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2023 NFL offseason: Projecting performances of 12 running backs who changed teams

NOTE: Acquisitions are split into groups, and players within those groups are arranged based on reported average per year on contracts, per Over The Cap. Ages listed are as of Sept. 7, 2023, when the next NFL season is set to kick off.

The running back market continues to wither on the vine.

Three top RBs got franchise tagged this offseason in Josh Jacobs, Saquon Barkley and Tony Pollard, signaling clubs are OK with paying running backs a shade over $10 million for one year of work, but long-term marriages might not be in the works.

The rest of the RB market found rough sledding in free agency, with few big-time deals. The biggest fish remaining in the pond was Miles Sanders, who inked a deal worth $6.35 million annually with $13 million fully guaranteed. Those figures are less than James Connor signed with the Cardinals last offseason ($7 million per; $13.5 million guaranteed).

Outside of the top tier -- the Christian McCaffrey/Alvin Kamara dual-threats who make at least $15 million annually -- it's been a rough go for ball-carriers. A plethora of options in free agency and a projected deep RB draft class didn't help matters for those seeking big-money deals. Aaron Jones taking a pay cut to stay in Green Bay before free agency foreshadowed an impending soft market.

Despite few multi-year deals coming down the pike, once the season starts, production will be all most consider. So let's take a gander at a dozen RBs who changed teams in 2023 and how their production might fare compared to 2022.

Miles Sanders
Year 5 · Age: 26

Average salary: $6.35 million

With Eagles in 2022: 17 games | 259 att | 1,269 rush yds | 4.9 ypc | 11 rush TDs | 20 rec | 78 rec yds | 0 rec TDs | 2 fumbles lost

2023 numbers will be: WORSE

The good news is Sanders cashed in better on the open market than the rest of his RB brethren. He also remains in an offense that wants to run the ball. Given Frank Reich's enthusiastic comments in his introductory presser establishing a physical ground attack, we can presume Sanders will have a healthy workload. The rest of the situation, however, is a downgrade. The Panthers' offensive line is fine, but it's not the league-leading unit he ran behind in Philly. He'll play alongside a rookie quarterback to be drafted No. 1 overall instead of MVP candidate Jalen Hurts. And the lack of dangerous offensive weapons will keep more focus on Sanders than he had to deal with in Philadelphia. Sanders played a full season in 2022, putting up career numbers. Even if he can stay healthy again, I don't see him reaching those same heights in Carolina. 

David Montgomery
Year 5 · Age: 26

Average salary: $6 million

With Bears in 2022: 16 games | 201 att | 801 rush yds | 4.0 ypc | 5 rush TDs | 34 rec | 316 rec yds | 1 rec TD | 2 fumbles lost

2023 numbers will be: BETTER

Montgomery replaces Jamaal Williams in Detroit's backfield and should take on the lead role. It's clear at this point that the Lions trust D'Andre Swift as a complement with explosive capability rather than a player they want to hand it off to 15 times a game. Montgomery brings a slashing runner to the Lions' offense. He might not have breakaway speed but can hit the hole and turn three yards into six. With an exponentially better offensive line than he galloped behind in Chicago, Montgomery has the chance to get back to the 1,000-yard plateau. He might not match the 17 TDs Williams put up in Detroit a year ago, but he can offer more playmaking between the 20s. In addition, Montgomery offers more by way of the passing game and should see that phase of his game increase. 

Average salary: $4 million

With Lions in 2022: 17 games | 262 att | 1,066 rush yds | 4.1 ypc | 17 rush TDs | 12 rec | 73 rec yds | 0 rec TDs | 2 fumbles lost

2023 numbers will be: WORSE

Williams is undoubtedly an upgrade over Mark Ingram for New Orleans. But I don't see the 28-year-old repeating his career year from 2022. His output was 465 yards more than his previous high, and the league-leading 17 TDs blasted past his previous high of four. Williams has proven throughout his career he doesn't need 20 touches to be effective, but he's now playing sidecar to dynamic playmaker Alvin Kamara. The duo projects to split carries this season, but the wild card here is Kamara's legal situation, which should unfold in July. If Kamara ends up missing any time in 2023, Williams should see increased production. One interesting aspect of the Williams signing will be in goal-line situations. The RB scored 13 of his 17 TDs in 2022 from inside the 3-yard line, a spot the Saints have used quarterback Taysom Hill. That duo could be deadly in that area but will also vulture each other's scores. 

