5 worst NFL running back contracts

Analyst John Breitenbach identifies five NFL running backs whose play doesn't quite match their lofty contracts.

| 3 months ago
(Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

(Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

5 worst NFL running back contracts


Continuing our series on the NFL’s best and worst contracts, we turn our attention to running backs. Teams can be especially prone to overpay at this position, as memories of statistics long past can cloud judgement moving forward. Below we give the bottom five RB contracts (with rookie deals excluded) in the league right now.

[Editor’s note: All cap numbers are from Over the Cap.]

1. C.J. Spiller, New Orleans Saints

Years remaining: Three

Average remaining cap hit (per year): $4.66 million

Year he can realistically be cut: 2017 

The Saints have had little success with their running back personnel in recent seasons, and C.J. Spiller looks like another miss. A contract paying $16 million over four years signed back in 2015 is far from ground-breaking, but it makes him the 15th-highest-paid running back on a per-season basis. The $9 million guarantee also exceeds the majority of his peers.

While Spiller made an impact in the passing game last season, more should be expected of such a well-paid role-player. He managed a career-low 21.1 percent of snaps last season, and was surpassed on the depth chart by a player who had not played a snap since 2011 (Tim Hightower). Incurring $7 million of dead money makes a release this year unlikely, leaving Spiller with a season to prove himself. If he is cut a year down the line, he’ll cost $2.5 million in dead money, for just $2.35 million in savings.

2. DeMarco Murray, Tennessee Titans

Years remaining: Four

Average remaining cap hit (per year): $6.38 million

Year he can realistically be cut: 2018

A new environment could bring out the best in an obviously-talented DeMarco Murray, but he cannot be absolved of responsibility for a dreadful 2015 season. Upon his trade to the Titans, Murray renegotiated a four-year, $25.5 million deal with $12 million guaranteed. The new contract pays him the seventh-most among RBs in terms of average money per season and average guaranteed dollars per season.

That’s a hefty sum for PFF’s third-worst-graded running back from a year ago. Schematic adjustments and fatigue both contributed to the stark regression of 2014’s rushing leader, but Murray also deserves criticism. His average yardage per rush fell from 4.7 to 3.6, yards after contact per attempt from 2.5 to 2.0, and he broke 46 fewer tackles (71 to 25). His cap hits for the next three years are $12 million, $6 million, and $3 million. Needless to say, the Titans are gambling on a major bounce-back from Murray.

3. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings

Years remaining: Two

Average remaining cap hit (per year): $15 million

Year he can realistically be cut: 2017

Peterson remains an excellent runner, but his contract figures are absurd. No other back had a cap hit in 2016 higher than $9.55 million—Peterson’s is $12 million. He signed a three-year, $44 million deal with $20 million guaranteed. The figures are simply mind-boggling compared with others at his position. The Viking may be the best pure runner in the league, but his $15 million average per season is almost double McCoy’s second-place average of $8 million.

As well as the excessive cost, Peterson’s deficiencies in the passing game make him overpaid. He has earned strongly negative career grades in pass protection and as a receiver, making him ill-suited to a third down role. The other issue is ball security; he fumbled six times in 2015, taking his total to 34 in nine seasons. We wouldn’t expect his next contract to come close to the one he signed three years ago.

4. LeSean McCoy, Buffalo Bills

Years remaining: Four

Average remaining cap hit (per year): $8.51 million

Year he can realistically be cut: 2019

LeSean McCoy also falls into the category of productive, yet overpaid. The Bills did not give up much in the trade with the Eagles (Kiko Alonso), but were required to make a significant financial investment. McCoy negotiated a five-year, $40 million deal with $18.25 million guaranteed at the start of 2015. As mentioned above, it’s the second-most expensive contract on a per-year basis. McCoy’s $3.65 million guaranteed per season is also third-most. In addition, he can’t be cut for a cap saving until 2019, incurring $15.3, $7.88, and $5.25 million in dead money if released in the ensuing three years.

McCoy did not have a bad 2015 season in Buffalo, forming an effective one-two punch with Karlos Williams, but he still ended the year as only our 18th overall running back (78.9 overall grade). He carried 203 times for 895 yards and three touchdowns, breaking 34 tackles. Despite a solid overall season, McCoy will need to crack the top 10 to make his expensive contract a worthwhile investment.

5. Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints

Years remaining: Three

Average remaining cap hit (per year): $4.5 million

Year he can realistically be cut: 2018 

Two Saints make the list, with Mark Ingram coming in at No. 5. Trent Richardson is not the only back to struggle making the transition from the Crimson Tide to the NFL; the 28th overall pick in 2011 has been a disappointment thus far. Despite failing to live up to expectations, the Saints re-signed him to a four-year, $16 million deal (with $6.1 guaranteed) at the beginning of 2015. He responded with his lowest season grade since his rookie year, culminating in a 73.6 overall grade. It’s a lot of money for our 33rd-highest-graded running back. Although he graded positively on the ground and as a receiver, his nine combined hurries resulted in a 44.4 pass-protection grade.

| Analyst

John joined the PFF team in 2008, providing focused analysis on the NFL draft, team-building strategies, and positional value.

  • Pat Infante

    Adrian is highly paid but we dont pay our QB much so its OK. Plus he is a major part of the team considering our team is built on running it down your throat and playing defense.

    • shaunhan murray

      True, thats actually an interesting way to think about but, what else could u get with that money when u switch out AP for Jerrick, a betger oline? a better WR core? A better #2 saftey? The advantage of a first contract QB is something incredibly valuable and should not be taken lightly

      • Pat Infante

        The O line is set after this off season we prob have a surplus. The WRs are set with Treadwell, Diggs, a very under rated Jarius Wright, Patterson in a make it or break it year, and even Adam Theiland is a serviceable nitch player. We signed Michael Griffith and drafted Jayron Kearse so we will piece together the other safety spot. Th eteam is set to make a serious run very deep at all positions. The only thing that could screw us is if Teddy got hurt cause Shaun Hill is a season flusher… and McKinnon is another nitch player, he will have a roll but not a every down back.

        • shaunhan murray

          I dont agree with the idea that the oline is anything above bad even after the money spent, ur tackles r very very bad and u have 3 30+ year old in ur interior, and sorry if im not inspired by “underrated Jarius Wright”(who is soo underrated he isnt the number 2 option on a team that didnt have a good passing game last year) and the other meh wr’s, Griffith is 3 years too late nd Kearse is a linebacker, also every year has been Patterson’s make or break year and he has brocken every year at th this point u might as well call him pasterson(look, I tried), they r a very good team its just paying a player far and away the most at his position has drawbacks, this also makes me want to startup an article chain called “News Flash X Fans”.

          • Pat Infante

            well you just posted the worst case scenario for the Vikings… and at that they are still very good. Better than last year for sure considering another year of experience for all the very young talent on the team. If you can’t see the O line has marginally improved I cant help you but its clear it is. The schedule is prob easier than last year too NFC LEast and AFC South w/ tougher games vs those division’s opponents at home. Jarius Wright is very under rated if you watched the Vikings instead of sitting behind a keyboard and bash them you would understand that. Granted he does not get much opportunities but he makes the most of them when he does. This year his touches should increase along with Jerrick McKinnon who can be a Chester Taylor type of 3rd down machine. Going in the dome will also help the passing game that wasnt needed last year to end up as the 3 seed…. granted we will probably choke in the playoffs cause if you are the Vikings… its what you do… but at some point the luck has to change. you can only flip a quarter and have it land on tails so many times in a row.

          • shaunhan murray

            Two comments = sitting behind a keyboard all day and bashing the Vikings, good 2 know. Getting better isnt linear, the dome may help ur passing game but ur running game and defense may suffer, also u would think the team in Minnesota would play outside, it just gives that hardcore crazy football fans feel. The line has improved , sort of, its hard to project Berger being that good again and Sullivan is coming of an injury. Wright may be good with his touches but so are ALOT of players.good players command touches.

          • cka2nd

            Wright is overrated by many Vikings fans. He just has not broken out, and the opportunities have been there. He should be this era’s Hassan Jones, with his sneaky ability to go long, but he hasn’t put it together yet. And Jones didn’t play with great quarterbacks, either.

            The offensive line should be a solid run-blocking unit at left guard (Boone), center (Sullivan or Berger) and right guard (Fusco or Harris). If either Loadholt or Smith are healthy, right tackle should be solid in the running game, too. None of these guys are lights out in the passing game, though, which is another reason Bridgewater needs to be trained up in play action. And Tony Sparano will have to work his magic to revive Kalil’s career. Personally, I would have happily traded players and draft picks to Cleveland for Joe Thomas since his durability and quality outweigh his age in my eyes.

