A position that is crucial on any level of Football is the running back position. There has been a theme in the NFL this off-season with running backs. They are not being compensated for their position. Why are running backs not being paid? What are the situations for these running backs? What is the running back market currently?
Why are Running backs not being paid?
NFL Running backs are not being compensated for two main reasons. The first reason is cheaper options; the second one is the "shelf-life" of a running back.
Reason 1: Cheaper Options
There are younger, cheaper options; yes, you may have a good running back who is 30 years old (and has been with the team for nearly a decade) on the roster. However, any team will take that in a heartbeat if there is a younger, cheaper option. The draft is a far more cost-effective option for NFL franchises than re-signing a veteran player.
Graphic made by https://twitter.com/SydneySzumowicz
The life of a running back is short, much like the goldfish you had when you were seven years old. A running back will get drafted, and if they are the best of the best, they may get a second contract to make more money. That second contract isn't always guaranteed to happen for running backs. Nevertheless, making a second contract for any player is risky because there's a chance that the player gets hurt, and then all that money you signed that player to is gone.
This concern is more prevalent in running backs because they can be the staple of that franchise. Think of a Johnathan Taylor or Derrick Henry. When those two guys were hurt, the Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans were terrible. Running backs as a position take a beating every time they step on the field, so that is why their "shelf-life" is significantly less than any other position. That scares teams into not re-signing running backs for a second contract. Even if a running back gets a second contract, that may have very little money (3 or 4 million).
What is the Running Back Market Currently?
Just like dragons and unicorns, the market doesn't exist. Understanding why the running back market is so slow is as simple as understanding basic economics (specifically supply and demand). If consumers (in this case, NFL teams) don't need that product/service (this would be running backs), then demand for that product/service declines. The running back market being the way it is doesn't make sense because there are still 1,000+ rushers out in the open. In the modern NFL, having a run game is crucial for any franchise.
What are the Situations for Running Backs In Free Agency?
7/17/23 was the deadline for franchise tags had to be signed. There are different situations for these running backs. The one that has been making the most headlines is that they have not signed their contracts (franchise tags). Here are the players that fall under that category.
Josh Jacobs (LVR)
At the beginning of 2022-2023, the Las Vegas Raiders did not give Josh Jacobs his fifth-year option. So naturally, they would have to work out a deal once the season ended. The franchise opted to use their franchise tags on Jacobs back in March. It has been five months, and the Team and Josh have not agreed on a contract. So as of right now, Josh Jacobs's future with the Raiders is in Jeopardy. This past season, Jacobs had 340 rushes for 1653 and 12 touchdowns. Jacobs had these stats on a bad (not talent-wise) Raiders team.
Saquon Barkley (NYG)
Barkley is in a similar situation as Jacobs. Where he has been tagged but has not signed a contract. Barkley means so much to the New York Giants. He is practically their whole offense at times. But the Giants knew they would have to choose who to resign at the end of this past season: their Quarterback, Daniel Jones, or their Running Back, Saquon Barkley. The team chose Jones as they signed a four-year 160 million dollar deal. The Giants, like the Raiders, opted to franchise tag Barkley. Barkley, similar to Jacobs, has not signed his franchise tag. This past season, Barkley had 295 rushes for 1,312 and 10 touchdowns. Barkley had over 200 rushes and 1000+ yards, yet the Giants don't seem to value him. Otherwise, they would've re-signed him already.
Tony Pollard (DAL)
Pollard was also franchise tagged. He also has not signed his franchise tag. The Dallas Cowboys do not have any other running backs outside of Pollard. They used to have Ezekial Elliot, but he got released on March 15th. Pollard, this past season had 193 rushes for 1,007 and 9 touchdowns. Pollard had 1,000+ and still hasn't signed a contract with Dallas.
What Does This Mean for Pollard, Jacobs, and Barkley?
Now these three gentlemen have two choices. Choice 1 would be they play on a one-year franchise tag, and then the Giants, Raiders, and Cowboys will have to try and work on a contract next off-season. Choice 2 (the more exciting choice) would potentially hold out if they don't sign contracts. Holdouts are a risky move just ask Le'Veon Bell. These three gentlemen deserve compensation, especially since all three had 1,000+ yards last season.
Other Situations in the RB Market
Guys like Zeke, Dalvin Cook (who had a 1,000+ yard season last year, and Leonard Fournette have been cut by their respective teams. Austin Ekeler from the Los Angeles Chargers has requested a trade from the team. Aaron Jones and Joe Mixon have taken pay cuts to stay with the Green Bay Packers and Cincinnati Bengals. Meanwhile, Kareem Hunt has been a free agent this whole off-season.
It is a wild time to be a running back in the NFL. No team is willing to sign them to a long-term deal, yet they are vital to any NFL roster.