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Low demand for veteran running backs

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The PFT Hot 100 contains seven running backs.  Six of them still haven’t signed.

The only one that has — Peyton Hillis — got a one-year deal with a base value of $2.6 million.

So why haven’t Michael Bush (pictured), Mike Tolbert, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Kevin Smith, Cedric Benson, and Justin Forsett put their John Henry Johnsons on a new contract?

They all likely could have gotten new jobs by now, if they were willing to take whatever low-level offer someone may be willing to put on the table.  But the market remains soft because the teams know that they can use an ultra-low-cost draft pick on a running back, locking up a kid with plenty of tread on his tires for at least four years.

It’s another harsh reality of the rookie wage scale.  It was supposed to make more money available for veterans by holding down the cost of rookies.  And while that’s now the case, more money is indeed available for established players, it’s going to be harder for running backs who aren’t truly elite to cash in.

For many veteran ball carriers, life likely will become a box of one-year deals, with fewer and fewer tailbacks ever becoming superstars.  Which means that fewer and fewer of them will ever strike it rich.

And so our advice for the young, fast, nimble, and strong who can’t throw a football over them mountains?  If you can catch, play receiver.  If you can’t play cornerback.

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44 Responses to “Low demand for veteran running backs”
  1. jets4gold says: Mar 18, 2012 8:11 PM

    Shows you that this is a run second league

  2. tropboi11 says: Mar 18, 2012 8:12 PM

    Someone should be signing Bush soon, he has the most talent out of that group

  3. ninja6r says: Mar 18, 2012 8:13 PM

    I always liked Kevin Smith. I know he’s a injury proned, but he always seemed productive.

  4. mhohmann says: Mar 18, 2012 8:14 PM

    And Brandon Jacobs. I think many of these guys will be back with their original teams at a nice discount.

  5. mrslay1 says: Mar 18, 2012 8:15 PM

    Hillis was the steal of the FA running backs. I still can;t believe the Steelers or the Pats didn’t take him. Ellis will end up back at the PATS, he holds onto the ball to well.

  6. Soulman45 says: Mar 18, 2012 8:18 PM

    Frist to say
    What a deal the UNION is the way to go if you won’t to go down Hill.

  7. underrated49ers says: Mar 18, 2012 8:22 PM

    Another reason why the rushing record may never be broken.

  8. daysend564 says: Mar 18, 2012 8:23 PM

    Can’t believe someone like the Lions haven’t picked up Bush. They have a fragile RB that is one hit from being in the sue for brain damage camp.

  9. mobuccsfan says: Mar 18, 2012 8:24 PM

    Unrelated but had to just say…just read Alex Smith is in contract negotiations right now with the Dolphins. Looks like it is Manning or Kaepernik next year in San Francisco…of course we shall see.

    Back on topic…I would be okay with the Buccs picking up Bush and thought they would but time will tell I guess. We could use another back to go with Blount.

  10. determineflksmakeit says: Mar 18, 2012 8:27 PM

    And if you can tackle…play linebacker

  11. scottdragosnai says: Mar 18, 2012 8:28 PM

    Out of who is left who does everyone feel is the best?
    I’d take Tolbert slightly over Benson.
    Scott Dragos NAi

  12. nomoreseasontix says: Mar 18, 2012 8:28 PM

    All of the names mentioned are essentially pretty good backs. Not great.
    No reason for a team to throw money at them. Running backs are fungible. Not a smart place to put a big chunk of your cap space….
    You can find decent production in the middle rounds of every draft.

  13. raiderapologist says: Mar 18, 2012 8:29 PM

    I’d love to see any of these guys play cornerback. Their only chance would be on the line of scrimmage. It would be beautiful violence.

  14. luponatrix says: Mar 18, 2012 8:39 PM

    “The only one that has — Peyton Hillis — got a one-year deal with a base value of $2.6 million.”

    How’s he gonna eat?

