Opinion Corner: Contracts for RBs are trickyRunning backs are almost always the most highly-touted picks on NFL fantasy football draft boards across the nation each preseason. Unfortunately for the league’s top ball-carriers, NFL contracts are not based on fantasy football.
By: Brian Willhide, The Jamestown Sun
Running backs are almost always the most highly-touted picks on NFL fantasy football draft boards across the nation each preseason. Unfortunately for the league’s top ball-carriers, NFL contracts are not based on fantasy football.
There’s a misconception that Monday’s big contract extensions for the Ravens’ Ray Rice and the Bears’ Matt Forte will mark a change in today’s common NFL General Manager philosophy that most running backs simply aren’t worth top dollar.
While yes, they’re well-deserved contracts, I just don’t see this becoming a trend for NFL running backs.
First off, today’s NFL is a pass-happy league. The league’s top four scoring offenses last season were wide-open passing attacks — Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints, New England Patriots and Detroit Lions.
And with scouts looking more and more for pass-catching tight ends and wide receivers built like basketball players, it looks like that trend is going to continue for many years to come.
Second, the multiple-personnel system of two-backs and/or a running quarterback is more prevalent than ever.
Look at some of the most productive rushing attacks from 2011:
*Denver Broncos — Tim Tebow and Willis McGahee (first in NFL)
*Carolina Panthers — Cam Newton, Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams (third)
*Philadelphia Eagles — Michael Vick and LeSean McCoy (fifth)
*New Orleans Saints — Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram (sixth)
*Oakland Raiders — Michael Bush and Darren McFadden (seventh)
Third, running backs not only take a pounding, but their careers are typically short. According to the NFL Players Association, the average career length of an NFL running back is less than three years.
Running backs are subject to significant hits each and every time they touch the ball, which for some is 20 to 25 times a game for 16 regular season games each year.
Finally, serviceable running backs seem to grow on trees lately.
Every year, a new crop of backs, whether they’re rookies or mid-season substitutes, make a significant impact on ball clubs as the No. 1 option:
*2011 — DeMarco Murray for the Cowboys, Roy Helu for the Redskins
*2010 — Arian Foster for the Texans, Peyton Hillis for the Browns
*2009 — Ray Rice for the Ravens, Jamaal Charles for the Chiefs
*2008 — Steve Slaton for the Texans, Chris Johnson for the Titans
*2007 — Adrian Peterson for the Vikings, Frank Gore for the 49ers
And while some of the members of that list are mainstays — Rice, Johnson, Gore and Peterson most notably — I see NFL general managers continuing to look at the Peyton Hillis and Steve Slatons of the world who are “one-and-done” and taking the glass-half-empty mentality.
Plus scouts are finding quality backs later and later in the NFL draft each year, including undrafted talents like Foster.
It’s tough to give a ton of guaranteed money to a guy who, each time he touches the ball, is one shot to the knee from ending his career.
I think the fate of NFL running backs could very well lie this season in the rehabilitation of Adrian Peterson’s knee. If there’s one guy who is capable of recovering from an ACL injury and returning to top-form, it is No. 28 for the Minnesota Vikings.
If not, I’m not sure anybody will be able to do it.
Willhide is a news writer with The Sun and frequent contributor to the Opinion Corner