Written by Mikey Ostrowski

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything for the good ol’ box, so I figured it’s time to make a comeback. Much like the NFL hopefuls entering the draft in April, I’ve been pretty busy finishing up my final year of college, applying to jobs, sleeping… Ya know, all of that good stuff. Sure, those guys are gonna make millions more than me, but how many of them can find the future value of a twelve-year $12,000 bond?! Doesn’t matter, because guys like me will be working for guys like that in the end.

However, this article isn’t about them, it’s about players that are already in the NFL. More specifically, underpaid runners. In this article I will review my top-five running backs poised for HUGE contracts within the near future. Though I’m sure some rookies will opt to enter early contract negotiations within a couple of years (i.e. Kamara), I will not be including any of them in this article.

Let’s jump right in.

Running Back #1: Le’Veon Bell

I’d be very shocked to hear that any one is surprised by this one. Le’Veon has been all over the news the past couple of months, saying how he’d rather retire than play under the franchise tag again (By the way, that tag would be worth $14.5 million). For those who don’t understand this move, if Bell were to retire for one year, he could come back and become an unrestricted free agent. At this moment in time, the Steelers technically still own Bell, and his only options are to accept the franchise tag, retire for a year, or settle for a short-term contract with Pittsburgh (unless they break and finally give him the long-term contract he deserves). Bell has expressed that he wants a long-term contract worth, not only top running back numbers, but top receiver numbers too. In my opinion, this is justifiable. In 3 of his last 4 years (he was injured in 2015), he surpassed 1,250 rushing yards, 600 receiving yards, and at least 9 total touchdowns each season. He is the heart and soul of Pittsburgh (sorry AB fans). Bell was paid over $12 million in 2017 as a franchise player, and though that is ridiculous money, he wants security. He WILL get the biggest running back contract in NFL history. Whether it’s this year with the Steelers, or next year with someone else, has yet to be seen. Keep an eye out for #BellWatch2018 to see if this star gets paid or takes the year off.

Running Back #2: David Johnson

Did you know that David Johnson’s contract is worth less than $3 million? Like, literally his FOUR-YEAR CONTRACT is worth LESS than $3 million! In 2018, he will make just over $1.9 million… which means Arizona better enjoy their last year of not dumping a large percent of their cap into their running game. This monster-of-a-man had over 2,000 scrimmage yards and 20 total touchdowns just two seasons ago (sound familiar, Mr. Gurley?) before going down with a week 1 injury in the 2017 season. Not only is DJ looking to bounce back after his injury, but he’s playing in a contract year in a situation that will force him to be the focal point of that offense (even more than whoever the hell their quarterback is going to be). Arizona is in a weird situation. They need a new QB, their star receiver is retiring after 2018, their coaching staff is getting a total revamp… but it’s tough to imagine that they would forget to keep money aside for David Johnson. They’d better hope Bell doesn’t find a contract until after they re-sign DJ because you know he’s going to want similar numbers of whoever the highest paid runner in the league is. Expect a HUGE re-signing midway through the 2018 season for DJ.

Running Back #3: Todd Gurley

In 2015, Gurley signed a 4-year contract worth $13.8 million. That’s a pretty hefty contract for a rookie, but he surely proved that it was a fantastic signing. Gurley will be a restricted free agent after the 2018 season is complete, though I HIGHLY doubt he doesn’t get re-signed before that happens. If you’re reading this article, I’m sure you know what Gurley did in 2017 so I won’t even get into that. The 2017 Offensive Player of the Year is going to see payday in the near future, and I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see him sign something big. I’m predicting the Rams will offer him something around a total of $50 million over the course of five years. Dude’s a stud, the Rams have some cash… combine those two things and you’ve got a happy player and an even happier team.

Running Back #4: Melvin Gordon

Gordon is not as good as Gurley. He was drafted in the same year, had almost as much hype as him, performs pretty well… but he’s no Todd Gurley. However, he may get paid like him. See, Gordon has moderately good numbers. He’s scored 12 touchdowns and totaled over 1,400 scrimmage yards each season for two years now; but this is largely in part because of his team. There. I said it. Gordon is only a decent runner because he’s running behind a decent front line within a decent offense. I don’t want to take away anything from him, but he’s not the type of runner that could put an entire team on his back. But, in today’s market, players are getting paid a ridiculous amount of money, and seeing that he is a well over-average halfback, will get paid that ridiculous amount of money. His current (rookie) contract is for four years, totaling to $10.6 million. Expect him to re-sign a 4+ year deal worth over $40 million within the next year. He’ll stay in LA.

Running Back #5: Tevin Coleman

Tevin Coleman may be the only runner on this list that isn’t a full-blown obvious decision. Coleman is entering his last year under contract with Atlanta, and to be frank, I’d be very surprised if he stays there. Atlanta has a very good thing going on offense, and a big part of that success is owed to having the luxury of switching between Devonta Freeman and Coleman. Though he has failed to meet 1,000 scrimmage yards in any given season, Coleman has shown that he is a superb talent in this league. He is one of the best RB2s in the entire league… but I got news for you; he doesn’t want to be an RB2. I’d be VERY surprised to see him re-sign with Atlanta for a few reasons: he wants to start, he wants more money, and Atlanta isn’t going to have that cap wiggle room that they’ll need (after all, they did just re-sign Freeman). I don’t think Atlanta is going to have the money or the appeal to keep Coleman around, and I genuinely think he will test free agency to find a big paycheck in a city in need of a good running back. You heard it here first folks. Tevin Coleman will not be in Atlanta for the start of the 2019 season, and he will be a top-10 paid running back in the NFL when he lands with a new team.

There are plenty of running backs out there that are poised for new contracts in the immediate future, but these five, I believe, are the most likely to actually see those contracts. I’m sure everyone was expecting Bell and Gurley, but did the other ones surprise you?

You know what surprised me? Learning that David Johnson makes less than $1 million a year after single-handedly winning thousands of people fantasy championships in 2016. I know, I know, this is the REAL NFL, they don’t base their decisions off of fantasy. Personally, I think DJ needs to add in a “fantasy-bonus” in his new contract, where he gets an extra mil or two when he (**Spoiler Alert**) tops the fantasy charts in 2018.

Ehh better yet, I’m sure he’ll be more than happy with the boatload of money they decide to throw at him.

Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter… Always down to talk some football. And stay tuned for my top 5 wide receivers that are looking to get paid. Until next time, friends.

Contract details provided by spotrac

Mikey Ostrowski is a blogger for the Loaded Box Podcast.  Check out his article archive and find more from the Loaded Box on Twitter & Facebook

Other articles by Mikey Ostrowski:

A Way Too Early Look At Fantasy Top 10’s: Quarterback Edition

A Way Too Early Look At Fantasy Top 10’s: Running Back Edition

A Way Too Early Look At Fantasy Top 10’s: Wide Receiver Edition

A Way Too Early Look at Fantasy Top 10’s: Tight End Edition