The Buffalo Bills are almost assured to roll with their duo of Devin Singletary and Zack Moss at running back in 2021, but there’s still room on their roster for one or two more running backs in the depth chart.
The team spent $3.35 million last year between Taiwan Jones and T.J. Yeldon, two veterans who will be free agents this spring. Jones was part of the team’s special teams core, ranking seventh in snaps for that unit, but had no role on offense. Yeldon, for the second year in a row, was the team’s emergency tailback, only active due to injuries. He was the reverse of Jones, not showing up on special teams at all, but playing 14 snaps per game on offense (when he was used).
So there you have two roles to fill, possibly with one or two players. What veterans might work for the team? Here’s who’s on the market, at a price point that fits the bill.
If you wanted one player who could be an emergency starter, third-down back, and special teams player wrapped up in one, that’s Burkhead. He’s never been a focal point in the offense, but he averaged 76 touches for 412 yards and 3.5 touchdowns over the last six seasons. He’s also been a significant part of the kick and punt units in his whole career.
While he made $3 million in 2020, a brutal knee injury ended his season early. Depending on how well he recovers, he’ll probably be signing for close to the veteran minimum this year.
In the last two years, Hill has carved out a role as a backup running back for the Atlanta Falcons. He saw career highs for carries and targets in 2020, with 125 touches for 664 yards and a touchdown. He’s also been playing on special teams his whole career, although he’s closer to eight snaps per game than the 16 or so that a “core” specialist would see.
Hill received a $2.133 million original-round RFA tender in 2020. He’s an unrestricted free agent this year, but his modest resume (and the low salary cap) might see him playing for less money in 2021.
For six seasons from 2013 to 2018, Miller was a starting-caliber running back who was selected to one Pro Bowl. He averaged 217 carries for 935 yards (4.31 YPA) and five touchdowns, and 34 catches for 253 yards and a receiving touchdown in each year over that span.
In the 2019 preseason, 28-year-old Miller tore his ACL. He barely played in his return to action, starting the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list and bouncing between practice squads.
If healthy, Miller deserves to be a key player in a running back rotation. That said, his 2020 season didn’t inspire confidence. He also can’t provide any value on special teams.
Miller made the veteran minimum last season, and he’ll probably be paid that much this year.
McKinnon had a modestly successful career as a versatile running back with receiving upside, until a torn ACL took him out of not just the 2018 season, but the 2019 season as well. He returned to action in 2020, scoring six touchdowns and netting 572 yards from scrimmage, but fell out of favor with the San Francisco 49ers as the season went on.
In 2020 McKinnon restructured what was originally a four-year, $30 million contract to pay out a $1.1 million value. He’s another candidate for the veteran minimum contract this year.
The former second-round pick never really caught on as an offensive weapon—his career average of 4.5 yards per touch can attest to that. But he’s been an important special teams player for the past two seasons, and is an experienced kick returner. As another player who would sign a low-cost contract, that’s not a bad deal.
Perine is another low-cost option who could play both on offense and on special teams for the Bills. In 2020, he had 63 carries for 301 yards and three touchdowns. He also played 18 snaps per game on special teams for the Cincinnati Bengals, which ranked fifth on that team.
Having moved back-and-forth between teams and practice squads in his career, Perine made $825,000 last season. Another cheap option for a backup running back.
Another possibility, probably a little expensive for the role the Bills envision, is Malcolm Brown. The runner has been a special teams player and red zone weapon for the Los Angeles Rams, but just finished a two-year, $3.3 million contract, and is still only 27. He might be one of the few free-agent running backs to score some extra cash this year.
Senorise Perry is a “running back” with more tackles than carries in his career. He was on Buffalo’s special teams unit in 2019, and could come back for another round. Theo Riddick is more of a receiving back, and played special teams early in his career, but not in the last few years. Corey Clement only really had one season with any significant role on offense, but he’s been a core special teams player with the Philadelphia Eagles for his whole career. Tyler Ervin is a running back who’s more of a kick and punt returner in practice. All of those players are probably signing for very low-cost contracts.
Who should the Bills sign as a backup running back?
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