In terms of yearly earnings (apy), here are the ten highest paid running backs in football:
1. Adrian Peterson -- 7 years, 96 million. 36 million guaranteed (13.7apy).
2. Darren McFadden -- 6 years, 60 million. 26 million guaranteed (10apy).
3. Chris Johnson -- 6 years, 55 million. 30 million guaranteed (9.17apy).
4. DeAngelo Williams -- 5 years, 43 million. 21 million guaranteed (8.6apy).
5. Steven Jackson -- 6 years, 44.8 million. 20.5 million guaranteed (7.47apy).
6. Frank Gore -- 4 years, 25.9 million. 13.5 million guaranteed (6.48apy).
7. Maurice Jones-Drew -- 5 years, 31 million. 17.5 million guaranteed (6.2apy).
8. Michael Turner -- 6 years, 34.5 million. 15 million guaranteed. (5.75apy).
9. C.J. Spiller -- 5 years, 25 million. 20.8 million guaranteed (5apy).
10. Jamaal Charles -- 6 years, 28 million. 10 million guaranteed (4.67apy).
Four of the top six backs on this list signed their contracts in 2011. Johnson and Williams' deals will be 2012 market setters because at least four free agent running backs are coming off better seasons than them. Williams' contract, in particular, was a clear overpayment and will make the franchise tag a more appealing means of retaining players at a position that has been devalued by susceptibility to injury, replaceability, and diminished reliance on featured rushers.
Let's have a look:
Running Backs Expected to be Franchise Tagged
1. Ray Rice, Ravens
Overview: The most valuable offensive player on Baltimore's roster, Rice has said publicly that he's willing to play the 2012 season under the franchise tag should the sides fail to strike a long-term agreement. Rice will not be hitting the free agent market.
2. Matt Forte, Bears
Overview: Forte is in a similar position to Rice. The Bears do not have a capable replacement, and it's believed Forte (with good reason) is pursuing a contract worth in excess of DeAngelo Williams' five-year, $43 million pact. Forte will likely be tagged before the Combine.
Running Back Free Agents
1. Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks
Scouting Report: A disappointment in Buffalo as the former 12th pick in the draft, Lynch was shipped to Seattle in October of 2010 for a 2011 fourth-round choice and conditional 2012 pick. (The 2011 pick turned out to be Bills LT Chris Hairston, and the conditional selection will be a fifth-rounder this April.) Lynch managed 3,479 yards and 24 touchdowns on 898 carries (3.87 YPC) in his first 61 games. Realizing 2011 was his contract year, Lynch exploded for 1,063 yards and 11 touchdowns on 239 carries (4.45 YPC) in the Seahawks' last 11 games. Lynch is a tackle-breaking power back at 5-foot-11, 215, though he's never developed into much of an asset in the pass game. Lynch isn't yet 26 years old, but already has 1,137 career carries.
Availability: Lynch's sudden, dramatic leap in contract-year production sends up an obvious buyer-beware red flag. His conditioning has consistently been an issue, particularly during offseasons, and the franchise tag would make for an ideal compromise between player and team. The Seahawks could keep Lynch hungry in another "walk year", and he'd receive a guaranteed salary of roughly $8 million. Don't expect Lynch to hit the market, but he very well may in 2013.
Prediction: Seahawks on the franchise tag.
2. Michael Bush, Raiders
Scouting Report: Bush bucks the trend of one-trick pony power backs with smooth receiving skills and bone-crushing pass-blocking ability. He's a three-down player and has fumbled just once among his last 456 carries. While Bush pushes piles and consistently falls forward, the 245-pounder lacks homerun-hitting speed and is more reliant on effective run blocking than shiftier backs with wheels to exploit downfield running lanes. Another potential concern is Bush's slow finish to the 2011 season. Whereas he averaged 4.44 YPC on his first 134 carries, Bush slipped to 3.13 YPC on his final 122 attempts. Bush's feet moved noticeably more slowly down the stretch, and he appeared on late-season injury reports with a shoulder ailment.
Availability: The Raiders reportedly hope to sign free agent SS Tyvon Branch long term, and have at least considered tagging Bush. Bush turns 28 this June, and Oakland needs insurance for would-be feature back Darren McFadden, who missed nine games in 2011 and is recovering from a Lisfranc foot injury. But would GM Reggie McKenzie commit upwards of $14 million to the running back position alone? The RB tag will cost nearly $8 million. McFadden's 2012 salary is $5.65 million. We suspect the Raiders will ultimately decide against franchising Bush, and instead sign a relatively affordable free agent to compete with Taiwan Jones behind McFadden.
Prediction: Bengals on a four-year, $20 million contract.
3. Peyton Hillis, Browns
Scouting Report: A slightly souped-up version of Bush, Hillis goes 6-foot-2, 250 and displays impressive versatility for a power runner. Hillis has 83 catches over the past two seasons, and is the rare back with size to counter defensive ends and 3-4 linebackers in pass protection. It's fair to argue that Hillis' monster 2010 season (270/1,177/4.4/11) may be indicative of a one-year wonder, however. Dating back to the stretch run of that year, Hillis has managed just 635 yards and three touchdowns on 179 carries (3.55 YPC) in his last 12 games. During that span, he's battled ribs, knee, elbow, hip, and recurring hamstring injuries. Hillis was rumored to let a contract issue affect his 2011 performance. He has nine fumbles in two years.
Availability: The Browns won't tag Hillis, but the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported in late January that the team has renewed interest in re-signing him. While speculation has linked the Redskins to Hillis because of his background with Mike Shanahan, keep in mind that Shanahan drafted Hillis to play fullback, and he was almost strictly a lead blocker in Denver, carrying the football only in short-yardage situations. Staying in Cleveland still makes the most sense for Hillis because the Browns do view him as a tailback, and Montario Hardesty has proven both ineffective and injury prone. A one-year, "prove-it" contract would work well for both parties. Hillis is still only 26, so he could reenter the market in 2012 after a healthy, productive season.
Prediction: Browns on a one-year, $5 million contract.