Colts Should Say No to Veteran Running Backs


The Indianapolis Colts are in the market for a new starting running back. They have two options in front of them: free agency or the draft.

The Colts have about $44 million in cap space, the sixth most in the NFL. They also have a competitive team that is likely a few pieces away from true Super Bowl contention.

There are a number of factors that will, and should, make this decision easier.

For one, the position of running back has become devalued in the NFL. While it is clearly a passing, quarterback driven league the need to run the ball (and stop the run) is clear. The Colts couldn’t do either in their past two playoff losses (and one more run play keeps the Lombardi Trophy out of the hands of the Patriots).

Second, running backs are basically a dime-a-dozen. The Colts managed to find success with Dan Herron running the ball this season.

Third is that the Colts horrible history of free agent signings. Trusting Ryan Grigson to sign the right running back from an admittedly talented pool isn’t promising. Of the 18 big name players the team has signed, only two can really be counted as a success. And there is a chance that neither will play for the Colts next season. Cory Redding is considering retirement and Mike Adams is currently a free agent.

The big names being bounced around include Frank Gore, DeMarco Murray, and Adrian Peterson (even though he is still under contract with the Vikings). Some how, the Colts have been linked to all of these players heading into free agency.

While each one has had an impressive career, they all have significant drawbacks.

Dec 1, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson (28) carries the ball during the third quarter against the Chicago Bears at Mall of America Field at H.H.H. Metrodome. The Vikings defeated the Bears 23-20 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

The easiest to mark off the list is Peterson, who will in all likelihood stay with the Vikings. He’ll be 30 laters this month, the universal age where RB production drops off a cliff. He’s never shied away from maximizing his value either and is going to make $15 millions this year (with a total of $42 million left on the final three years of his contract).

If Peterson were released, the Colts would probably have to pay him north of $10 million per year. Plus there is the controversy of Peterson abusing his child. Fans might criticize the signing, but would promptly quiet down after his first 150 yard game.

Dec 21, 2014; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray (29) runs with the ball against the Indianapolis Colts at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Next is Murray, who is the hot ticket item after leading the league in rushing last season. It looks like the Cowboys won’t re-sign Murray and he’ll hit free agent.

Mike Wells at ESPN thinks Murray would be a perfect fit for the Colts, but I have my doubts.

Murray was nearly run into the ground last season by the Cowboys. He was close to setting a single season record for carries (and likely would have gotten there if not for his hand injury). Wells breaks down how a high volume of touches leads to a down year the following season, and its not good.

Health has been a big concern for Murray as well. 2014 was the first year he managed to play in all 16 games.

Murray also benefitted from having the best run blocking line in the NFL. It can’t be overstated how important this was for Murray’s success. He is a talented back, but it helps to have gaping holes to run through.

Dec 28, 2014; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore (21) rushes for a gain against the Arizona Cardinals during the third quarter at Levi

That leaves Gore among the big name running backs. We’ve already taken extensive looks at how he would fit with the Colts. For the right price, Gore could be a solid addition to the roster. The problem is that he’ll be 32 by the time the season starts and has a ton of mileage.

Gore is awfully close to seeing a severe drop off in his production, but a short term deal and splitting time with a talented rookie (or maybe Herron and Vick Ballard) could make Gore well worth the cost.

Free agency rarely works out for teams, its one of the reasons the Colts built through the draft for so many years (the other being never having any cap space). Building through the draft is always more effective and cost efficient.

The Colts would be wise to pass on the big names and look towards the draft to fill the running back hole on the roster.