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Free Agent Primer 2024: Running Backs

Cardinals two-headed monster in Conner and Carter back for 2024


After finishing his first season as a head coach with a 4-13 record, Jonathan Gannon said that while he was pleased with the teams’ fight, it simply wasn’t good enough. Now that those in the locker room and throughout the league have an idea how a Gannon-Monti Ossenfort regime operates, they'll look to build a playoff contender through free agency and the draft. The new league year begins on March 13, and with that comes free agency. Here's the eighth of 11 position breakdowns.

Free Agent primer schedule: RB March 5; S March 6; TE March 7; OLB March 8

Other free agent primers: DL, OL, QB, ILB, ST, WR, CB

Cap hit of players under contract for 2024 (via James Conner ($8,930,000), Michael Carter ($3,116,000) Tony Jones ($1,055,000), Emari Demercado ($920,000)

Scheduled free agents: Marlon Mack

Need: Low

Analysis: Jonathan Gannon stood in front of the media ahead of the 2023 season and said the offense will play with a "cram it vertical" identity. The Cardinals executed the ground-and-pound game to perfection, averaging 140 rushing yards per game, ranking third across the league. James Connor had a career-best 1,040 yards rushing despite missing four games with an injury. 

Whether it was offensive coordinator Drew Petzing's playcalling or the different backs in the room, there wasn't a drastic falloff when Conner went down. Emari Demercado stepped up, both in the run game and as a pass blocker, while Damien Williams made an impact before landing on IR. The addition of Michael Carter ahead of Week 11 provided a unique wrinkle to the offense. 

Conner isn't a running back that shies away from contact but having Carter at Petzing's disposal allows him to get a rest on the sidelines when needed. Carter and Conner are both slated to be free agents after this season.

Could the team add another player through free agency or the draft? Like all positions, Gannon and general manager Monti Ossenfort will bring in pieces that'll benefit the team. As long as the one-two punch in Conner and Carter continues to dominate as they did towards the latter half of the season, the pieces might just already be in the room.

Notable past free agent running back signings: Conner (2021); Chris Johnson (2015); Rashard Mendenhall (2013); Edgerrin James (2006); Emmitt Smith (2003); Mario Bates (1998).

A look at some of the top running backs across the NFL who are scheduled to become free agents in mid-March