Over the course of the 2020 NFL offseason, multiple running backs have asked to be traded, and many others still remain on the free agent market. The 2019 Pittsburgh Steelers running backs were ravaged by injury, the most notable being James Conner. Steelers fans called for the organization to add to its running back depth chart, and the organization did respond in the way of drafting Anthony McFarland Jr. in the 4th round of the 2020 draft. But was that move enough? Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of adding one of the top available running backs, plus a look at the pros and cons of not adding to the position at all.
Leonard Fournette is an absolute bruiser and could push this offense over the top, he could be the one piece this team is missing to make a lengthy playoff run. Fournette and James Conner could split carries in the backfield, and since both players are injury prone the split could prolong their seasons. Fournette also has multiple 1,000 yard rushing seasons under his belt and the Steelers roster currently has zero. Fournette isn't a one trick pony either as he put up a career high 76 receptions a year ago, which would have led the Steelers by 17 receptions.
One other point is the move would take a Steelers ‘killer’ off the Jaguars roster whom the Steelers play in 2020. Which, given the teams track record playing against lesser opponents, could see the Steelers win their yearly trap game.
He would cost around a fourth-round pick in compensation, for basically a one year rental player. Sure, if Fournette signs that big money deal elsewhere the Steelers could potentially regain that pick as a compensatory selection, but no one seems to be paying the running back position.
Fournette’s health also has to be mentioned as a negative as he has only played in 36 out of a possible 48 career games, which is less games than James Conner at 37/48.
Ultimately, the biggest con would be the over $4 million any team would have to pay Fournette should they pull off a trade.
Mostert proved to be a durable back in 2019 appearing in all 16 games and 3 playoff games. Despite his durability, Mostert still has very low mileage on his legs with less than 200 career NFL rushing attempts.
In comparison to Leonard Fournette, Raheem Mostert still has two years left on his deal with just a $2,575,000 cap hit in 2020, which is cheaper and longer than the Jags pivot. Mostert would also fit very well with the Steelers current stable of runners as he played in a rotation-based offense in San Francisco.
Mostert specifically wants out of San Francisco because they were unwilling to give him a substantial raise. It might work in Pittsburgh because of Ben Roethlisberger’s $40 Million hit coming off the books after 2021, but with the possibility of extending Roethlisberger coupled with some big-ticket free agents coming down the pipeline, paying Mostert would be a real challenge.
Raheem has also never rushed more than 772 yards in a season, and has had to battle to break out in the NFL two years ago. He’s still a relatively unknown entity and it would be a mistake to sign a player, with his limited playing, before he even took a snap in the black and gold. Plus, the cost of acquiring Mostert is probably higher than that of Fournette.
Devonta Freeman is a free agent and the team won't have to move any picks to acquire his services, plus at 28 years old is still relatively young and could play another season or two. Freeman is also healthier than you may think as he played in 14 games in 2019 with a total of 77 of 96 career games played. He would also be a rare veteran in an offense filled with players in their early 20’s and could start in a pinch in case of an injury to James Conner.
Freeman has 951 career carries and 257 career receptions is a lot of mileage on his frame. Plus, Freeman turned down a reported 1 year, $4 million deal with the Seahawks because he wanted more money.
LeSean McCoy is from Harrisburg and went to the University of Pittsburgh, so it might be time to bring the local kid home. It wouldn't be just a nice story as McCoy averaged 4.6 yards per carry in 2019. Again, McCoy would bring veteran and Super Bowl leadership, something this offence is kind of missing at running back and receiver.
He’s by far the oldest name on the list as a 32 Year old running back, but the Steelers could probably leverage that to a cheaper deal. McCoy also strangely only played in 1 post season snap despite being healthy during Chiefs Super Bowl run.
If the Steelers stay put they won't have to tie up any more cap space heading into a cap strapped 2021, and they'd keep all of there 2021 draft picks without moving them for a 1 or 2 year rental. Not adding anyone also gives a nod of confidence to James Conner and the rest of the backfield, which considering the constant bashing they get online and in the media would be a nice change of pace for the Steelers running backs.
Not adding another running back adds a risk of putting heavy work load on inexperienced backs if injury woes continue. Anthony McFarland Jr. basically won't have an offseason heading into year one and Benny Snell Jr. barely got any snaps with Ben Roethlisberger in the lineup a year ago. The Steelers most veteran running back is a 25 year old James Conner, and he hasn't been called upon to be that voice in the locker room yet. A veteran player would probably help transition this offense into a post Ben Roethlisberger era.
What do you think? Should the Steelers explore adding another running back, or should they stand put? Let us know down in the comments below!