NFL running backs have seen diminishing value in recent seasons, but for the special standout workhorses who are centerpieces of their teams’ offenses, there is still plenty of salary-cap room for big contracts.
Although careers can be short and go into decline around 30, when a running back is a dominant force, either as a power rusher, dynamic receiver or both, certain teams are willing to compensate them well in their prime.
The league’s highest-paid running backs can be defined in three different ways. First is their average annual salary, which shows that getting one year guaranteed with the franchise tag isn’t a bad thing. Second is their overall guaranteed money included their contract. Third comes the overall value of their contract, which also shows how much they are worth over a longer term.
That’s all detailed here, along with the running backs all-time who have the highest career earnings, with only one active back making all four lists:
(All salary numbers are via Spotrac.com).
Which NFL running back has the highest average annual salary?
Christian McCaffrey remains the man in his transition from Carolina to San Francisco, which made a blockbuster trade to acquire him in a luxury splurge last season. McCaffrey meant a ton to the Panthers, but the run-first 49ers value him even more as the ideal feature back for Kyle Shanahan’s offense.
Another receiving-forward back, Alvin Kamara is still getting paid well by the Saints. Then it turns to two powerful AFC backs known for their early-down work carrying run-heavy offenses, Derrick Henry and Nick Chubb.
Going further down, the franchise tag number is now above $10 million guaranteed for players signing a one-year tender. Although that may not please Saquon Barkley and two others, the tag is right up there near the top of the market in this category.
NFL’s highest-paid running backs
|1||Christian McCaffrey||$16.01 million|
|2||Alvin Kamara||$15 million|
|3||Derrick Henry||$12.5 million|
|4||Nick Chubb||$12.2 million|
|T-5||Joe Mixon||$12 million|
|T-5||Aaron Jones||$12 million|
|T-7||Tony Pollard||$10.091 million|
|T-7||Josh Jacobs||$10.091 million|
|T-7||Saquon Barkley||$10.091 million|
|10||James Conner||$7 million|
Which NFL running backs have the most guaranteed money?
McCaffrey, Kamara and Henry form the trio that reigns supreme here, too. But thanks to being drafted No. 8 overall by the Falcons, rookie Bijan Robinson breaks the flow before the list gets to Chubb again.
Austin Ekeler got his adjust deal wot remain a Charger, while Najee Harris is still reaping good benefits from his rookie first-round contract. This is the list that Barkley, Pollard and Jacobs should prefer to crack.
NFL running back contracts with the most guaranteed money
|1||Christian McCaffrey||$38.162 million|
|2||Alvin Kamara||$33.833 million|
|3||Derrick Henry||$25.5 million|
|4||Bijan Robinson||$21.958 million|
|5||Nick Chubb||$20 million|
|6||Jahmyr Gibbs||$17.845 million|
|7||Austin Ekeler||$15 million|
|8||James Conner||$13.5 million|
|9||Najee Harris||$13.047 million|
|T-10||Aaron Jones||$13 million|
|T-10||Miles Sanders||$13 million|
Which NFL running backs have the largest overall contract value?
This number isn’t as important because things can be adjusted to change these earning down the line, but it’s still interesting to consider to figure out how much a team wanted to lock up a rare essential running back.
Kamara gets the better of McCaffrey here, while Henry remains third. Mixon and Jones are headed to fades during the contract lifes, while Chubb’s deal looks like a better bargain as he takes on a more critical role in Cleveland.
Sanders is the surprise here with his new deal from the Panthers that got him to leave the Eagles. Robinson’s four-year number matches his guarantee.
Top NFL running back contracts in total value
|1||Alvin Kamara||$75 million|
|2||Christian McCaffrey||$64.063 million|
|3||Derrick Henry||$50 million|
|T-4||Joe Mixon||$48 million|
|T-4||Aaron Jones||$48 million|
|6||Nick Chubb||$36.6 million|
|7||Miles Sanders||$25.4 million|
|8||Austin Ekeler||$24.5 million|
|9||Bijan Robinson||$21.958 million|
|10||James Conner||$21 million|
Which NFL running backs have the highest career earnings?
Longevity and recency are the theme here. Peterson played forever with the greatest production spikes. Elliott had Jerry Jones’ deep pockets on his side, while James and Gore made the Miami Hurricanes proud.
It’s good to see Smith and Tomlinson still hold up as elite Hall of Famers, and nice-guy Lynch to have maxed out well with the Bills and Seahawks. It’s impressive that McCaffrey has made the cut here already and can challenge for top-five status soon should he stay healthy for the 49ers.
NFL running backs career earnings leaders (all-time)
|1||Adrian Peterson||$103.2 million|
|2||Ezekiel Elliott||$70.668 million|
|3||Edgerrin James||$68.9 million|
|4||Frank Gore||$63.296 million|
|5||Reggie Bush||$63.196 million|
|6||LeSean McCoy||$63 million|
|7||Emmitt Smith||$61.275 million|
|8||LaDainian Tomlinson||$56.875 million|
|9||Marshawn Lynch||$56.769 million|
|10||Christian McCaffrey||$53.649 million|