Yesterday I looked at the recent revival of love for running backs production in today’s NFL. Today I take a look at why despite the incredible numbers some of the top talent at the position produce, they don’t feel the love in their pockets.

Since posting yesterday’s article the news that Le’veon Bell will officially not play this season was confirmed when his deadline to sign his tender with the Steelers passed without agreement. It may be a hugely significant moment in NFL history as a player has never backed himself to this extent in the hope of securing a long term contract. Not everyone on a team can get paid, and the Steelers already have lucrative contracts tied up to big Ben and Antonio Brown on the offensive side of the ball, but it is still a slight surprise that arguably the games best all round running back appears to have been let go of.

From a production standpoint its hard to argue with what Bell has been able to accomplish. For his 66 game career to date (including playoffs) here are Bell’s numbers: –

Rushing…… Attempts – 1372 / Yards – 5760 / Avg – 4.2 / TD 38

Receiving…… Catches – 325 / Yards – 2751 / YPC – 8.4 / TD 8

The true definition of a dual threat back, with statistics to back up just how good his production has been, so why have the Steelers not been able to work this out?

Firstly we must always remember that every contract negotiation will be different. Each player will have different demands and different backgrounds and an agent poking around so it is never quite black and white. There has been documented off field issues when it comes to Le’veon and having been suspended previously by the league it is fair to suggest that the Steelers applied some additional caution to any negotiations. We should also not forget that over $14 million was put on the table to keep and utilise Bell this year, the dispute has been around long term commitments which Bell was seeking.

With that being said the simplified view of the argument ultimately leads us to the issue that in my opinion plagues the running back position. General managers want to pay the position and not the actual player themselves. The general rule of thumb for most general managers handing out contracts would be simplified into the follow order :-

1 – Pay the quarterback. 2 – Pay someone to chase the quarterback. 3 – Pay someone to catch the ball thrown by the quarterback. 4 – Pay someone to protect the quarterback. 5 – Pay everyone else

We often here that “it’s a quarterback league” and what this means is that average players at the positions I’ve stated get grossly overpaid. Looking at some of the top 5 cap hits against these positions in 2018 would any of these players be classed as top 5 players at the position by their ability?

Let’s start with quarterbacks and the 2nd highest QB cap hit belongs to Matthew Stafford, a decent quarterback but certainly not elite is accounting for over $26 million of the Lions cap. 4th on the quarterback list is Joe Flacco, surely no better than average,and maybe even then I am being generous, who is accounting for over $24 million of the Ravens cap.

Pass rusher is a little more difficult to define as a combination of defensive ends and linebackers are in play here so I have taken 1 of each. The 2nd biggest cap number for an outside linebacker belongs to Olivier Vernon of the Giants at a whopping $17 million. The highest cap number for a defensive end stands at $17.5 million and belongs to Calais Campbell of the Jaguars, who despite a good season last time around is surely not considered an elite talent at the position with just 5 sacks so far this year?

In the wide receiver room you will find Cleveland Browns top target Jarvis Landry carrying the 3rd biggest cap number at the position for $15.5 million and an ageing Larry Fitzgerald of the Cardinals is 2nd on the list at $16.8 million. As for offensive tackles Russel Okung of the Chargers equates for just shy of a $15 million hit and Eric Fisher of the Chiefs is a fraction under $14 million.

All of the players mentioned are not terrible players by any stretch of the imagination but it certainly supports the theory of paying a position as opposed to paying a talent, especially when you compare that to the salaries paid to running backs. The top 5 running back cap hits average out to just over $7 million, with the highest cap hit belonging to Lesean McCoy at $8.95 million. Many of the best running backs currently playing are still on their rookie contracts and the mentality is that running backs are “a dime a dozen” but even if there is some merit in that mentality it is surely completely unfair to guys playing a punishing position.

Let it sink in that the likes of Blake Bortles, Case Keenum and even back up quarterbacks Tyrod Taylor, Josh McCown and Nick Foles are carrying a higher cap hit this year than any running back in the league. Surely it is about time that general managers paid the guys producing the goods; and not throwing buckets of cash at middle of the road quarterbacks, 1 season wonder defensive ends, average offensive tackles or mediocre wide receivers. I hope for the likes of Kareem Hunt, Alvin Kamara and Jordan Howard that this culture changes by the time that they come to negotiate their second contracts and maybe, just maybe, they will all owe Le’veon Bell a huge debt of gratitude.

As Deon Sanders would say…….”PAY THE MAN”

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