The top-10 highest-paid running backs in the NFL is a veritable “who’s who” of the biggest names among running backs in the league. Here are your Petersons, McCoys, and Johnsons.
However, only three of 2013’s 10 leading rushers in the NFL are among those with the highest total contract values. Sorry, Jamaal Charles, Alfred Morris, Marshawn Lynch, Ryan Matthews, Eddie Lacy, Frank Gore and DeMarco Murray, these guys are due to receive more bones than you.
What gives? Jamaal Charles was the league’s second-leading rusher in 2013. However, he only earned a base salary of $1.75 million and is in the midst of a six-year deal worth $27 million. Oh well, it’s not like he’s averaging 5.6 yards per carry for his career and started at least 15 games in every year of his career except one, or anything.
Oh wait. He has.
Of course, big pay days are situational, and are often the reward for years of quality work, player marketability, and a multitude of other factors. And before this becomes a prolonged discussion of why Jamaal Charles (among others) deserves to usurp more than half the players on this list, let’s have a look at our top-10 highest-paid running backs in the NFL.
Note: This list will consider the values of players' entire contracts as opposed to yearly salaries alone. Some of these players are nearing the end of their respective deals.
10 Matt Forte - Chicago Bears - $30.4 million/4 years
Lake Charles, Louisiana native Matt Forte will earn a base salary of $5.5 million, plus a $1 million installment of his 2012 signing bonus, and $950,000 of other assorted money in 2014. With the potential to earn more than $30 million over the span of the four-year contract he signed in 2012, Forte is the tenth-highest-paid running back in the NFL.
The Tulane alum has been a critical component of both the Chicago Bears' ground attack and passing game since entering the league in 2008, and in 2012, they decided to show him the money.
9 Maurice Jones-Drew - Jacksonville Jaguars - $31.1 million/5 years
MJD has the ninth-largest contract among active NFL running backs. However, the bank-busting five-year, $31 million deal is now up, and Jones-Drew is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.
In 2013, the UCLA Bruin collected a base salary of $4.95 million, a $1.8 million payout from his 2009 signing bonus, and a $50,000 workout bonus. Was he worth it? The 5’7’’ running back started 15 games in 2013, but averaged a career low 3.4 yards per carry.
8 Ray Rice - Baltimore Ravens - $35 million/5 years
The Rutgers alum has been the lynchpin of the Baltimore Ravens' running game for the past six seasons. In 2012, Ray Rice signed a five-year $35 million contract with the team that will keep him with the club until he’s 29.
In 2014, Rice, who averaged a pathetic 3.1 yards per carry in 2013, is slated to earn a base salary of $4 million. Further, he’s due to receive $3 million of his 2012 signing bonus, and could earn another $1.75 million in incentives.
Are the Ravens excited about this? They likely haven’t noticed, as they’re busy kicking themselves for inking struggling quarterback Joe Flacco to a six-year, $120 million deal in 2013.
7 Jonathan Stewart - Carolina Panthers - $36.5 million/6 years
After a ridiculous 2011 season in which he averaged 5.4 yards per carry, the Carolina Panthers inked Jonathan Stewart to a six-year, $36.5 million deal.
The highest-paid No. 2 back in the NFL, Stewart has started only 10 games in total across the past three seasons in his complementary role to DeAngelo Williams.
Stewart’s heavily incentivized contract guarantees him a 2014 base salary of just $1.5 million, as well as $1.8 million of his signing bonus. An additional $2.1 million is available to the Oregon Duck if he gains 1,200 yards rushing and 1,600 all-purpose yards.
6 Darren McFadden - Oakland Raiders - $42 million/6 years
Darren McFadden has just wrapped up a six-year, $42 million contract with the Oakland Raiders. For his tenure with the silver and black, McFadden averaged 4.2 yards per carry, but only started an average of 10 games per year over the last three seasons.
Further, the Arkansas alum has averaged 3.3 yards per carry in each of the past two seasons, a precipitous decline from the 5.2 and 5.4 yards per carry he averaged in 2011 and 2012, respectively.
As he tests the waters of free agency in early March, it will be interesting to see where McFadden lands and how much cash is thrown his way.
5 DeAngelo Williams - Carolina Panthers - $43 million/5 years
We won’t use any of the contested “duo nicknames” that refer to DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. Suffice it to say, Williams is the speed component of the power-and-speed duo that makes up Carolina’s backfield.
The 5’9’’ Memphis alum inked a five-year, $43 million contract in 2011 on the strength of three consecutive years (‘07-’09) of averaging five or more yards per attempt. Originally a seven-year deal, Williams’ contract was restructured in 2013 so that the back will be a free agent in 2016, when he’s 32.
4 Arian Foster - Houston Texans - $43.5 million/5 years
Arian Foster landed on IR in early November 2013 with a back injury. The Texans star back underwent microscopic lumbar discectomy surgery on November 13th. Prior to the injury, Foster was average 4.5 yards per carry, and is slated for return for 2014, when he’ll earn a base salary of $5.75 million, as well as $2.5 of his 2012 $12.5 million signing bonus.
Foster averages more than 20 carries per game and is a significant component of the Texans' attack, so they’ll need him back to form in 2014. Since the start of the 2010 season, Foster has more than 1,191 touches. Thus, he’s certainly earning his keep...and taking a beating.
He’s signed through 2016, when he’ll be 30 years old.
3 LeSean McCoy - Philadelphia Eagles - $45 million/5 years
Native Pennsylvanian LeSean McCoy is arguably the most exciting player in football. Indeed, it’s a platitude at this point to call McCoy an “electrifying” or “Barry Sanders-esque” running back. Simply put, the 2013 league leader in rushing yards puts on a show and earns his paycheck every time he pulls on his No. 25 jersey.
The Eagles inked McCoy to a five-year, $45 million contract in 2009 that they have to be thrilled about from an accounting standpoint: In 2013, Shady McCoy was the best running back in the NFL and was only the 11th-highest-paid RB in the league, not even ranking among the top five earners on his team.
2 Chris Johnson - Tennessee Titans - $53,975,000/4 years
The Tennessee Titans signed CJ2K to a four-year, $53.9 million contract in 2013. It’s likely they wished they hadn’t: Chris Johnson averaged a career low 3.9 yards per carry and didn’t break a run more than 30 yards all year. Further, questions arose surrounding his determination and in-game effort. This, taken with the aforementioned factors, and the fact that Johnson was the second-highest-paid running back in 2013 and 11th in rushing yards, indicate that he is both overpaid and trending downward.
It’s widely anticipated that Johnson won’t be collecting his $8 million 2014 base salary, as the club is expected to release the former 2000-yard rusher.
1 Adrian Peterson: Minnesota Vikings: $96 million/7 years
To put Adrian Peterson’s contract in perspective, the Minnesota Viking's deal is worth more than twice LeSean McCoy’s. Granted, Peterson is signed for seven years, in contrast to McCoy’s five-year deal, but the fact remains, AP is getting paid.
The NFL record holder for most yards in a single game (296), Peterson is slated to earn an incredible base salary of $11.75 million in 2014, as well as a $2.4 million installment of his 2011 signing bonus, and a $250,000 workout bonus.
Peterson has been durable, averaging 14-plus games on average every year since 2008, and is consistently great, averaging 5 yards per carry across his career. Of course, in 2012, he was mind-blowingly good, rushing for 2,097 yards and averaging 6 yards per carry.