It’s been one of the biggest shifts over the last 10 years. NFL teams at the start of the century built themselves around Jamal Lewis, Ladainian Tomlinson, Adrian Peters on. Even Marshawn Lynch. Now though, it is a position of misfortune.
Running Backs are lucky if they get a secure contract beyond their rookie deal. And then you look at players like Austin Ekeler. He significantly outperformed their draft position, missing out on millions of dollars.
It’s aa position that could be grouped with QBs as the positions where it is most critical that players perform consistently to their maximum from their first day in college, if not high school. That’s a lot of pressure for very young athletes.
Now top Running Backs, even with a flaw or two, are struggling to sign a contract.
J.K. Dobbins is holding out in the hope of a new contract for the Ravens. Saquon Barkley has been franchise-tagged by the Giants. Dalvin Cook has been released -and is yet to sign anywhere – and Kareem Hunt can’t find a new team.
It really is a position that the most talented athletes will start to avoid playing, impacting the quality of the next generation of backs?
The game will continue to evolve, with the backfield likely filled by position less players.
In the meantime surely it is time that backs earned their due. Could a scaled, incentivised contract be brought in based on performance based on performance on the field. What if this was brought in instead of a franchise tag but from the moment a player is drafted? Would players avoid playing under the ‘tag’ of Running Back? Or would players be keen to be Running Backs from a contractual perspective, much like Terrell Suggs’ franchise tag? Would defensive players play both ways? That part may be out of the question if incentives were based Running back statistics.
Undoubtedly it won’t happen, teams would never sign off on paying more than they have to. However the incentive to play the position is really dwindling. Something has to be done to support the protected class of Running Backs. In reality though, the time of the back is over, to be covered by other skill position players with a more traditional contract structure.
Image: Lou Capozzola / USA TODAY Sports
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