The 2017 NFL Draft ushered in a renewed era of the running back. While they didn’t select a running back in the draft, this year’s running back class may have a big influence on the long term starter in the Ravens backfield.
It’s not going to be a running back drafted in 2017 that becomes a key player on the Ravens in the near future. Instead, it is going to be a player that was pushed out of their current home by a rookie. By adding a talented young running back to their roster, team’s may be looking to shed some salary by letting go of a veteran option. If they choose not to cut a running back, many of the longer tenured running backs have player options at the end of the 2017 season if a rookie were to take the starting job.
Let’s start with the latter, the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings look to have gotten a steal in the second round with the selection of Dalvin Cook. Cook is a prospect who was widely viewed as a first round talent, but slid to round two as a result of off the field concerns. With the loss of Adrian Peterson, the Vikings need a starting running back, and drafting Cook should fill that hole. Here’s the catch, the Vikings also signed Latavius Murray this offseason to a deal that will have a nearly $3 million cap hit in 2017. If Cook emerges as the better option than Murray, I seriously doubt the Vikings will want to pay that amount to a player who won’t be a three-down back. Murray also has a potential opt-out after this season, which also could be utilized if Cook outplays Murray.
A similar situation is true in Cincinnati, New Orleans and Jacksonville. Both teams drafted running backs with early round picks, but both have running backs on the roster receiving big money already. The Bengals drafted Joe Mixon, who could quickly emerge as the Bengals starter, alienating Jeremy Hill and Giovanni Bernard. Leonard Fournette will be the starter in Jacksonville, leaving T.J. Yeldon and Chris Ivory without much work. Alvin Kamara was drafted by New Orleans, which could push Mark Ingram out of a starting job.
I’m not saying all of these players will be cut, but I am saying there is a chance at least a couple of them are. Did anyone expect the Ravens would cut Justin Forsett at this time last year?
If they aren’t cut as cap casualties, a number of the veteran backs have opt out clauses after the 2017 season. In fact, Yeldon is the only listed back who is guaranteed to not be available after the 2017 season. Ivory will have a near $6 million cap hit and has an opt out after this season. Bernard has a 2017 cap hit of just under $3.7 million, and also has an opt out clause after this season. Hill is an unrestricted free agent after 2017. Ingram has an opt out clause after 2017, and has cap hit of over $5 million this season.
If even one of Murray, Bernard, Hill, Ingram, or Ivory leave their current home, the Ravens would have to be interested.
The Ravens running game finished 28th in rushing in the NFL last season, and the signing of Danny Woodhead, who is more of a receiving back, won’t change the rushing output in a big way. Kenneth Dixon emerged last year as the possible future of the Ravens backfield, but faces a four game PED suspension to start the 2017 season. This will leave Terrance West to do the bulk of the running at the start of next season. If Dixon is unable to provide an impact when he comes back, then the Ravens will definitely be in the market for a new option at the position. If the Ravens land one of the mentioned running backs either prior to this season or in the coming offseason, it would provide an upgrade to the Ravens backfield as it stands now.
I’m not advocating jumping off the Dixon bandwagon just yet, I’m still fully on board with the Louisiana Tech product. But with the talent at running back that was just infused into the NFL as a result of the 2017 NFL Draft, some pretty well known names could be changing teams. If that happens, the Ravens, who have shown that they are ready to win now, will undoubtedly be in the mix.