Highest-paid running backs in the NFL in 2021

Who is the highest-paid among running backs in the NFL heading into the 2021 NFL season, and which other RBs round out the top 10?

After several big deals were signed last offseason, the landscape of the highest-paid running backs in the NFL shifted dramatically. Who is the highest-paid RB in the NFL, and which other backs round out the top 10 at the position?

The highest-paid running backs in the NFL | 6-10

Which running backs sit in the bottom half of the top 10 when it comes to average annual value (AAV)?

10) Saquon Barkley, New York Giants | AAV: $7.8 million

Entering into what could be the final year of his rookie deal, Saquon Barkley’s contract is set to be the fourth-highest total among running backs in terms of cap hit in 2021 ($10.1 million). Barkley could see the AAV of his deal boosted in 2021.

If the Giants choose to pick up Barkley’s fifth-year option, he will earn $8.7 million in 2022. That would mean his rookie contract would be worth just over $40 million in total. However, if Barkley can prove his health, he has the potential to be the highest-paid running back in the league in a couple of years.

9) Melvin Gordon, Denver Broncos | AAV: $8 million

In the second year of his two-year deal, Gordon will be the fifth-highest paid RB in terms of cap hit. After earning $7 million of his $16 million in 2020, Gordon will count for $9 million against the cap. With a big year in 2021, Gordon has a chance to remain on this list of the highest-paid running backs in 2022 and beyond.

T-7) Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals | AAV: $12 million

Mixon is now entering the first season of his four-year contract extension that was signed prior to 2020. Mixon had a tough year with injuries last season. However, when he was on the field, he demonstrated why the Bengals were willing to invest so much in him. Looking at Mixon’s contract structure, it appears likely he will be in Cincinnati for at least the next two seasons.

T-7) Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers | AAV: $12 million

Ahead of free agency in 2021, Aaron Jones re-signed with the Green Bay Packers. The deal matched that of Joe Mixon with a four-year $48 million contract. Jones agent, Drew Rosenhaus told Mike Garofolo that the deal contained a $13 million signing bonus.

6) Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns | AAV: $12.2 million

Coming off back-to-back 1,000 rushing yard seasons, the Cleveland Browns inked Nick Chubb to a three-year contract extension worth $36.6 million. Chubb slots in at sixth on the list of highest-paid running backs following this deal.

In 2020, Chubb averaged 5.6 yards per carry and has averaged more than 90 rushing yards per game over the last two seasons. He has been limited in the passing game, which likely capped his ceiling in terms of his place on this list.

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The highest-paid RBs in the NFL | 2-5

Which running backs make up the top five in terms of the highest-paid at the position?

5) Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans | AAV: $12.5 million

After avoiding playing on the franchise tag by signing a four-year, $50 million extension, Derrick Henry lived up to the contract. Henry led the league in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns for a second straight season. Entering his sixth season in the league, Henry has demonstrated little sign that he is slowing down. That is something that will please the Titans, given they cannot really consider moving on from Henry until after the 2021 season.

4) Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings | AAV: $12.6 million

After signing a five-year contract extension ahead of the 2020 NFL season, Cook lived up to the billing. In 14 games, he was second in the league in rushing yards with 1,557. Cook’s cap hit is still relatively low at $5.1 million in 2021. However, by 2022 and 2023, his cap hit will have risen to $12 million and $14.1 million, respectively.

T-2) Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints | AAV: $15 million

Kamara is another back who signed a contract extension just before the start of the 2020 NFL season. He, much like Cook, has demonstrated why that was a good investment. In the regular season, Kamara scored 21 touchdowns and totaled a career-high 1,688 yards from scrimmage. Among the four highest-paid running backs in the league, only Kamara delivered on his price tag in 2020.

T-2) Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys | AAV: $15 million

Elliott will actually be the highest-paid among running backs in the league in terms of cap hit in 2021. Elliott is set to count $13.7 against the cap next season. That is an increase of $2.8 million in cap hit for the Cowboys’ franchise back. However, given that Henry is set to count $16.5 million against the cap in 2022, $13.7 million suddenly doesn’t seem so high.

Elliott is only now entering the first season of his six-year contract extension. However, with the final guarantees on the deal due in 2022, Elliott could be a potential cut candidate as soon as 2023.

Who is the highest-paid running back in the NFL?

1) Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers | AAV: $16.0 million

McCaffrey became the highest-paid RB in the league early in the 2020 offseason. After the first year, the investment may concern Panthers fans who saw their star running back for just three games. However, in those games, he scored 6 touchdowns, with 374 total yards. If McCaffrey played 16 games at that pace, he would have 32 touchdowns and 1,995 total yards. McCaffrey will count $12.5 million against the cap and is tied to the Panthers through at least the next two seasons.

Ben Rolfe is a Senior Managing Editor at Pro Football Network and is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA). You can find him on Twitter @BenRolfePFN.

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