We saw the shape of the highest-paid running backs in the NFL shift a few years back, but since then, the market hasn’t moved all that much. Entering the 2023 NFL offseason, who is the highest-paid RB in the NFL, and who sits among the top 10 when it comes to the average annual value (AAV) of their contract?
Who is the Highest-Paid Running Back in the NFL?
Christian McCaffrey sits atop the list of the highest-paid running backs in the NFL, with an AAV of $16 million. However, the cap situation for the 49ers is pretty clean. With McCaffrey having been traded during the 2022 season, he will count for just $12 million against the 49ers’ cap in 2023. None of that is guaranteed. There is a further $18.352 million counting against the Carolina Panthers’ 2023 cap as dead money.
Highest-Paid Running Backs 2-11
T-2) Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints | AAV: $15.0 million
It’s been a rocky few years for Alvin Kamara, with his performances dipping off and a court case hanging over him heading into 2023. As it stands, Kamara’s contract has three more years remaining, plus a void year in 2026. The five-year contract extension he signed in 2020 was worth $15 million per year. However, a restructure in 2022 has left him with a $16.034 million cap number in 2023.
That value does not match Kamara’s recent performances, but the Saints are somewhat stuck. If they cut him, they would incur a $19.372 million dead money charge for 2023. One option could be a post-June 1 release designation, spreading that dead money over 2023 and 2024.
T-2) Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys | AAV: $15.0 million
Ezekiel Elliott’s six-year, $90 million contract is not looking pretty for the Dallas Cowboys. The contract is set to keep Elliott with the Cowboys through the 2026 season, and his $16.72 million cap number in 2023 is not reflective of his performances in the past couple of years.
The problem for the Cowboys is that between the signing bonus, an option bonus, and a restructure, releasing Elliott would leave $11.86 million in dead money.
It will be intriguing to see how the Cowboys approach Elliott’s contract this offseason. With a $10.9 million base salary making up a big chunk of that cap number, the Cowboys may hope Elliott is open to a pay cut. The last thing Dallas would want to do is a further restructuring of the deal, with $6.04 million in dead money already for 2024.
4) Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings | AAV: $12.6 million
Heading into 2023, Dalvin Cook still has potentially three more years on the five-year, $63 million contract extension he signed in 2020. His cap number for 2023 is currently set at $14.101 million.
MORE: 2023 NFL Salary Cap Space by Team
The Vikings do have some options and could even release Cook with no more guaranteed money remaining on the deal. Doing so would leave behind $6.203 million in dead money and a huge void at RB.
5) Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans | AAV: $12.5 million
The 2023 season is set to be the final year of Derrick Henry’s contract with the Tennessee Titans. The deal was originally a four-year contract worth $12.5 million per year. However, the contract now contains two void years and is set to void in February 2024.
With a cap number of $16.368 million in 2023, could we see the Titans either extend Henry’s deal or push more money into those void years?
6) Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns | AAV: $12.2 million
Coming in sixth on the list of highest-paid running backs in Nick Chubb. The Cleveland Browns RB signed a three-year extension worth $12.2 million per year. His cap number is due to jump to $14.85 million in 2023, so it will be intriguing to see whether the Browns choose to restructure the deal this offseason.
T-7) Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals | AAV: $12.0 million
There’s a big jump in AAV among the highest-paid RBs when we move into the top eight players on the list. The 2023 season will be the third year of Joe Mixon’s four-year, $48 million contract extension. The guaranteed money is finished, and the Bengals could move on for a dead-money number of just $5.5 million.
Given some of Mixon’s struggles in 2022, we could see Cincinnati decide he’s not worth a $12.791 million cap number in 2023.
T-7) Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers | AAV: $12.0 million
Aaron Jones’ contract is somewhat eye-watering heading into 2023. The original terms of the deal were four years at $48 million with $13 million guaranteed. However, restructuring the deal last year means Jones currently has a $20.013 cap number in 2023.
The Packers now have a decision to make. Do they restructure the deal again and push more money into 2024 and the void year in 2025, or do they release Jones, saving more than $10 million in cap space but leave a $9.552 million cap dead-money number?
T-9) Saquon Barkey, New York Giants | AAV: $10.1 million
Saquon Barkley was franchise-tagged right at the last second by the New York Giants. He will now hope to secure a long-term deal with the franchise or attempt to engineer a trade in his sixth season in the league.
T-9) Josh Jacobs, Las Vegas Raiders | AAV: $10.1 million
After the team declined his fifth-year option last offseason, Josh Jacobs is back in Las Vegas on a one-year deal. His cap hit of $10.1 million is around $2 million more than they would have paid him for this season if they had picked up the fifth-year option.
T-9) Tony Pollard, Dallas Cowboys | AAV: $10.1 million
The first of the running backs to get franchise-tagged was Tony Pollard. He remains in Dallas, counting for $10.1 million against the cap, His presence with such a high cap number could put the Cowboys in a tricky spot regarding the future of Ezekiel Elliott.