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Free Agent Primer 2021: Running Back

Kenyan Drake scheduled to hit the open market next week

Starting RB Kenyan Drake is scheduled to hit the open market.
Starting RB Kenyan Drake is scheduled to hit the open market.

The Cardinals cannonballed into free agency, signing J.J. Watt to a two-year deal. The work isn't done, as GM Steve Keim must fill other holes on the roster this offseason. The new league year begins on Wednesday, March 17, with the legal tampering period opening on Monday, March 15. We will break down each position group as free agency draws near.

Free agent primer: Running Back

Other free agent primers: CB I WR I LB I TE I DL I S I OL I ST I QB

Cap hit of players under contract for 2021 (via Chase Edmonds ($1.0 million); Eno Benjamin ($805,679); Jonathan Ward ($780,000); Khalfani Muhammad ($660,000).

Scheduled free agents: Kenyan Drake; D.J. Foster.

Need: Medium

Analysis: Kenyan Drake was the team's workhorse last season and came to close to surpassing 1,000 rushing yards. However, his rushing average dropped from a fantastic 5.2 yards per carry with the Cardinals in 2019 to 4.0 last year. Drake made $8.4 million on the transition tag in 2020 and is likely aiming to secure a multi-year deal in free agency, but it's unknown if that will be with the Cardinals.

D.J. Foster, a scheduled free agent, has the versatility desired in a backup running back, and would be cheap if the Cardinals wanted to re-sign him like they did last offseason.

The emergence of Chase Edmonds gives the team some options in free agency. Edmonds averaged 4.6 yards per carry a season ago and added 53 receptions for 402 yards and four touchdowns. Edmonds has averaged 4.8 yards per attempt in coach Kliff Kingsbury's scheme and will be a big part of the formula next season. At 5-foot-9 and 210 pounds, some question his ability to be a lead back, but Kingsbury said last week that "we have all the confidence in the world in Chase and him being able to be the bell cow if that's how this plays out."

Free Agent Tracker 2021 Promo Image New

The NFL free agency period starts on March 17. Visit our free agent tracker page to follow all the movement.

Even if Edmonds does receive the majority of the snaps at running back in 2021, the Cardinals would need another player to complement him. While second-year players Jonathan Ward and Eno Benjamin would love to be in that mix, they have yet to prove themselves at the NFL level, so a veteran free agent addition would make sense.

Some of the big names scheduled to hit the market include Aaron Jones, Chris Carson, James Conner and Leonard Fournette. A between-the-tackles runner would seem to pair best with Edmonds' skillset. The draft would be another option to add a running back.

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

Images of some of the top running backs scheduled to hit the open market