Miles Sanders has one of the most intriguing free agent cases out there, given his position and where he ranks in a stacked free agent class of running backs. While Josh Jacobs and Saquon Barkley will garner all the headlines at the start of 2023 free agency, Sanders presents a strong case why he should get paid in the coming weeks.
Sanders is coming off the best season of his four-year career, rushing 259 times for a career-high 1,269 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also put up a career-high 1,347 yards from scrimmage in earning his first Pro Bowl selection. Sanders finished fifth in the NFL in rushing, the first running back to finish in the top five in rushing yards for the Philadelphia Eagles since LeSean McCoy in 2014.
Over the past four seasons, Sanders has 3,708 rushing yards -- good for ninth most in the NFL during that span. Sanders has a 5.02-yards per carry average -- fourth best in the NFL among running backs with a minimum of 500 carries (fifth overall).
The numbers suggest Sanders should get paid as he heads into his second contract. Will it be from the Eagles -- or will they pass on their longtime starter? How much will Sanders get on the open market?
Everything you need to know regarding Sanders's free agency is available here. From projected landing spots to market value, CBS Sports has all the news and updates. Sanders is one of the top running backs in a crowded running back market.
Salary cap figures come from Over the Cap
Potential landing spots
Miami Dolphins: The Dolphins have two free agent running backs set to hit free agency in Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson, making their backfield plans very intriguing for 2023. Salvon Ahmed is a good player, but Mike McDaniel likes to have another back who can create explosive plays and carry the run game through stretches. The Dolphins averaged 99.2 yards per game (25th in the NFL) and had just 12 rushing touchdowns (22nd in NFL), making Sanders the ideal fit to complement an explosive passing game with his presence on the ground. The Dolphins are -$16,377,201 in cap space, but they can still free up money to acquire a player of Sanders' caliber.
Buffalo Bills: This is another AFC East team that could use a premier running back in Sanders -- and take the pressure off Josh Allen to carry a run game that averaged 5.2 yards per carry last season (second in NFL). Imagine adding Sanders to pair with Allen, changing the dynamic of the Bills offense instantly. The Bills could use a go-to running back to pair with James Cook, so why not add Sanders to the mix? Like the Dolphins, the Bills are $16,561,186 over the cap -- but will clear enough space to add a player like Sanders.
Philadelphia Eagles: Sanders certainly had his share of success in Philadelphia, especially in Sirianni's offense. The No. 1 running back on the top running game in the league over the past two seasons, Sanders complemented Jalen Hurts well as the two were one of the best quarterback-running back pairings. Sanders was a top five running back last season, but how valuable is he to the Eagles? Was Hurts the catalyst to Sanders' success, or was Sanders that vital to the rushing attack? A knee injury hindered Sanders in the postseason and a wrist injury limited Sanders' touches in the Super Bowl, creating the impression the Eagles were ready to move on. Sanders wants to return to Philadelphia, but can he and the Eagles come to terms on a price?
Carolina Panthers: Could a reunion with Duce Staley be in the works for Sanders? Staley was the running backs coach for Sanders in his first two seasons in the league when Sanders was one of the most explosive players in the NFL. Reuniting with Staley in a Frank Reich offense would be massive for a Panthers team that has their own free agent running back in D'Onta Foreman. Sanders could return to being the explosive back in Carolina while splitting carries with Foreman (if the Panthers do decide to bring him back). The Panthers are $2,296,450 over the salary cap, but it shouldn't take much to get them under the cap and become players in the running back market.
Denver Broncos: Given the Javonte Williams situation regarding his ACL injury, there's not a guarantee he'll be the same explosive back nor be ready by Week 1 of the 2023 season. Why not bring Sanders in on a short-term deal and have him carry the running back group until Williams is 100 percent? Both Sanders and Williams can then split the carries and help take the pressure off Russell Wilson in carrying the offense. Broncos coach Sean Payton also prefers having two running backs in his offense, which also would factor into bringing Sanders in. Payton likes having a diverse group of backs, and Sanders would be an excellent early-down back in that offense. The Broncos have $9,617,224 in salary cap space, so there's room to make a play for Sanders.
Spotrac has Sanders' projected value at two years and $14,447,822 -- an average annual value of $7,223,911. Based on players who received similar deals around Sanders' age (25), Leonard Fournette signed a three-year deal worth $21,000,000 ($7,000,000 annually) at 27, Joe Mixon landed a four-year deal at $48,000,000 ($12,000,000 annually) at 24 and Rashaad Penny netted a one-year deal worth $5,750,000 at 25.
If Sanders lands a salary at $7,223,911 annually, Sanders would be the 10th-highest-paid running back in the NFL. Saquon Barkley is ahead of Sanders, but is also about to receive a significant pay raise. The same goes for Josh Jacobs, who is also a free agent. Ideally, Sanders would like to get into the $10,000,000 range with the top eight running backs -- yet the free agent market will determine how much Sanders will actually receive.
A contract of $7,200,000 actually is excellent value for Sanders -- as he's worth at least $8,000,000 based on last year's production.
While Sanders wants to return to Philadelphia, do the Eagles really want to pay Sanders a contract north of $7 million a season with all the free agents they have to retain? This was just a bad offseason for Sanders to become a free agent with the Eagles as the market may price him out -- unless he takes less to return on a team-friendly deal.
Sanders returning to Philadelphia is still likely. If he and the Eagles part ways, the Dolphins and Bills would certainly be in the mix for his services. Both teams need a No. 1 running back who is productive, and Sanders checks all those boxes. He would be an excellent fit for those franchises.