NFL free agency has officially begun. After spending the last two seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs on a series of one-year deals, running back Jerick McKinnon is once again a free agent. Which teams are the best fits for McKinnon?
Jerick McKinnon Free Agency Best Fits
Each free agent class is different, having its own strengths and weaknesses. This year’s running back class was initially stacked with guys like Josh Jacobs, Tony Pollard, and Saquon Barkley set to hit the market. Unsurprisingly, each of their respective teams franchise-tagged them. Since then, we’ve seen Rashaad Penny, David Montgomery, Jamaal Williams, and Miles Sanders find new teams as well.
With so many running backs already signed, teams looking for help at the position might view McKinnon a little more favorably. Taking those players off the table raises McKinnon’s stature amongst remaining free agent running backs.
McKinnon entered free agency as the eight-highest-ranked RB in our Top 100 NFL Free Agents list. Currently, he’s first, as the seven guys ahead of him have all signed.
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During his time with the Chiefs, McKinnon’s season-long numbers haven’t been anything special. Yet, he seems to find his stride toward the end of the season. Last year, McKinnon caught a touchdown in each of his final six games. He worked his snap share up near the 50% range, occasionally surpassing it.
Despite his advanced age of 31, McKinnon still looks explosive. His early-career injuries and lack of usage are kind of benefiting him now, as the lack of tread looks to be extending his career.
By no means can McKinnon be a team’s three-down back. But he can be a very productive satellite back as he’s been with Kansas City. And if a team needs him to shoulder the load for a game or three, he’s proven capable of doing that in short spurts as well.
So, what teams are the best fit for McKinnon to sign with in free agency?
Loyalty Could Result in McKinnon Returning to the Chiefs
There’s no denying McKinnon’s scorching finish in the 2021 season played a role in the Chiefs bringing him back for 2022. Now, given McKinnon’s contributions to a Super Bowl win, Kansas City may very well do it again.
Shortly after the Super Bowl, NFL Network’s James Palmer suggested loyalty could play a factor in the Chiefs’ decision on McKinnon’s future.
Palmer said, “The slide at the 1 yard line in the Super Bowl was a perfect example of Jet McKinnon’s value to the Chiefs. He’s another QB on the field. His football IQ is elite. He’s also set to be a free agent. Could loyalty play a factor in his future? Possibly.”
McKinnon can and should do what’s best for him. But in the absence of an offer that blows him away, running it back a third time with the Chiefs seems plausible, if not likely.
Kansas City has plenty of salary cap space available. It would likely be another one-year deal, but that makes it all the more reasonable for the Chiefs to make the move.
The Bengals Make a Lot of Sense for McKinnon
To be fair, I haven’t seen any talk about McKinnon to the Bengals. But if we’re looking at best fits for the talented receiving back, the former Super Bowl runner-ups make a ton of sense.
Cincinnati has a lot going on with their running backs. First, there’s Joe Mixon. CBS Sports’ Joel Corry listed Mixon as a potential cut candidate for the Bengals. He said, “Mixon being on the field for 23 of Cincinnati’s offensive snaps during the AFC Championship Game while his backup, Samaje Perine, took 43 raised eyebrows. After a career-high 1,205 rushing yards in 2021, Mixon dropped to 814 last season.”
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Mixon is only 26 years old but has several red flags. First, there’s the aforementioned drop in production. Second, there’s the Bengals’ curious decision to give us a whole lot more of Perine than we expected. Third, and perhaps most importantly, there are the off-the-field issues.
Between Mixon’s misdemeanor menacing charge (that was ultimately dropped) and the shooting outside of his house, it’s just a lot of smoke surrounding a player that already was potentially on the chopping block.
Add in the fact that Perine is now a member of the Denver Broncos, and the Bengals could very much use a guy with McKinnon’s skill set. The Bengals have roughly $30 million in cap space remaining and absolutely can afford to give McKinnon an enticing one-year offer.
McKinnon Would Fit Well on the Titans
It’s no secret how the Tennessee Titans operate their offense. They pound Derrick Henry unless the score forces them to throw. Even then, they still may just give the ball to Henry.
But we’ve seen receiving backs be effective in the Titans’ offense in the past. In 2021, when Henry broke his foot, Dontrell Hilliard had an eight-catch game.
McKinnon would provide the Titans with a true receiving back to complement Henry. Additionally, with Henry now 29 years old, McKinnon could mix in a little more as a runner to ease Henry’s workload. This would undoubtedly be one of the oldest backfields in the NFL, but it could be a very effective one.
Tennessee is going to need to find new running backs within the next couple of years anyway. Why not give McKinnon a one-year deal and see what he and Henry can do in 2023?