither were trusted with a single carry in a season when the Vikings’ run game had all sorts of problems, I don’t envision that changing in 2024.
Cam Akers could be brought back. He finally got the team’s first rushing touchdown in Week 8 at Lambeau Field after joining Minnesota via a trade. There was some spark in a small sample size from Akers before a second Achilles tear of his career abruptly ended his season.
With a reluctance to give running backs big contracts across the league, there are a lot of FA options available to the Vikings. From big-name marquee signings to good, solid starters and players who would fit in a rotation, all the options are on the table for Minnesota, depending on what they want to do. Of course, ignoring the position in free agency and drafting another RB is also an option, as is continuing with the current group — though that would surely be a mistake.
The Marquee Signings
One of the two big names who are still young enough to be a long-term centerpiece for the offense they move to.
An explosive playmaker rushing the ball and catching passes, Saquon Barkley’s career hasn’t been as great as it could have been due to a succession of injuries. He will command a contract in excess of $10 million a year, which I expect to be too steep for Minnesota to consider. Unless the Vikings move on from Kirk Cousins and plan to draft a rookie QB to start, the Vikings need to consider someone like Barkley to help a rookie out by being a player the offense can lean heavily on.
The second big name is Josh Jacobs, who will command a contract similar to Barkley. The 2022 rushing title winner suffered a significant drop in form under Josh Daniels before finding his game again after Antonio Pierce replaced Daniels as the Raiders head coach. The former First-Team All-Pro should be well sought after, and much like Barkley, signing Jacobs would be a bold move that would signal a change in focus on the offense.
At 30 years old, Derrick Henry is a prime example of the league shying away from aging bellcow backs. With five 1000-yard seasons in the last six, including a 2000-yard season and falling just short of 1000 yards in a season, he only played eight games. Henry should still be a hot commodity. He could still command a hefty contract of up to $10 million, depending on how much interest he generates across the league.
Henry carried the weight of the offense’s hopes on his shoulders in Tennessee. A move to Minnesota would land him in the middle of an explosive passing attack, with his presence making the Vikings even more difficult to defend. If Minnesota does want to spend for one of the big names, Henry on a two-year contract would be my choice. Then, look at the draft next year for a more long-term solution.
The Solid Starters
After four seasons in Buffalo, Devin Singletary moved to Houston on a 1-year deal worth £2.75 million plus incentives. Singletary enjoyed career highs in rushing attempts (216) and rushing yards (898). If the Vikings want to add another back in a similar price range to Mattison, then Singletary is a solid option. He has never broken 1000 rushing yards in a season, but you can expect him to be around the 800 mark. He isn’t the explosive playmaker like Barkley or Jacobs, but he would be a reliable and affordable option to strengthen the Vikings’ rushing attack.
A good backup who made the occasional start over the first three seasons of his career, Zack Moss got the chance to start the season in place of the injured Jonathan Taylor and performed well. Taylor would always regain his spot as one of the league’s most talented backs. Did Moss do enough to convince a team to gamble on him taking an extended role on their team? Moss rushed for 794 yards at a more than respectable 4.3 yards per carry. Scoring five rushing touchdowns and two receiving touchdowns, he is a player worth a gamble on as a possible RB1.
After three seasons in a crowded running back room in Detroit, D’Andre Swift got a move to Philadelphia to be the Eagles lead back. He had a good, if unspectacular, season, topping 1000 rushing yards for the first time in his career at 4.6 yards per carry, along with five touchdowns. Swift is the most proven in this group of players, which will also make him the most expensive – though cheaper than the players on the marquee signings group.
Gus Edwards never starts a season as the Baltimore Ravens RB1, but the Ravens always seem to get injuries at the position and turn to him. Edwards has had 26 starts in five seasons, with a career-high nine starts in 2023. Last season also produced career highs in rushing yards (810), rushing touchdowns (13), receiving yards (180), and total first downs (54). The “Gus Bus” has earned the chance to lead a team’s rushing attack. He would give the Vikings something different with his large frame and power running.
Players Trending Down
A second-round pick in 2020, there has never been any doubt in J.K. Dobbins’s talent. However, after only playing one game in 2023 due to injury, his tally of games played went down to nine in the last three seasons. No amount of talent matters if you can’t get a guy on the field. Someone will take a flier on a cheap one-year deal with Dobbins. Depending on the price, it could be worth a gamble; if he can stay healthy, you have a very talented player.
Once one of the league’s best all-around backs, Austin Ekeler appeared to have lost some of his speed in 2023, which resulted in a down season. Turning 29 in May, you would expect Ekeler’s career only to trend one way from here. However, his natural pass-catching ability still makes him one of the best receiving backs in the game. That alone should see him generate plenty of interest.
Tony Pollard got the chance to step out as the Cowboys’ RB1, and big things were expected. It didn’t go as badly as it went for Mattison and the Vikings, with Pollard just passing the 1000-yard mark and scoring six rushing touchdowns. However, his 4 yards per carry were comfortably a career-low, and he only passed 100 rushing yards in one game. Pollard is a good running back, but the chance to prove himself as one of the league’s best didn’t materialize. Like Ekeler, he will still demand a good contract, which lowers his value for money.
Maybe the Vikings make a big splash with one of those marquee signings, but I’d be very surprised. The solid starters group is where the Vikings should be shopping, and Moss and Edwards are the two who get my nod of approval.
Other names available if the Vikings fail to land any of those above include Kareem Hunt, A.J. Dillon, Ezekiel Elliott, Cordarelle Patterson, and Clyde Edwards-Helaire.
Free agency begins on March 13. We will start to get answers for the Vikings’ plans from then.