Samaje Perine
Year 7 · Age: 27

Average salary: $3.75 million

With Bengals in 2022: 16 games | 95 att | 394 rush yds | 4.1 ypc | 2 rush TDs | 38 rec | 287 rec yds | 4 rec TDs | 0 fumbles lost

2023 numbers will be: BETTER

Love the signing for Denver. Sean Payton famously loves using multiple backs, so Perine profiles as an ideal complement to Javonte Williams. Over the last three seasons in Cincinnati, the 27-year-old averaged 4.4 yards per carry in limited touches as a backup to Joe Mixon. He also proved when needed that he could be a volume runner (SEE: 21 totes for 106 yards, 5.1 ypc in Week 13's win over K.C.). Perine is a tough runner who can pop through the hole and is no slouch in the passing game. If Williams' injury isn't fully healed to open the season or he's slowed from his dynamic ability off the ACL tear, Perine can keep the chains moving in Payton's offense. Denver also added Tony Jones Jr., who spent two seasons with Payton in New Orleans, as further insurance. 

Devin Singletary
Year 5 · Age: 26

Average salary: $2.75 million

With Bills in 2022: 16 games | 177 att | 819 rush yds | 4.6 ypc | 5 rush TDs | 38 rec | 280 rec yds | 1 rec TD | 3 fumbles lost

2023 numbers will be: WORSE

After leading the Bills' backfield, Singletary now joins Dameon Pierce in Houston. Pierce's bully-ball style as a rookie showed he should be an RB1. But the Texans added Singletary and Mike Boone to shore up the group. Assuming new OC Bobby Slowik runs things similarly to how Kyle Shanahan did in San Francisco, we should expect a shared backfield. Singletary profiles as a slashing runner who fits the scheme well and averaged 4.6 yards per carry each of the past two years in a pass-first offense. But Buffalo was never enamored with his play, seemingly always looking for a replacement. Signing a one-year deal in Houston suggests the rest of the league felt similarly. With a likely rookie quarterback under center, the Texans should be a ground-first club -- hence bulking up the backfield -- but they're more likely to be trailing too often for all the backs to put up numbers in 2023. 

Average salary: $2 million

With Jaguars/Jets in 2022: 11 games | 110 att | 425 rush yds | 3.9 ypc | 3 rush TDs | 11 rec | 51 rec yds | 2 rec TDs | 0 fumbles lost

2023 numbers will be: BETTER

Robinson never got on track last season coming off an Achilles tear late in 2021, but can provide a between-the-tackles complement to Rhamondre Stevenson. The 24-year-old proved in his 1,070-yard rookie campaign he can run with power and find holes. Essentially filling the role left by Damien Harris, Robinson's contract in New England ($680,000 in per-game roster bonuses each year) suggests he'll have to prove his health and that he can beat out 2022 draft picks Pierre Strong Jr. and Kevin Harris. If he's healthy, Robinson should be able to reach the middling output of a year ago. If not, he'll likely find himself on the open market once again. 

D'Onta Foreman
Year 7 · Age: 27

Average salary: $2 million

With Panthers in 2022: 17 games | 203 att | 914 rush yds | 4.5 ypc | 5 rush TDs | 5 rec | 26 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost

2023 numbers will be: WORSE

Foreman heads from one ground-and-pound offense to another. Following the Christian McCaffrey trade last year, Foreman took off for Carolina, rumbling for 877 yards in 11 games, averaging 4.6 yards per attempt. He showed he could run over defenders and find green grass to churn up. Those attributes will fit nicely in Chicago, where the Bears look to replace David Montgomery's snaps. I like the Foreman addition. I just don't see him getting a large enough workload to replicate his career year of 2022. He should split carries with Khalil Herbert, and the Bears also added Travis Homer to the mix. Then there is the fact that the ground game should still funnel through Justin Fields. The biggest question I have about the Bears' backfield is who will be a receiving threat? Foreman has a career-high of nine receptions in a season, Herbert 14, Homer 16, and Trestan Ebner two. 