            If the defense can be a Top 10 unit with Andrew Sendejo and an over-the-hill Chad Greenway starting, it should still be as good or better this year barring a rash of injuries, with even better to come next year as Waynes, Hunter, Brothers and Alexander are integrated into the system. I figure Spielman signing Michael Griffin to a one-year deal instead of the far-better Reggie Nelson to a two-year deal was based on Spielman’s and the coaching staff’s confidence that either Anthony Harris or Antone Exum might be able to become a starter in 2017, and I think Spielman’s resisting Zimmer’s table-thumping call to draft Kearse until the seventh round supports that speculation.

            The defense and the running game should carry the Vikings into the playoffs again this year, with an assist from an at least marginally improved quarterback and offensive line.

          • shaunhan murray

            Yeah I agree im just saying I dont like the way they r focusing, a a team, on Peterson soo much, hell even there 1st round pick at wr is known for his blocking

        • Adam Fogarty

          Alex Boone and Andre Smith are coming off their worst seasons how is that an improvement, you can’t include Treadwell because you have no idea if he’s going to be good or not, Diggs is good but he’s not a number 1 go to receiver, as for Wright idk where the underrated is coming from and Patterson isn’t shit but a flash in the pan, its because of all these problems that make Peterson worth every penny he is their offense with bridgewater afraid to make mistakes he’s just the new age Alex Smith

          • Pat Infante

            We are adding Boone, A Smith, but also getting back Loadholt and Sullivan. No matter how you slice it throw those 4 guys in the mix and they are an improved unit and a much deeper unit able to sustain an injury or 2. So thats how its an improvement. Along with a change at Oline coach to Tony Sparano. Throw Megaquon in there and give Diggs a year under his belt and Teddy another under his put them in a dome (where Teddy’s stats were much much better indoors, google it) again undeniable improvement to the passing game. We can sit here and try to pick apart any team in the NFL but all in all the Vikings are a damn good team, shoudl win the north and possible a first round bye. Barring a qb injury but you can say that for almost every team. The Vikings are built to sustain any injury tho outside of that. The deppth is insane. Rick Spielman has done a hell of a job in the draft. Want a name to watch.. Danielle Hunter hes a future all pro.

          • Adam Fogarty

            First things first don’t call him megaquon makes me puke, you can’t include him as an add because you don’t know if he’s going to be good, the nfc north is not a lock with the Packers getting healthy, yes you added boone who was terrible last year and yes you get loadholt back but he hasn’t been good in years which is why Andre Smith was brought in who also hasn’t been good in years, and who’s to say that this isn’t the year that Peterson starts slowing down and once he’s gone your offense is relying on the new age Alex Smith, but hey at least your defense will be good, lol funny you say Danielle Hunter is a future pro bowler because they said the same thing years ago with Ray Edwards

          • Pat Infante

            don’t be a hater man. Megaquon is just fun to say, your right he hasnt earned it yet, but still fun to say but he has to be an upgrade from Mike Wallace. Diggs is the guy to watch tho. He can really break out this year. Loadholt has been good his entire career til he got hurt last year – proves you really don’t know/ watch the Vikings. Boone is an upgrade from fusco no doubt about it and far from “terrible” last year – stop hating. The NFC is never a lock as long as the best QB in football is in the division but we just have more talent top to bottom and enter the season defending champs – advantage us. Yes Peterson could fall off the face of the earth like L.T. did at one point father time always wins in the end. However Teddy is not Alex Smith. Sure he is the most accurate passer in the NFL according to pro football focus. But few key things to keep in mind is he really has never been asked to do much. He now has 2 years experience under his belt and graduated high school the same year as a few QB’s that were drafted this year. As a rookie with no Adran Peterson and a shitty team around him the guy somehow managed to take over a 0-4 team and go 7-5… as a rookie with no Adrian… Some guys just know how to win. The Teddy bashers are just haters that don’t want to look at teh fact teh Vikings havent asked him to do anything. From the mouth of Rick Spielman the onyly time they asked him to go out and win a game all by himself was week 8 of this past season down 7 with 2 mins left where he led a game tying td drive and a game winning fg drive. The other time was the very end of the Seahawks playoff game where he led his team down the field at the very end and set up for a chip shot game winning FG that Walsh choked and missed. But Teddy did lead the would be game winning drive with his arm. Of course in the end we choked… its what we do. Somehow I think your just a hater who wears a slice of fake cheese on his head…. facts are facts bud. They are no lock to win the Super Bowl or even division but they sure as hell have a nice shot to be really really good. Only 3 Qbs won more games last year than Teddy maybe he didnt light up the fantasy football stats sheets but all he does is win football games and he rarely does stupid shit that hurts the team. His numbers are marginally better when playing in a down and the offense will use more shotgun this year where he also excells at. I think you will have a much better idea of what Teddy is by years end.

