NFL Free Agents — RBs
We're just 20 days from the NFL draft and about a month into NFL Free Agency, and some marquee names remain available. It's time to take a look at the players out there and their prospects. Here's a look at some running backs still looking for work.
Status: Released by the Minnesota Vikings
Club Visits: Seattle Seahawks, Oakland Raiders, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints
About: There was a time not so long ago when seeing Peterson as a free agent would have been all anyone could talk about. And while there's still clearly interest in the 32-year-old running back, it's hard to gauge his value. This is due in part to his age and the fact he hasn't really played well or much at all two of the past three seasons. And it's also due in part to the baggage he brings — some people still aren't fans after he missed most of the 2014 season on the Commissioner's Exempt List after allegations of Child Abuse. There's also questions about what kind of salary he might demand. But, really, I think this is about production and fit. The landscape for running backs in the NFL has changed somewhat, as have typical offenses. Most teams don't choose to rely on a lead back that is getting 25-30 carries a game, much less a 32-year-old one. Yet, historically, Peterson has been the kind of back that needs a heavy workload to thrive. Then there's the recent history. In 2014, Peterson played just one game rushing for 75 yards before being suspended. But in 2015, when he returned, Peterson was incredible as the Vikings rode him into the playoffs and a division title. Peterson ran for 1,485 yards and 11 touchdowns. But in the playoffs against the Seahawks, he had 23 carries for just 45 yards and some fumble issues. Then, in three games played around a pair of injuries last season, Peterson rushed for just 72 yards on 37 carries. That would have been a poor single game output, but that was all the Vikings got for their investment last season. Peterson says he's healthy, and teams looking at him have to be eyeing those 2015 numbers and wondering if he still has it left. Given his career track record, it's hard to bet against him having something left in the tank to push a team into contention.
Where Does He Land: I think Peterson will be on an NFL roster when the season begins, the question is which one. The Patriots and Seahawks are out, and the Raiders have their eye on a different prize. The Saints could be a fit, but I still think Peterson's 2017 team hasn't yet emerged.
Status: Released by the Kansas City Chiefs
Club Visits: Seattle Seahawks
About: Charles is another name on this list that, three years ago, teams would have salivated over. But the past two seasons have been rough as Charles has suffered season-ending knee injuries in back-to-back seasons, and has lost three seasons to knee injuries in his nine year playing career. But when he's been on, he's been incredible. After losing most of the 2011 season to a knee injury Charles posted three straight seasons with more than 200 carries. But even those campaigns saw diminishing returns, as his carries dropped from 285 in 2012 to 206 in 2014, and his yardage dropped from 1,509 in 2012 to 1,033 in 2014. Still, for those three years he was a premier back and a dangerous offensive threat. But in 2015, after five games, Charles was lost for the season. The Chiefs made the playoffs without him and, to start 2016, they nursed him back slowly. Charles didn't appear at the start of the season and ended up appearing in just three games, carrying the ball 12 times for 40 yards and a touchdown before being lost to injury again. For the Chiefs, that was enough to part ways with Charles. And he hasn't gotten many looks so far. The Seahawks brought him in after Eddie Lacy signed and, naturally, he left without a deal. But he could still have something left as a complimentary piece for a contending team. He's a dangerous runner and receiver, and if he can recover even part of his level of performance from 2012-2014, he could be a difference-maker on offense.
Where Does He Land: I believe Charles will be on an NFL roster when the season begins. While the Raiders are looking more like a long-shot as they're eyeing someone else, and Charles' age is a concern, I think he will find a team. My wild card in this mix is the Denver Broncos, who need the depth at running back and always admired him when he faced them twice as season for the Chiefs.
Status: Retired following the 2015 season
Club Visits: Oakland Raiders
About: Lynch surprisingly decided to call it a career after the 2015 season. Most thought he could still be a vital contributor, but he seemed content to hang it up. He seemed haunted by the second down call in the Super Bowl against the Patriots and was dogged by injuries in his last full season. And with Thomas Rawls purportedly posing a serious threat to his status as the alpha dog in the Seahawks' backfield, he chose to walk away. But rumors persisted last season he would, eventually, return. And that has heated to a boil during this off-season, with the Seahawks even granting Lynch permission to meet with his hometown Raiders. And you can see why teams care. From 2011 to 2014, Lynch rolled up an incredible four-season stretch for the Seahawks as they became one of the fiercest teams in the NFC. During that four year span Lynch averaged at least 1,200 yards and 11 touchdowns. That is incredible production. But injuries and poor line play limited his production in 2015, as he ran for just 417 yards and three touchdowns in seven games. Meanwhile, Rawls tore it up down the stretch. So Lynch walked away. But he still has the itch and the Raiders seem like an ideal fit.
Does He Play in 2017: It seems almost certain at this point Lynch will return and that the Seahawks — who still hold his rights — will let him go to the Raiders. While the Raiders seem to be a running back by committee team, perhaps not Lynch's preferred style, he could be a valuable asset. Lynch will be 31 before the season begins, but the Raiders were close to the top of the heap in the AFC last season and a Lynch that resembles his 2011-2014 form could be enough to put them over-the-top.