Veteran running back market goes flat

Getty Images

Years of watching the West Virginia football program churn out a constant stream of capable tailbacks caused me to realize that plenty of college football players can move the chains with adequate blocking.  Beyond the truly elite ball carriers, the position at the NFL level has become nearly as fungible as punter, kicker, holder, and long snapper.

Coupled with the trend away from workhorse running backs and toward two or three interchangeable options, big-name veterans with plenty of wear and tear and increased financial expectations fueled by fantasy football fame are learning the hard way that the big money isn’t there.

With the exception of Panthers, who gave 28-year-old running back DeAngelo Williams a $21 million guaranteed despite missing 10 games due to injury in 2010, the big money isn’t there.  Marion Barber and Willis McGahee each will get deals in the range of $2.5 million per year; Barber’s last deal average well over $6 million per year, at seven years and $45 million.

It’s bad news for guys like Ahmad Bradshaw (pictured), Ronnie Brown, Jason Snelling, and Ricky Williams, veterans whose names barely have been mentioned at a time when teams can instead load up with younger, cheaper options who can do almost as much for a lot less money.

Then there’s Tiki Barber, who supposedly knew exactly where he was going but still remains lost in limbo five days into this crazy, compressed 2011 buying cycle.

The question for the remaining veterans is whether they’ll take what they can get before all they can get is a one-year deal for the minimum salary.

UPDATE:  And we forgot about Clinton Portis.  Apparently, so has the rest of the league.

42 responses to “Veteran running back market goes flat

  1. Then there’s Tiki Barber, who supposedly knew exactly where he was going but still remains lost in limbo five days into this crazy, compressed 2011 buying cycle.

    ___________________________________

    I told you Barber knew where he was going in the NFL as much as I know where I’m going in the NFL.

  2. Belichick drafted two RBs in a row, and everyone was surprised. He can pay both of them for the cost of an iPad and a box of Milk Duds.

  3. By game 5 of the season, most of these guys will be picked up by teams who need injury replacements for their signed RBs. Except for Barber, who’ll just be waiting for the phone to ring…

  4. Don’t forget about “fresh-legs” Portis… who feels he should be with a “contender”. Gotta go, I spit my drink all over the laptop.

  5. “Coupled with the trend away from workhorse running backs and toward two or three interchangeable options”
    —————————————————

    The worst trend I’ve seen in 40 years of watching the NFL.

  6. All of these backs mentioned, and not a whiff of Cedric Benson…. This is how it goes being a Bengal, Ced…… Ced’s dead, baby. Ced’s dead.

  7. If you’re an up-and-comer, your best bet is probably to switch to the secondary or receiver. Teams need a lot more of those. But every kid grows up wanting to be the next great running back. Most kids don’t dream of playing DB.

  8. Don’t sleep on Clinton Portis man, if he is healthy man, he’s better than all the running backs in this article besides Deangelo Williams. Portis is one of the best pass blocking RBs to ever play. If he has his legs back man he might rack of 1,200 yards. I’m surprised he’s still out there. Don’t let the Redskins O’line fool ya.

  9. wwwfella says:
    and chris johnson is wrong for holding out?
    ———————————————

    That seems to be the gist of the article…
    And I would only give him a raise if he promised to spend it on a Speak-N-Spell instead of gold teefs.

  10. You know, there’s some inherent justice in the concept of top offensive linemen getting $5-7 million a year while RBs are signing for a lot less…

  11. Adding a veteran back in week 5 (or even week 2) makes way more sense for a team from a financial standpoint — veteran’s season salaries are fully guaranteed if they’re on the roster week 1.

    If these guys are truly interchangable, no need to bring in the vet until that “vesting” date is passed.

  12. Cedric Benson, Ronnie Brown and Cadillac Williams were each taken in the top five picks of the 2005 draft. Now each of them are still looking for jobs. Tough market for a running back these days.

  13. The free agent pick ups who made the most noise last season were waiver wire step children like Danny Woodhead, Ryan Torain, and LeGarrette Blount.