          • Adam Fogarty

            How can I watch when loadholt isn’t even on the field lmao upgrade over Mike Wallace is questionable because nobody knows if Treadwell will be good or a flat out bust, Boone was the 38th rated guard that is terrible actually, as for more talent top to bottom that is false the Packers only have 1 weakness and that’s at inside linebacker, Vikings are weak on the offensive line which is a bigger deal seeing as the Vikings are a run first team, as for having an advantage just because you won the division last year means nothing last year is last year you think Green Bay gives a crap about you winning no they don’t, you keep talking about teddy wasn’t allowed to do this or that then how do you know he’s actually going to be able to, until he shows me something more then to me he’s nothing more than a game manager period, I’m not a hater I just don’t like when fans get ahead of themselves you talk up teddy like he is a 3 time mvp and can do this and that if given the opportunity when he hasn’t shown that he can actually because he’s never done it, and I’m not a packer fan I’m a raider fan I think our team is going to be better and better than 7-9 is usually double digit wins but I’m not up here saying that they’re a lock for the division knowing that the broncos and chiefs got significantly weaker

          • Pat Infante

            ugh Raiders fan… Now I know where your anger comes from. At least it looks like sucking is over. Long suffering Knicks fan here I know the pain. However, your picking a fight with the wrong team. The Vikings are going to be a damn good team this. The coach and GM have done a tremendous job from where the team is now compared to when Zimmer took over. Zimmer if anything else has had such a positive effect on this franchise and I think our luck is gonna change.

          • Adam Fogarty

            I’m not saying the Vikings are gonna suck I’m saying 2 things, 1 the division title is far from guaranteed especially with the Packers roster stacked and led by the best quarterback in the league, 2 you can’t say that teddy can do this and that if he’s never done it I’m saying from everything I’ve seen from him is he’s nothing more than a game manager

          • Pat Infante

            the vikings roster is faaaaaaar better than the packers. outside of QB the Vikings can absorb any injury and not miss a beat. no one said it was a like but the Vikings are the favorite.

          • Adam Fogarty

            Quarterback is the most important position advantage Packers, but let’s break it down, QB Packers have a huge margin, RB I’ll give to Minnesota, WR Packers easy, tight end I say Packers I’d rather have Richard Rodgers and Jared cook than undependible Kyle Rudolph, offensive line we got bahktiari, Lang, Linsley, Sitton and Bulaga vs Kalil, Boone, Sullivan, Fusco and Loadholt advantage Packers, defensive line Floyd, Joseph, Griffen, and Hunter vs Pennel, Daniels, and jones slight advantage to vikings, linebacking corps peppers, Matthews, Ryan and Barrington vs Barr, Kendricks, and Greenway advantage even, secondary Smith, griffin, Rhodes, munnerlyn, and Newman vs Burnett, Clinton-dix, shields, Randall, and Rollins advantage Packers so tell me again how the Vikings have a better roster

          • Pat Infante

            i dont know what to tell you man just google it. Im not the only one that would tell you the Vikings are much better and deeper. The DL, LB, Secondary isnt even close. Take the cheese off your head. Dont listen to me im a Vikings fan. Just listen to everyone else. I think it would be hard to find knowledgeable people to agree with you that the Vikings and Packers D are anywhere close to each other in overall depth and talent. The thing is our best players are so young and are hardly scratching the service of the potential they have. To finish 5th last year with a bunch of kids was very good. But again please don’t take it from me, im clearly bias, take it from the rest of the football world that agrees with me. Barr and Harrison Smith are 2 of the best defenders in the NFC let alone the NFL.

