The Denver Broncos backfield will face a lot of change in 2020.
The Broncos are in talks with Phillip Lindsay about a contract extension, while both Theo Riddick and Devontae Booker have expiring deals.
Here’s how the market for all those contracts may look entering the offseason.
2019 was another banner year for Broncos running back Phillip Lindsay. He became the first undrafted running back to open his career with back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons and just the fourth Bronco to post back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons at any point in their career.
That red-hot start to Lindsay’s career could pay dividends this offseason, as he could see an extension come his way.
“We’ll look at [extending Lindsay],” general manager John Elway said at his end-of-year press conference. “Again, we’ll get back into when we start planning and budgeting for 2020 and where we are money-wise. Obviously, Phillip has done a tremendous job and being the first college free agent to go over 1,000 yards.
“As Vic said last night, there are 32 dumb-dumbs that didn’t draft him and I was one of them. Thank God we talked him into coming here.”
That being said, the Broncos would be wise to press the brakes on a Lindsay extension so soon.
Lindsay won’t be a free agent until after next season, and even then he’ll be a restricted free agent, meaning the Broncos could delay extending him for two more seasons, three with the franchise tag.
They would be wise to delay this process as long as possible, considering no one that’s signed a running back to a second deal recently is happy with the return on investment right now. Todd Gurley, Ezekiel Elliott, Devonta Freeman and Le’Veon Bell all signed monster second contracts in recent years before turning in the worst season of their respective careers in 2019. The lifespan for running backs can often be short. Some wonder whether that could be even more true with a running back of Lindsay’s size.
Not only is signing a running back to a second contract a risky proposition in general, it’s especially risky when you get the deal done early. Running back is one of the league’s most physically taxing positions, meaning a player’s value can change in a single hit. The Rams signed Gurley early, only for the running back to develop arthritis in his knees and turn in the least productive season-and-a-half of his career.
While Lindsay may see a new contract this offseason, nothing should change in regards to Royce Freeman. Freeman came four yards short of rushing for 500 yards in each of his first two seasons but made up for it by racking up 256 receiving yards in 2019, 184 more than he did in his first year.
The jury is still out on Freeman. He’s notching a below-average 3.9 yards per carry on his career but he was arguably the Broncos’ best pass-catching back this season. That yards per carry number is also slanted, as the Broncos usually run Freeman in short-yardage situations when the defense is expecting it.
Unless Freeman makes a huge leap in 2020 and 2021, the Broncos should expect to move on from him once his rookie deal is finished, and consider drafting a replacement.
Much like they will with Lindsay, the Broncos will have to make a decision on Devontae Booker this offseason as his contract is expiring, though that decision should be an incredibly easy one.
Booker is not a vital piece to Denver’s offense. At best he’s a third-down back with inconsistent hands, average pass-blocking ability and lacks dynamic talent as a ball-carrier.
The Broncos should look to add a receiving back to replace Booker this offseason. Lindsay has been a disappointment in that area. While Freeman was more productive in the passing game this season, he offers little in the way of explosiveness after the catch.