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Jets need home run threat at running back, but money is an issue

With free agency approaching (March 9), we're analyzing the biggest needs on the New York Jets' roster, examining possible upgrades:

Position: Running back

2017 cap hits of top returnees:

Matt Forte -- $5 million

Bilal Powell -- $4.6 million

Khiry Robinson -- $1.1 million

Pending free agents: None.

Key stat: Powell had one heck of a season; too bad he had only 131 carries. Check out these league rankings: Second in yards per carry (5.5), fifth in yards before contact per rush (3.24) and third in yards after contact (2.21), according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Money matters: Believe it or not, the Jets have the third-highest cap total for running backs ($12.2 million), trailing only the Panthers ($12.3 million) and Vikings ($20 million). Between Forte and Powell, the Jets have $6.5 million tied up in guaranteed money for 2017.

Big picture: The Jets can live with Forte (31) and Powell (28) for another year, assuming Forte recovers from his end-of-the-season knee scope, but they need to integrate another player into the equation -- a breakaway threat. Neither Powell nor Forte had a run longer than 35 yards. It's tough to operate in today's NFL with a plodding offense.

Free-agent market watch: Le'Veon Bell, LeGarrette Blount, Eddie Lacy, Latavius Murray, Tim Hightower, Danny Woodhead, DeAngelo Williams, Patrick DiMarco (FB).

Also could become available: Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles, Doug Martin, Jonathan Stewart.

The game plan: Because of the financial commitment to Forte and Powell, the Jets can't afford to make a big splurge. General manager Mike Maccagnan boxed himself in with the Forte deal. If there's a major addition at running back, it would come from the draft. Picking sixth, they probably will be in position to pick Leonard Fournette or Dalvin Cook. In terms of depth, they can't count on Robinson, recovering from yet another broken leg. Hightower, who played under new coordinator John Morton with the Saints, could be a low-cost option as a No. 3 back. The Jets, who didn't carry a fullback last season, will need one for Morton's West Coast system. DiMarco, who turns 28 in April, would be an option.