          • Adam Fogarty

            You know that Morgan Burnett and Ha Ha Clinton-dix were both top 10 safeties last year that’s a fact so they got you there since Michael griffin is a bum, as for corners the trio of shields, Randall and Rollins were better than Newman, munnerlyn and Rhodes injury prone ass, the only weakness the Packers have is nose tackle and inside linebacker period everyone else on that defense are studs, the Vikings probably have more depth great thumbs up to you but don’t ever say that the Vikings have a far and away better team that’s just bs, Packers have a way better offense and the defense is only getting better you forget that the Packers secondary is young too and they outplayed the Vikings secondary, don’t tell me shit about having cheese on my head raider nation through thick and thin silver and black forever, at least we win super bowls

          • Pat Infante

            Division on the line at home week 17 if your better you win that game. the Packers did not. even when the Vikings did everything they could to choke it up… cause thats what we do

          • Adam Fogarty

            The Packers offense was also not the same without jordy nelson, and the injuries to the offensive line, as long as nelson stays healthy they’re have a top 5 offense again and the defense actually carried the team last year

          • Pat Infante

            no one never said the Packers werent a good team. In fact the 2 best teams in the NFC MAY be in the North when all said and done. I just think the Vikings are better. We got enough secondary to match up well with the Packers.

          • Pat Infante
  • shaunhan murray

    I cannot wait for “5 worst contracts in the NFL”and to see that awesome Coby Fleener contract oh man. The Saints GM seems 2 think his team won the superbowl last year and is building accordingly. Trading up in the draft ,overpaying for needs, overpaying for luxuries, and man do they love their RB’s.

    • crosseyedlemon

      Yeah, you have to wonder why a team with Drew Brees would feel they need to invest 16mill on two RBs when there is only one ball in play.

      • shaunhan murray

        Drew Brees does like to throw to rb’s, but to spend so little on wr’s and so much on rb’s is weird

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  • crosseyedlemon

    “Peterson’s deficiencies in the passing game make him overpaid.” Duh! Hall of Famer Earl Campbell couldn’t catch a pass to save his life but was he overpaid too? I understand Adrian isn’t much of a punter so maybe you should subtract points for that too.

    • shaunhan murray

      Well its 2016 not 1978. To me its not a great sign when ur best offensive player has to leave the field in 2 minute drills or in other words the most crucial points of a season.

      • crosseyedlemon

        Apparently Peterson would have to establish a new record for both rushing and receiving each week, while not making any mistakes, to justify his worth. I’m pretty sure there are about 31 other coaches in the league that would love to have him on their roster.

        • shaunhan murray

          At 12 mill? I’d pass, especially if I already had a good rb, he is great but he fumbles alot, cannot work in shotgun or in strech runs, has to leave the field in 2min drills, and has off field baggage.

          • crosseyedlemon

            Finally we get to the truth…it’s the non football issues that have some people slagging on Peterson, but nothing a player does off the field has any relevance to what he is worth on the field.

          • shaunhan murray

            That has little to nothing to do with it, but his ability to stay on the field affects his value to his team but doesn’t affect the 12 mill they still paid him

      • cka2nd

        Great all-around backs were not exactly unknown in the 60’s and 70’s, as Vikings fans who remember Bill Brown and Chuck Foreman can tell you. Nonetheless, an offense can still be effective with a one-dimensional runner if its other parts are functioning properly. No one can say that the wide receivers, offensive line or QB functioned all that well in the passing game for the Vikings last year. About the only unit on the offense that did look good in both the running and passing games was the tight ends, especially with Rudolph becoming a legitimate downfield target during the second half of the season. Peterson may be overpaid, but he is still the best weapon the Vikes have.

    • Byron

      Was Earl Campbell making 15 mil a season, or the era’s equivalent? Was he being paid twice as much as the next, overpaid, guy? Punting, really? What a poor statement.

  • HTTRer

    I really hate when PFF rips Murrey about his regression. If a man is good in a system, why hate on him for being signed by the wrong team at the wrong time.

  • Names Unimportant

    I’m mildly surprised to find that Denver’s C.J. Anderson is not on the list, given his new contract (courtesy a Miami offer that Denver matched). Looking back at Anderson’s injury history and lack of production (especially in the first 8 weeks each of the last two seasons), his contract seems like crazy money. At least McCoy and Peterson are actually good, ya know?

    • Byron

      CJ’s been injured often, and shared carries with Hillman. But he’s averaged a TD per start (including 8 in 7 games his breakout year), and 4.8 ypc career to this point. If he stays healthy, he’s and impact player and worth every penny.

  • Nick Perry

    Peterson’s next contract? From who???