The New York Jets head into the free agency period looking for a running back and while all eyes will be on Le’Veon Bell, these three players are equally viable options.
The New York Jets will undoubtedly be heavily involved in the expected high-stakes sweepstakes this offseason involving free agent running back Le’Veon Bell. With a glaring need at the position, it makes sense that the Jets would look to acquire a player of his talents, in spite of the various concerns.
But what happens if they fail to sign him?
There are no guarantees in free agency and the Jets would be wise to enter the bidding war with potential contingency plans if they are unable to acquire the three-time Pro Bowler.
This year’s free agent crop at the running back position is especially thin once you look past the top options giving the team very few viable targets if Bell signs elsewhere. Still, there are a few solid players the Jets should consider in place of the talented soon-to-be former Pittsburgh Steeler.
Whether you look at this list as potential fallback options or true alternatives to Bell, the following three players serve as capable free agent targets in place of Bell. With that, let’s take a look at the top three free agent running back targets for the Jets not named Le’Veon Bell.
3. Mark Ingram
Mark Ingram doesn’t necessarily represent the most appealing option, but in a running back class highlighted by the likes of C.J. Anderson, Jay Ajayi, and Alfred Blue, Ingram does stand out as one of the most accomplished and talented free agents.
The 2011 first-round draft pick has two 1,000 yard rushing seasons under his belt and has made the Pro Bowl twice as well. Out of every free agent running back in this class — excluding Bell — Ingram has the most starting experience and has had the most NFL success.
But age will definitely be a concern for most teams.
It’s hard to believe, but Ingram will be playing in his ninth NFL season come 2019 and will turn 30-years-old before the season’s end. Although the average production hasn’t dipped yet, it’s hard to see Ingram keeping his current level of play up for the entire duration of his contract.
Still, Ingram would certainly be an improvement over the team’s current crop of running backs and give the Jets a true feature back to build around. They could also look to pair him with a younger piece either in the draft or in the form of the young Elijah McGuire.
Spotrac estimates Ingram’s market value at right around $4.4 million per year over two years which would be pretty good value and help save the Jets some money to spend big in other areas such as offensive line and edge rusher.
Again, this wouldn’t be the most appealing option for the Jets. But in a very thin free agent crop of running backs, it may just be one of their better options.
Next: 2. T.J. Yeldon
2. T.J. Yeldon
T.J. Yeldon remains one of the better free agent running backs that no one is talking about. Yeldon has quietly put together a very solid career in his four seasons as Jacksonville, despite not putting up ground-breaking numbers.
The Alabama product entered the league in 2015 and was initially given a lead role in the Jaguars backfield. Unfortunately, Yeldon never could quite capitalize on his increased playing time, failing to top 800 rushing yards in a season thus far in his career.
Still, Yeldon remains an excellent third-down back and his receiving abilities should give him a role in any NFL offense. At just 25-years-old, Yeldon still has a ton of mileage left in him and could fill an excellent role in a potential backfield by committee.
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In fact, Yeldon’s career numbers are very similar to the No. 1 entry on this list. Yeldon has amassed 3,174 total scrimmage yards in his career while the next player on our list has accumulated 3,350. That’s a difference of under 200 total yards while the difference in price tags will likely be significantly larger.
Now, Yeldon should not be asked to take on a lead role in the Jets backfield. Rather if signed, the former second-round pick should be asked to fulfill receiving back duties while the Jets pair him up with a capable first and second-down runner, preferably in the mid-rounds of the NFL Draft.
At the end of the day, Yeldon probably represents the best bargain deal out of all available free agent running backs, even if he doesn’t come with an established pedigree of above-average production.
Next: 1. Tevin Coleman
1. Tevin Coleman
Without a doubt, Tevin Coleman will be this year’s consolation prize for whichever team doesn’t land Bell in free agency. In this case, that team is the New York Jets.
Coleman has spent the majority of the last four years serving as Devonta Freeman‘s backup in Atlanta, but the soon-to-be former Falcons running back is set to get paid in just under a week. After Freeman’s season-ending injury limited him to just two games in 2018, Coleman was finally given the chance to be a lead back for an offense.
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While he didn’t blow anyone away with his numbers, the results were certainly encouraging. Coleman totaled 800 rushing yards and four touchdowns on just 167 carries for an excellent 4.8 yards per carry. It was his most productive and efficient season to this point.
Coleman is expected to receive the Jerick McKinnon treatment this offseason, meaning that he will be a complimentary back paid to be a feature back. Expect Coleman to receive a similar contract in the range of around $5 million per year over four years, as estimated by Spotrac.
Despite the contract he might demand, it would still be wise to pair Coleman up with another running back as opposed to allowing him to work as a true feature back. A back that could run effectively between the tackles would be an ideal complement to Coleman’s skill set as the Indiana product is a very productive outside runner, but doesn’t have the strength or build to be as effective in between the tackles.
The Jets could look to the draft for powerful runners like Iowa State’s David Montgomery, Alabama’s Damien Harris, or even Kentucky’s Benny Snell to fill the role of potential backfield companions if the Jets were to sign Coleman.
While he would certainly represent a step-down in talent level from Bell, Coleman would be the preeminent consolation signing in a weak running back market.
Essentially, he’s the best of the rest.