Plenty of people are paying plenty of attention to whether Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell parlays his franchise tender into a long-term deal. No one is paying closer attention than Cardinals running back David Johnson.
“I hope he gets the deal he deserves,” Johnson told Andy Benoit of TheMMQB.com. “I hope it’s going to be the type of deal that cornerbacks get and quarterbacks get.”
Johnson hopes that Bell gets the “deal he deserves” in part because Johnson is the next young running back to eventually get the kind of deal Bell secures. The question continues to be whether the Steelers will give Bell a multi-year contract that uses his $12.1 million franchise tender as the starting point.
Even then, Bell would fall far short of cornerback Josh Norman’s $15 million per year, and Bell would still be at roughly 50 cents on the dollar of the temporary high-water mark for quarterback deals, with Derek Carr at $25 million annually. Given the prevalence of running backs who are nearly as good as guys like Bell and Johnson and dramatically cheaper to sign, it will be very hard for the running back market to flourish the way it once did.
Johnson is understandably optimistic that a golden age is coming.
“I feel like, especially now, with the running backs we have in this league, we’re going to definitely change the mentality of the running back and those contract deals,” Johnson said. “We’re going to definitely make it [understood] that running backs are more important than you’d think. Everyone thinks it’s a passing league, but I think running backs are starting to show up and show out and prove that you need a good one to be a capable team.”
He’s right, but the fact remains that a “good one” can be found in most rounds of the draft or undrafted, since pretty much every major college football program has a running back good enough to move the chains at the NFL level if he gets adequate blocking. With supply far outweighing demand, it will be difficult for the best of the running backs to get paid — especially since many of them are chewed up by the time they become eligible for a new deal.
That’s what Johnson needs to be the most worried about. With 373 touches in the second year of a slotted contract that paid him $525,000 and as many or more touches planned for 2017, when he’ll make $615,000, Johnson may not have much tread left on the tires when the time comes to get paid truly significant money.
It’s a harsh reality of pro football that has caused players like former NFL running back Ben Tate to lament not becoming a defensive back. And it’s a factor that physically-gifted youths should be considering before they fully embrace the glory and thrill that comes from being the guy who runs circles around high-school and college defenders en route to thousands of rushing yards and dozens of touchdowns.