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Free Agency Primer 2017: Running Back

Posted Mar 2, 2017

David Johnson is a star, but depth needed as Chris Johnson, Ellington hit the market

The Cardinals finished with a losing record in 2016, but believe they can bounce back quickly and revert to contender status next season. Free agency will be key, as several of the team’s starters are scheduled to hit the open market. The Cardinals’ front office has plenty of decisions to make as free agency beckons on March 9. We’ll break down each position as it draws near.

More free agent analysis: S I TE I I ST I LB I QB I DL

Free agent primer: Running back

Cap hit of players under contract for 2017 (via OverTheCap.com): David Johnson ($799,843); Kerwynn Williams ($675,000); Elijhaa Penny ($465,000)

Scheduled free agents: Chris Johnson, Andre Ellington, Stepfan Taylor

Need: Medium

Analysis: There will be some turnover here, but with an elite back returning to lead the way, there isn’t much to fret. David Johnson had an incredible season in 2016, leading the NFL with 2,118 yards from scrimmage and adding a franchise-record 20 touchdowns.

He will continue to get the lion’s share of the carries provided he stays healthy, but the Cardinals must have some options in the unwanted scenario of an injury. Kerwynn Williams averaged 8.7 yards per carry in limited work last season, and has added some special teams duties to his plate in hopes of increasing his worth. Williams ascended to No. 2 on the depth chart late in the season after not making the team out of training camp and hopes to secure that role for 2017.

Andre Ellington went from featured back earlier in his career to an afterthought in 2016, and seems likely to move on to a new team. Chris Johnson was lost for the season early and never made a big impact. He is going to seek out a bigger role elsewhere, but coach Bruce Arians wants Johnson back if he would like to return.

Stepfan Taylor was an unsung special teams piece, but didn’t contribute much on offense. The Cardinals could either try to get him back cheaply or use a guy like Penny, a practice squad member throughout 2016, in his place.

While some big names like Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles have recently hit the open market, the Cardinals have no reason to allocate big resources to a position already headlined by a star. Steve Keim would like to add a player that mirrors David Johnson’s skill-set, but won’t be breaking the bank for a backup.

Notable past free agent running back signings by the Cardinals: Chris Johnson (2015-16); Rashard Mendenhall (2013); Edgerrin James (2006); Emmitt Smith (2003); Mario Bates (1998).

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