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Free-agent RBs to back up Devin Singletary with the Buffalo Bills

Should the Bills sign a new RB2?

While Devin Singletary had a career year for the Buffalo Bills in 2021, the backup running back situation is less settled. Zack Moss was a liability and Matt Breida couldn’t break into the lineup for more than a couple games.

One of the most unenviable jobs in the NFL is “veteran free-agent running back,” but even if the market is unwelcoming, there are still options available for the Bills to add to the roster who could make a difference. That includes big names like Leonard Fournette and Darrel Williams, but also these players listed below. See any you like?

Cordarelle Patterson

An improbable event in the former Tennessee receiver’s career was how, in his ninth pro season, Patterson finally reached his potential as an all-purpose offensive weapon. Already the greatest kick returner of the past decade, Patterson became a critical part of the Atlanta Falcons’ offense, with 1,166 yards from scrimmage and 11 touchdowns. The production was almost evenly split between rushing and receiving. His elusiveness was a key; more than half of his yardage was gained after the catch or after contact.

So now Patterson has earned a major contract, after playing 2021 for $3 million. But he’s also a running back who’s 31 years old this season. So is the fair value also the smart value? At least $5 million per year, maybe as much as $8 million per year, could make sense for Patterson’s value on a two-year contract. But maybe that’s too expensive for the Bills.

Marlon Mack

The one-cut runner was a viable starter from 2018 to 2019, with 2,184 yards from scrimmage and 18 touchdowns in those two seasons. But he tore his Achilles tendon in 2020, and while he was out the Indianapolis Colts drafted the sensational Jonathan Taylor. Returning on a $2 million contract, Mack found there wasn’t room for him in the backfield anymore. Still only 25 years old, he’d be available on a bargain price for his next team.

Ronald Jones

The youngest free-agent running back, Jones just finished up his rookie contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. His career is the definition of a “mixed bag”—he barely played his first year, was a below-average starter for two seasons, then was benched in year four. He’s a viable receiving back, and he’ll probably sign a cheap contract despite his age. Something in the range of $2-3 million per year might get it done.

Rashaad Penny

Speaking of former draft picks who didn’t live up to their draft slot, Penny spent three years as an afterthought in the Seattle Seahawks’ offense. Then out of nowhere, over the last six games of the 2021 season, he ran 102 times for 706 yards (6.92 yards per carry) with six TDs. Penny’s 5’11”, 220 lbs and he ran a 4.46 40-yard dash. Did he suddenly figure out the pro game? At any rate, coming off his rookie contract, expect a low-cost one-year deal for a player who didn’t amount to much for most of his career.

Chase Edmonds

Maybe the best “number-two running back” on the market, Edmonds only started 15 of his 57 career games. And in four seasons, he topped out at 592 rushing yards and 116 carries. But the reason you’d sign him is his receiving aptitude; over the last two seasons he has 96 catches for 713 yards and four TDs. Almost all of that yardage came after the catch, with Edmonds mainly feasting on throws to the flats.

Edmonds’s consistently growing role has him pitched for a better contract than most runners, something in the $4-6 million per year range. You might even hear him signing a deal worth $9 million per year, although that’s probably just extra bonus money he wouldn’t see.

Melvin Gordon

If you thought Buffalo’s backfield lacked speed in 2021, then Gordon would certainly help fix that issue. The question with him is whether he’d properly balance the pecking order with Devin Singletary; Gordon’s only really been a starter in his seven year career. But his results speak for himself: 2,275 yards from scrimmage and 20 touchdowns in the past two seasons with the Denver Broncos.

Gordon just finished a two-year, $16 million contract. Now turning 29, he’s probably going to see a pay cut as an “older” running back. But he’s still worthy of $6-8 million per year.

Phillip Lindsay

From 2018-2019, Lindsay was the unearthed gem of the Broncos’ backfield, rushing for 2,048 yards and making a Pro Bowl. Then the former UDFA was usurped by Melvin Gordon, and relegated to a backup role. Signing a $3.2 million contract with the Houston Texans in 2021, Lindsay just didn’t pan out for his new team. He only managed 130 rushing yards in ten games, was waived and claimed by the Miami Dolphins, and added 119 more yards in the rest of the season.

It’s not really clear why Lindsay struggled in his new role. He turns 28 this year, but should have plenty of tread on the tires. Maybe he just needs a starting role to get into a rhythm? At any rate, expect his next contract to be near the veteran minimum.

Sony Michel

Injuries from college (and then in his pro career) contributed to Michel not quite meeting expectations with the New England Patriots. He just seemed to be missing his top gear, and couldn’t adjust his running style to that new reality. Traded to the Los Angeles Rams, Michel made good on the hand he was dealt when team injuries elevated him to a starting role. He had 208 carries for 845 yards and four TDs on the way to the team’s Super Bowl run.

A solid between-the-tackles runner and goal line option, Michel will probably cost between $4-6 million per year on his next contract.

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