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Why Running Backs Shouldn’t Get Paid Big

Packers running back Aaron Jones has agreed to a four-year deal. Cent02 7dx61gni3b9gunpjhj8 Original
Dan Powers/USA TODAY NETWORK via Imagn Content Services, LLC

History and stats tell us that NFL star running backs shouldn’t get paid big. It has been a hot topic among NFL fans, as many great running backs have recently gotten large deals.

Christian McCaffrey of the Carolina Panthers signed the largest contract in the history of the running back position last season at four years, $64 million. The market should continue to get even more significant in the coming years. 

With big-name players at the position getting paid again this season, such as Aaron Jones of the Green Bay Packers, it should be in those team’s best interests to let the players walk in the future. Here are a few reasons why running backs shouldn’t get paid big money.

Running Backs Lack Longevity

Jan 3, 2021; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) before the game against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

While a running back could play great during the first couple seasons of their contract, it is unlikely that they remain elite for the whole deal. It is very tough for running backs to consistently stay healthy and productive with the constant beatings they take.

  In 2018, the Los Angeles Rams paid Todd Gurley a four-year, $90 million deal that was record-breaking at the time. The Rams made the Super Bowl that season, but once they started paying it to hurt them. Gurley dealt with knee arthritis and other injuries that caused him to regress heavily. He recorded a career-low in yards in 2019 and was not the same player. The Rams then cut him on March 20th, 2020. 

The deal cost the Rams a total of $22.6 million, and they will still have to pay for seasons to come. Gurley was cut after his fifth season, meaning the Rams didn’t even need to extend him because a rookie contract lasted five seasons.

Ezekiel Elliott of the Dallas Cowboys signed a lucrative 6-year, $90,000,000 contract in 2019. His 2019 season was great, but his 2020 campaign was undoubtedly his worst. Elliott had a career-low in total rushing yards, rushing yards per game, touchdowns, and led all running backs in the NFL with six fumbles. 

Because of the substantial dead cap hit that would occur if the Cowboys were to cut him, the declining running back would likely be with Dallas making top dollar for at least a couple more years. The deal will severely handicap a Dallas team now facing cap space difficulties. With the current salary cap situation being lower than expected because of the COVID-19 pandemic affecting revenues, it is better to be safe than sorry.

They are Easily Replaceable

Dec 13, 2020; Jacksonville, Florida, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars running back James Robinson (30) carries the ball past Tennessee Titans free safety Kevin Byard (31) during the second half at TIAA Bank Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports
Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

Good running backs are not too difficult to find in today’s NFL. The teams can sign a solid one for cheap, such as when the Philadelphia Eagles signed LeGarrette Blount to a deal worth less than $3 million the same year that they won the Super Bowl. Any decent veteran should be able to produce, as long as they have an excellent offensive line. Rookie running backs are frequently some of the top producing rushers as well, and they rarely cost a first-round pick. The Jacksonville Jaguars signed rookie James Robinson after he went undrafted, and he finished fifth in the entire NFL in rushing yards. Running backs who produce are all over the place.

Winning Teams Don’t Pay Running Backs

Feb 4, 2020; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Leonard Fournette (28) with quarterback Tom Brady (12) and tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) against the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

A look at recent history shows us that the most successful teams do not pay their running backs a lot of money.

Dating back to 2010, the leading rusher of each Super Bowl-winning team never made over $2,500,000. Only four teams have even paid more than $1 million. It raises the question of if teams should try and follow this trend. Both the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Kansas City Chiefs, contestants in the latest Super Bowl, certainly did.

The Carolina Panthers finished with a 5-11 record in their 2020 campaign, the first season after giving Christian McCaffery a record-breaking extension. The New York Jets went 7-9 in their first season after giving Le’veon Bell a $52-million deal. The Cowboys haven’t finished with a winning record since giving Ezekiel Elliott his pay-day. It isn’t easy to succeed as a team when so much money goes to the running back. 

When will a team win a Super Bowl after paying a large contract to a running back? NFL fans should watch what the great teams will do this offseason and see how much money halfbacks receive. They can also watch the clubs in cap trouble after paying running backs money continues to struggle.

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  1. […] wasn't enough reason to draft Ekeler, a signed jersey will have fans betting on Ekeler too. Though there may be reasons to doubt running backs, Ekeler has given fans plenty of incentives to pick him this […]

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