Can Kenyan Drake get his big payday after proving himself as a feature back?

Kenyan Drake rushed for 955 yards and 10 touchdowns this year with the Cardinals. Christian Petersen/Getty Images

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Despite coming 45 yards short of his first 1,000-yard rushing season, Arizona Cardinals running back Kenyan Drake proved in 2020 that he could handle the work load as a team's primary back.

But with free agency on the near horizon, Drake doesn't know who he'll be carrying the ball for in 2021. Or how much he'll be paid.

Drake is scheduled to be a free agent on March 17, when the league year begins and his one-year tender expires.

On the last Friday of the season, Drake, who the Cardinals acquired in a trade from the Miami Dolphins midway through the 2019 season, said he'd "figure out" his playing future "when we cross that bridge."

His 2020 season -- on the surface, at least -- should attract a number of suitors, possibly including the Cardinals.

Drake was 13th in the NFL with 955 rushing yards, seventh with 239 carries and 10th with 10 rushing touchdowns -- one less than his quarterback, Kyler Murray. He also eclipsed 1,000 yards from scrimmage for the third straight year thanks to 137 receiving yards on 25 catches, his lowest numbers in each category since 2016.

But Drake feels like his résumé is proof he can be a featured back for any team.

"At the end of the day, when you look at the numbers, the last two years I've had 1,000 total yards, when it comes to rushing and receiving, people are always gonna doubt what they don't see or what you don't prove," Drake said.

"The doubters, I mean, there are going to be people that want to see you fail, that don't feel like you belong in a certain place. That's not important for me to focus on because the things I focus on is the things that I can control. ... The people that doubt me or doubt anybody else that is involved with how well we go out here and perform, I ask them to come out here and do the things that we do on a daily basis and see how well they do. But, other than that, you know, that's neither here nor there, because I really don't care about them."

Getting to 1,000 yards was important to Drake, who entered the season finale against the Los Angeles Rams needing 81 yards to reach the milestone. But he ran for just 36, capping a stretch of seven games without reaching 100 yards. He reached 80 yards just once during that span.

In fact, Drake had 100 yards just twice this season and less than 50 yards seven times.

Drake's inconsistency -- coupled with some opportunities being taken away by Murray, who proved to be a more lethal running threat at times -- led to his coming up short of 1,000 yards. The Cardinals dropped from a franchise-record 5.03 yards per carry in 2019 to 4.67 in 2020, which was still tied for the seventh-best in the NFL.

Arizona was 6-2 when Drake ran for at least 60 yards but was 2-5 when he failed to his that mark. Drake missed a Week 9 loss to the Dolphins with an injury.

If Drake hits the open market this offseason, he might find that teams will ask him -- or require him -- to take a pay cut with his next deal. His base salary for 2020 under the transition tag was $8.48 million -- a top-10 salary among running backs this past season. The 2021 salary cap is expected to drop about $22 million, giving teams less money to play with.

That idea wasn't lost on Drake, who's still searching for his big long-term deal.

"I've got a great team behind me at SportsTrust [Drake's agents] that'll do their due diligence and making sure everything goes according to plan when we get there," Drake said.

Coach Kliff Kingsbury has been publicly pleased with Drake's performance, but wouldn't commit to whether he wants the running back back in Arizona in 2021.

"Since he has been here the past two seasons, he's done a tremendous job," Kingsbury said. "Has been durable and healthy and brings explosiveness to that position. I've been really impressed with Kenyan and what he's brought. He's been productive and scored a bunch of touchdowns for us, so we'll see kind of see where that thing plays out."