The Buffalo Bills have one less need before next week's start of free agency.
The team announced Tuesday that it has signed former Jaguars running back Chris Ivory. He figures to replace Mike Tolbert as the primary backup to LeSean McCoy in 2018.
“I’m just here to work hard and when my number’s called, be ready to perform,” Ivory said on a conference call with the Western New York media. “That’s what I plan to do each day and make sure I’m available when called upon.”
The 29-year-old Ivory led the AFC in rushing with the New York Jets in 2015, when he carried 247 times for 1,070 yards and seven touchdowns, adding 30 receptions and making the Pro Bowl as an injury replacement.
That led to him signing a five-year contract with Jacksonville worth up to $32 million, but Ivory was released Feb. 23 after playing just two years of that contract. The Jaguars drafted Leonard Fournette in the first round in 2017, pushing Ivory down the depth chart. He carried 112 times for 382 yards and one touchdown in 2017, sitting out the final two games of the regular season and appearing in just one of Jacksonville's three playoff games.
“I came in ready to work – chip on my shoulder. I always felt like I had something to prove,” he said. “Things just didn’t go as planned, man.”
According to a report from NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, the Bills gave Ivory a two-year contract worth up to $6 million, $3.25 million of which is guaranteed. That’s a sizable commitment and shows the team believes Ivory can be a formidable part of a one-two punch with McCoy.
“I would describe myself more as a north-south runner,” Ivory said. “I’m a physical guy. I can run between the tackles and I think I don’t get noticed as much for what I can do in space.”
The 6-foot-0, 223-pounder’s playing style has earned respect from opponents.
“Chris Ivory is such a punishing back," Denver linebacker Von Miller wrote in a 2015 article on The Players' Tribune. "Honestly, the punishers are the guys who you really hate playing against, because even if they don't have the blocking, they're gonna make you hurt. Over the course of 60 minutes, you'll get to the point where you don't wanna tackle them anymore. It's human nature. You don't want to put yourself in that kind of harm.
"And Ivory causes harm, bro. He almost never runs out of bounds to preserve himself. He lays his body on the line for his teammates."
Despite going undrafted out of Division II Tiffin University in 2010, Ivory didn't take long to establish himself as a rookie with the New Orleans Saints. In Week 6 of his first season, he exploded for 175 yards from scrimmage on 16 touches in a 31-6 victory over Tampa Bay. He finished his rookie year with 137 carries for 716 yards and five touchdowns.
Ivory, however, suffered a foot injury in Week 17 of his rookie season. That, along with a sports hernia, forced him to open the 2011 season on the physically-unable-to-perform list. He was activated in Week 8 of the 2011 season, rushing 79 times for 374 yards and one touchdown in the regular season and 22 times for a team-leading 70 yards in the Saints' two playoff games.
The Saints traded Ivory to the Jets during the 2013 draft for New York’s fourth-round pick. He played in 46 games with the Jets, making 30 starts, and rushed 627 times for 2,724 yards and 16 touchdowns while adding 50 catches for 350 yards and two scores. He carried 29 times for a career-best 166 yards in a Week 3 win over the Miami Dolphins during the 2015 season.
Ivory's deal with Jacksonville included $10 million in guarantees, all of which were paid out over the last two seasons. Including his guaranteed money from the Bills, Ivory has earned more than $14 million over the last three years.
With Ivory's reported contract having $3.25 million guaranteed in the first year, that means he has earned more than $14 million in the past three years. According to contracts website spotrac.com, Ivory's $2.75 million average annual value from the Bills ranks 21st among running backs in the NFL – another sign the team is counting on him to be a big contributor in 2018.
“It just felt good when I got here, man,” said Ivory, who also made a free-agent visit to Cleveland, of why he chose the Bills in free agency. “It just felt like the place for me.”
Ivory attended Longview High School in Longview, Texas. His best friend growing up was Trent Williams, who has been named to six straight Pro Bowls as a member of the Washington Redskins. Ivory and Williams team up every summer to host a football camp in their hometown. They weren't the only future NFL players on their high school team, either. Receiver Malcolm Kelly and linebacker Robert Henson also attended Longview.
After high school, Ivory spent three years at Washington State. His time there ended on a sour note, as he was dismissed from the team in August 2009 for a violation of team rules. He ran for just 534 yards in three years at Washington State, with his time there limited by a series of injuries.