Damien Harris
Year 5 · Age: 26

Average salary: $1.77 million

With Patriots in 2022: 11 games | 106 att | 462 rush yds | 4.4 ypc | 3 rush TDs | 17 rec | 97 rec yds | 0 rec TDs | 0 fumbles lost

2023 numbers will be: BETTER

Harris is coming off an injury-riddled season in which he missed six games. If healthy, the 26-year-old projects as a steady complement to James Cook, who flashed talent but remained inconsistent as a rookie. Harris' ability to churn out yards between the tackles and keep the offense in good down and distances will be a welcome addition to a Buffalo offense that struggled in that regard in 2022. Harris should also take some goal-line situations off Josh Allen's plate as a short-yardage player who can burrow over the end line. I still wouldn't be surprised to see the Bills add a shifty option in the draft, but for now, Harris forecasts to see better stats than his forgettable final season in Foxborough. 

Average salary: $1.35 million

With Seahawks in 2022: 5 games | 57 att | 346 rush yds | 6.1 ypc | 2 rush TDs | 4 rec | 16 rec yds | 0 rec TDs | 0 fumbles lost

2023 numbers will be: BETTER

Absolutely loved this addition for the Eagles. It's a low, low-cost signing for a player with major upside. I feel like a broken record at this point of the offseason, but IF Penny stays healthy, he has a chance to mash in Philly's offense. Over the past two years, he averaged 6.2 yards per carry, including 4.6 yards after contact. Penny can blast through arm tackles and has speed to burn in space. Now put him behind that Eagles offensive line and watch him fly. If he stays healthy, this is one of the best contracts of the season. If he gets injured again, the Eagles, who still seem likely to draft a young back, didn't invest much. 

Average salary: $1.23 million

With Browns in 2022: 15 games | 4 att | 17 rush yds | 4.3 ypc | 0 rush TDs | 3 rec | 7 rec yds | 0 rec TDs | 0 fumbles lost

2023 numbers will be: BETTER

Can numbers get much worse than four carries in 15 games? Stuck behind Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, Johnson was an afterthought. But in limited reps in 2021, he showed power and burst, including a 22-carry, 146-yard performance with a TD in his first start against Denver in Week 7. With little tread on the tires, Johnson is a solid complement to Travis Etienne in Jacksonville with upside. 

Ronald Jones
Year 6 · Age: 26

Average salary: $1.23 million

With Chiefs in 2022: 6 games | 17 att | 70 rush yds | 4.1 ypc | 1 rush TD | 1 rec | 22 rec yds | 0 rec TDs | 0 fumbles lost

2023 numbers will be: BETTER

In the post-Ezekiel Elliott landscape, the Cowboys needed to add a veteran with Tony Pollard coming off injury. RoJo fits the bill as a cheap option with experience. His high-water mark came in 2020 with Tampa when he rushed for 978 yards and seven TDs. He was nothing more than depth last year in Kansas City. Jones now joins Malik Davis and Rico Dowdle behind Pollard in Dallas. Jones is a between-the-tackles runner who can give Pollard a breather but doesn't project as a volume runner at this point. If the Cowboys snag a back early in the draft, RoJo could find himself again being a cut candidate in training camp.

Average salary: $1.23 million

With Dolphins/Broncos in 2022: 13 games | 68 att | 245 rush yds | 3.6 ypc | 2 rush TDs | 16 rec | 157 rec yds | 1 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost

2023 numbers will be: BETTER

After showing promise in 2021, Edmonds inked a solid contract in Miami last offseason. He lasted just eight games in South Beach before being traded to Denver, where he played in just five contests. Edmonds looked ineffective in both offenses, and neither staff utilized him much in the passing game, where he had some success in Arizona (96 total catches in 2020-2021). Will things be much different in Tampa? Edmonds currently sits as Rachaad White's backup in an offense full of question marks, with Dave Canales taking over as OC. If he sticks through camp, Edmonds could be the change-of-pace back in the Bucs' offense and a pass-catcher out of the backfield.

Follow Kevin Patra on Twitter.

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