  15. vincentbojackson says: Mar 18, 2012 8:40 PM

    mrslay1 says:

    Hillis was the steal of the FA running backs. I still can;t believe the Steelers or the Pats didn’t take him.

    The Steelers and Pats didn’t get where they are by wasting money on one-hit wonders that can’t stay healthy and were accused of quitting on their team.

  16. sportsmeccabi says: Mar 18, 2012 8:44 PM

    Cleveland needs a running back. Why haven’t they called any of these guys?

  17. robertunsoberirish says: Mar 18, 2012 8:45 PM

    Denver will more than likely pick up Tolbert or Bush in the upcoming week. (if they can pull their collective noses out of Manning’s ass that is!)

  18. damadgreek says: Mar 18, 2012 8:46 PM

    I don’t get it. Michael Turner sure seemed worth it for the falcons

  19. juiceboxsupply says: Mar 18, 2012 8:48 PM

    I will use your, John Henry Johnson, reference with great frequency. I will pretend that I made it up. Go Bills

  20. bennprince says: Mar 18, 2012 8:59 PM

    These are all 2nd/3rd tier talents. The top backs (Arian Foster, AD, MJD, etc.) will always demand top dollar.

  21. dta1978 says: Mar 18, 2012 9:03 PM

    No it goes to show the days of over spending on players that are not superstars are over. the linebackers have got very little action as well because none of these players are superstars they can all be replaced for a smaller contract, either through the draft or latter with veterans loking for a job when they realize they can’t get the big money they want.

  22. dougydougdoug says: Mar 18, 2012 9:07 PM


    While maybe not quite as elite as LT in his prime, or AP (before he destroyed his knee) you have to put the “Burner” way ahead of the guys listed in this article. They all have their strong points, but it would be difficult for anyone to argue that Turner wasn’t a cornerstone of the Falcon’s improved play in the past number of seasons.

    But I don’t think you could say that about any of these other guys. They’re all really solid number-two guys, or maybe third-down specialists. But every-down? Not these chaps.

  23. stew48 says: Mar 18, 2012 9:17 PM

    Do yoy or juicebox remember or know of John Henry Johnson. I saw him play, but I am old.

  24. psychoraider904 says: Mar 18, 2012 9:20 PM

    You’re welcome to come back to Oakland Mr. Bush. McFadden can’t seem to make it through a whole season.

  25. mrslay1 says: Mar 18, 2012 9:20 PM

    The Cleveland Clowns got exactly what they paid for in Hillis!

  26. andyreidsskinnyjeans says: Mar 18, 2012 9:30 PM

    Tolbert should sign with the eagles to back up McCoy.

  27. watermelon1 says: Mar 18, 2012 9:33 PM

    This is exactly why the Ravens should NOT pay Rice. Would be smarter to trade to some desperate team for a package of high picks… And replenish all their holes.

  28. tittsburghfeelers says: Mar 18, 2012 9:33 PM

    its a passing league. RBs arent as valuable as they used to be. why risk a big contract on a worn down veteran when you can draft young fresh legs on the cheap then ship him out when his rookie contract expires.

  29. myvickinabox14 says: Mar 18, 2012 9:39 PM

    Bush was great. I had him on my bench and when McFadden went down, he was great. I would like to see Philly get one of those big guys for cheap. Just goes to show that the owners are smarter than the players. They new this was gonna happen before they signed the new CBA. Just shortening good players careers.

  30. ramofsteel says: Mar 18, 2012 10:02 PM

    Bush- Overrated
    Tolbert- Pay for a goalline back?
    Green-Ellis- Is he even that great a RB?
    Smith- Knee
    Benson- Seriously?!
    Forsett- Who?

  31. firemarshal1 says: Mar 18, 2012 10:14 PM

    What about Michael Bush to the Bengals? Do a 3 year deal for 10 million, 6 mil guarantee, with reasonable incentives like 1,000 yards or more extra 1 mil, 1,400 yards Another extra 1 mil. That’s 5 million per year. Oh, leading rusher an extra 3 million per yr. sign the deal. Everybody is happy.

