In 2013, just 13 running backs topped 1,000 yards in the NFL. Top tier running backs have always demanded big money for their performances. With so little separating the best in the league from the rest of the pack, should teams be investing big money in running backs?
Maurice Jones-Drew will be walking away from the Jacksonville Jaguars in free agency, and Chris Johnson is almost certainly going to be a salary cap casualty with the Titans. In 2013, the Jags coughed up nearly $7 million for Jones-Drew and the Titans are set to pay Johnson $8 million next season. Both runners put up respectable numbers last season, but Johnson’s 1,077 yards don’t warrant such a large salary. Jones-Drew struggled behind mediocre blocking, but his production could be replaced without too much difficulty.
Even Adrian Peterson underwhelmed in 2013. Next season, he’ll make $11.75 million. That’s a huge paycheck to be dishing out to a running back that can’t produce big numbers without an offensive line to run behind.
To win in today’s NFL, teams need to be able to throw the ball in some capacity. Running the ball has taken a back seat to the top passers in the league in recent years, but teams can still win running the ball.
Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch will make just $5 million next season, and he has every chance of breaking open games at any point. He’s a proven running back that has shown an ability to make huge plays in the biggest of games. Is there a valid reason that Peterson should be making twice the money Lynch will in 2014?
I’m not implying that Lynch is an average runner either. Lynch is a top tier runner, but runners’ stats are tumultuous at best. From year to year, they change constantly, and there’s no reason for a team to make a big investment in a runner when they don’t know how his production will look from one season to the next.
The top quarterbacks in the NFL are different, as are many of the top receivers in the league. Peyton Manning and Tom Brady had great years in 2013, and barring injury in 2014, they’ll be right back at it again. Teams are far better off investing in middle of the road backs that they can move on from without huge salary hits to their cap space than trying to nail down the best runners in the league.
All of this is stated without mentioning that running backs have a short shelf life anyway. Consider this. A runner gets tackled nearly every time he gets the ball. That’s not the case with any other position in the league.
As we see a couple high profile running backs shuffling teams due to salary issues, consider whether or not they’re actually worth the money they’re demanding. Historically, the best runners in the game have a direct impact on championship teams, but Peterson, who most would say is the best running back in the league, has had no impact on the NFL’s championship since entering the league.