Running Backs Are A Dime A Dozen
Professional sports are very odd when it comes to an American business model. The owners tend to be very capitalistic. The Washington Commanders were just sold for over $6 billion. Game tickets, concessions and parking to their games are very expensive.
But when it comes to the players, the NFL is very socialistic. The NFL Draft is set up for the bad teams to get better players while the salary cap is in place so the bigger market teams can’t buy all of the players. The cap also makes teams pick and chose which players to spend money on. They can’t pay all of them.
Certainly NFL players make a lot of money. And the great players can earn generational cash.
Last week three deserving NFL running backs, Saquon Barkley, Josh Jacobs and Tony Pollard, couldn’t agree to long-term agreements. Moving forward, they’ll either sign the franchise tag or negotiate a different one-year deal.
But is there a big difference between the Top 10 running backs and the next 30? I don't think so. In 2022 the Top 3 backs in terms of yards were Jacobs, Derrick Henry and Nick Chubb. They combined for a grand total of 0 playoff wins. Although the next two backs, Barkley and Miles Sanders did win 3 post-season games last year.
But look at these stats between two 'random backs'. Any guesses who these two running backs are?
Running Back A 1,312 yds, 10 TD, 57 receptions, 338 receiving yds, 0 TDs
Running Back B 1,269 yards, 11 TD, 20 receptions, 78 yds 0 TDs
Running Back B signed for a 4 year, $25,400,000 contract with the Carolina Panthers. $13 million of that is guaranteed.
Running Back A reportedly turned down a contract worth more than 12 million annually.
Regardless of your thoughts of Saquon Barkley (RB A) or Miles Sanders (RB B), we can all agree Barkley isn’t twice as good Sanders.
Christian McCaffrey, is generally regarded as one of the best running backs in the NFL, but when Brock Purdy went down in the NFC Championship, McCaffrey could’t carry the offense and the 49ers lost 31-7.
I think Barkley is a tremendous football player, but if a team can get 75-80% of his production for 10-20% of the cost, why pay the additional money? They'll have more money for the Offensive Line, Wide Receivers and Tight Ends.
In this case, market forces if you will, make it an easy decision for NFL teams. Outside of loyalty, which there is very little in the NFL, there isn’t a very good reason for overpaying running backs.
They are a dime a dozen and the NFL knows it.