  32. peytonsneck18 says: Mar 18, 2012 10:31 PM

    I want BUSH in Indy! !!!!!!

  33. meytonpanning says: Mar 18, 2012 10:35 PM

    Am I the only one who isn’t surprised?

    2012: Year of the tight end/when we realized how replaceable running backs in the NFL really are.

    Look for a few of these guys to get signed AFTER the draft.

  34. mullman7675 says: Mar 18, 2012 10:38 PM

    Bush could come back to the Raiders…. Maybe

  35. rubicon202 says: Mar 18, 2012 10:45 PM

    I mean all the names mentioned are solid backs however, they are not game changers. Whoever wrote this article makes it seem as if the position is fading away? C’mon man…

  36. fm31970 says: Mar 18, 2012 10:52 PM

    Nice Million Dollar Backfield reference.

  37. makeshersquirt says: Mar 18, 2012 11:06 PM

    Well if Denver doesn’t get Manning, they might be willing to sign all of those guys.

    They’ll run their wheels right off.

  38. nardointhenati says: Mar 18, 2012 11:07 PM

    The Bengals arent going to go after any of these RB’s. Coach Gruden has already said he’s going with a RBBC.

  39. nardointhenati says: Mar 18, 2012 11:11 PM

    Bernard Scott, Brian Leonard, and Cedric Pearman have already been in the system for a year, they’re already under contract, and you have any “type” of back you want. Scott is the burner/slasher guy, Leonard is the H-back/Fullback guy, and Pearman is the jack of all trades but master of none guy.

  40. icdogg says: Mar 19, 2012 12:20 AM

    Veteran running backs are far more often than not bad free agency pickups.

  41. damadgreek says: Mar 19, 2012 1:29 AM

    i love the burner…dont get me wrong. I think he is a strong runner who at the time of his signing had some breakaway speed to him.

    I would suggest bush is close in comparison. He is a strong volume runner who also pass protects and catches fairly well.

    at the time of turner’s signing, he had been a back up to a hall of fame running back with a good line. There were risks in the falcons signin him.

    I think it goes more to the point that things may have shifted in the nfl—everyone thinks they can find a rb and i haven’t decided if theyre right or not.

  42. piemasteruk says: Mar 19, 2012 2:44 AM

    Fundamentally speaking, RBs are like kickers. While they perform an important job and they can win or lose games for your team single-handedly, there simply isn’t enough difference between a good one and an average one. Sure, there are some RBs that are obviously better than others, but more often than not the eye-popping numbers they put up come primarily from a combination of the scheme, the passing game removing safeties from the box, or the five fat guys up front whose names nobody can remember making holes. This is why teams that have great running backs often seem to be ‘lucky’ enough to have good second-string or change of pace backs too.

    So from there it is a basic issue of supply and demand. Just like with kickers, nobody is going to pay a slightly-above-average running back top dollar when there a dozen guys who can do a similar job (although maybe not *quite* as well), currently sitting at home waiting for a call. That’s something you just can’t say about positions like Quarterback, Left Tackle or Cornerback where the big bucks are really made.

  43. deddmunnie says: Mar 19, 2012 7:54 AM

    Somewhere Clinton Portis is crying behind his Elton John glasses.

  44. hineswardcriesafterfumbling says: Mar 19, 2012 12:38 PM

    scottdragosnai says:
    Mar 18, 2012 8:28 PM
    Out of who is left who does everyone feel is the best?
    I’d take Tolbert slightly over Benson
    I’d take Booby Miles over Benson. With that said, I think the Bengals need to make a big move at RB. Leonard is a 3rd down specialist, Scott is a homeless man’s Chris Johnson and is like 28, Cedric Peerman is not an NFL running back.

    I’m more interested in Aaron Brown from the Lions than Peerman or Scott. Sign Bush and draft an RB in the first 3 rounds. Leonard is the only existing RB I would care about losing.

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