    The league is coming to the realization that with the exception of a few elite talents, very few running backs out there are more valuable than a cheap rookie FA who could replace them and are spending their money elsewhere.

  14. Most of the big name guys you mentioned have already made pretty good money. If they were smart, they would lower their price, and try to get on a good team in hopes of winning a championship.

  15. The Eagles should sign one since they are on their way to be the Redskins of a few years ago. You know buying all the big free agents to try and buy a Superbowl.

  16. profootballwalk says:
    Jul 30, 2011 10:16 PM
    Belichick drafted two RBs in a row, and everyone was surprised. He can pay both of them for the cost of an iPad and a box of Milk Duds.
    ==============================

    and he can still get lit up by the Jets or Ravens in the first round for the cost of ipad cover and a box of tampons.

    Stop the “genius” takes…it gets old. Been nearly a decade since the last SB win. Sack Brady, stop the run game , their just another team. Jesus, cut it out already.

  17. Hey Jim Harbaugh and Jed York…could you grab a couple of these guys?….for the love of god PLEASE?!

  18. ahmad bradshaw will go back to the giants at a reasonable rate. he’s still very young and will cut down on the fumbles especially now that jacobs is expected to be used more than he was utilized last year.

  19. Has anyone even brought in Tiki for a looksee? Bad time for a RB his age with his baggage to attempt a comeback.

  20. and to add to it rb is a brutal position to play, those guys take a beating and they better not fumble. and now they seem on the verge of workng for peanuts on top of all that

  21. NFL running backs are the ultimate disposable heroes in a league full of them. In that sense it’s hard to fault Chris Johnson’s insistence on getting paid, because he knows what happens to his peers. He’s a top 5 RB right now; but where will he be when his next contract comes up?

    I think Ronnie Brown, when healthy (ahem) represents a great all-around back for any team out there. The best deal for backs that find themselves in his predicament is to sign up as a member of a RB by committee approach, get the best deal that he can, and hope to prolong his career through reduced wear and tear.

  22. Get used to it people, the NFL is and has always been primarily a passing league. Teams nowadays devote more resources to the passing game (and defending against the pass) simply because it wins games. Why rely on a running game which can net you maybe 3 yards per attempt when the passing game can get you twice to three times that per attempt? Who would you rather have on your team – Tiki Barber or Tom Brady?

  23. This new rookie wage scale is going to hurt running backs the most. They are going to be forced to hold out like CJ, or play out their rookie contract and get cast aside for a young FA. It’s going to become much harder for them to get that one big payday under the new agreement.

  24. You also forgot about LeRon McLain who wants to be regarded as a RB rather than remain a FB.

    This is a year when a glut of RBs are on the market cheap. Anyone who gets into a bidding war for one is going to overpay because there are more decent (or at least formerly decent) players at this position than teams with need.

  25. tatum064 says:
    Jul 30, 2011 11:07 PM
    profootballwalk says:
    Jul 30, 2011 10:16 PM
    Belichick drafted two RBs in a row, and everyone was surprised. He can pay both of them for the cost of an iPad and a box of Milk Duds.
    ==============================

    and he can still get lit up by the Jets or Ravens in the first round for the cost of ipad cover and a box of tampons.

    Stop the “genius” takes…it gets old. Been nearly a decade since the last SB win. Sack Brady, stop the run game , their just another team. Jesus, cut it out already.

    Yeah, just another 14-2 team that produced the 7th best season for an offense in the history of the NFL.

    Time to close your mouth son. Try breathing through your nose.

  26. guypatsfan who you rather have chris johnson or drew bledsoe. see u can make ridiculous arguments using the best player at his position vs a player who’s been retired for too long to play also.
    you are correct that qbs are far
    more
    important than rbs but you failed to justify your argument with logical examples

  27. The modern NFL treats running backs like this. Draft, run into the ground, release, repeat.

    Most guys are done by 30 and they hit the wall fast.

    Shaun Alexander, Willie Parker, Edgerrin James, Clinton Portis, Brian Westbrook, Jamaal Lewis.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Not a member? Register now!