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If these were normal times and the Arizona Cardinals were actually hoping to be competitive this coming season, the plan would be playing out for running backs Dalvin Cook, Ezekiel Elliott, Leonard Fournette, or perhaps even Kareem Hunt.
The Cardinals, you see, suffered a rough loss this week when running back Marlon Mack, 27, ruptured his left Achilles midway through Tuesday’s practice. Coach Jonathan Gannon on Wednesday confirmed Mack is done for the season.
Mack, who tore his right Achilles in 2020, had signed with Arizona only four days earlier.
“Terrible,” Gannon said.
Opportunities For Running Backs
It’s awful but it’s also what the handful of experienced and accomplished unsigned running backs have been waiting for this training camp and coming preseason.
Those players that include past Pro Bowl players in Cook and Elliott, a past Super Bowl champion in Fournette, and a 2017 rushing champion in Hunt have remained available because all expect good opportunities to manifest.
All know running backs go out at a sometimes alarming rate during training camp and the preseason. So that has had a two-fold effect on their status.
They’re all waiting for such an unfortunate injury to hit a team with hopes of winning in 2023. They’re all waiting for that attrition to create a greater market for them.
And, in the meantime, they’re all biding their time.
None have yet accepted offers to join teams for what they consider to be below market contracts that do not mitigate the risk of the position they play.
Kareem Hunt Ends Indy Visit
Basically it’s as simple as this: The running back market is bad and can only get better if or when other running backs fall.
That’s just about the only thing that would raise the value of the unsigned rushers. Demand has to rise to meet the supply.
Any capitalist would understand the concept.
But now it gets a little complicated. Because it’s not just about demand. It’s also about the demand existing in the right place.
The Cardinals, for example, have a demand following the Mack loss. But they are unlikely to seek out a Cook or Elliott to replace a player they paid $1.1 million.
The Colts had a running back need when Wednesday dawned. That’s why they hurriedly brought Hunt to town on a free agent visit.
Leonard Fournette Needs To Get In Shape
But then something went askew with contract talks or, well, something. And Hunt left Wednesday evening while the club signed Jason Huntley.
Huntley is a relative unknown who has played six games with three teams in three seasons. Hunt gained 1,327 yards as a rookie.
You think that Huntley addition was about getting the most talented player? Or the best priced?
Hunt will likely try to get a deal done with New Orleans, which he visited on Tuesday.
And that leads to the next issues affecting the running back market. Supply and demand isn’t the only variable teams consider. It’s the most important part, but there are others.
It’s also about money and players being ready to seize opportunities.
That definitely affects Cook and Fournette.
Ezekiel Elliott Wants More Money
Fournette, a key cog in the Buccaneers Super Bowl run of 2021, is available because he was released in the offseason in what was described as a salary cap move. Except it was more than that.
Fournette delivered only 3.5 yards per carry in losing his starting job last season. But that reality apparently didn’t move him toward working on a grand comeback. So when he worked out for the New England Patriots a few weeks ago, Fournette was sluggish and not explosive, according to one NFL source.
Fournette has battled offseason weight issues in the past. So the Patriots, wanting a capable runner alongside Rhamondre Stevenson, backed away.
The Patriots then brought in Elliott. And that was a different kind of visit.
Elliott got the full wine-and-dine treatment, which included a dinner with quarterback Mac Jones.
Fournette and Elliott Different Cases
“I think whenever I have a chance to kind of explain and try to get them on the team it’s a good thing,” Jones said. “It’s never a bad thing, you want to add as much great players as you can.”
The Patriots are convinced Elliott can help, but “at their price,” a source said
Neither side is outlining what parameters are fair to them but obviously nothing had been signed by late Wednesday.
Elliott, meanwhile, has been working out consistently, dating all the way back to May. (See that, Lenny?)
Dalvin Cook Wanting Better Offer
Finally there is the Cook situation.
The entire Earth knows he visited the Jets. The Jets loved him on the visit. And he enjoyed it.
But … money.
The Jets have let the Cook camp know what they’re willing to pay. The Cook camp has told the Jets camp what they’re seeking. And the two numbers are not equal.
The sides could be as much as $3 million apart on an annual basis, according to what NFL front office people on other teams have heard.
And so Cook is willing to wait to see if a team suddenly needs a special running back — especially with training camp advancing toward physical dual-team practices and the preseason.