The 2012 offseason features a trio of discontented running backs, two of whom don’t have contracts and one of whom who does. And they all want to be paid more (presumably a lot more) than they otherwise could get.
Bears running back Matt Forte and Ravens running back Ray Rice could get $7.7 million for 2012 under the franchise tag. Both want something that provides a higher degree of long-term financial security. Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew has two years left under contract, and he’s due to earn a total of $9.4 million in 2012 and 2013.
All three undoubtedly are targeting the top of the market. Per a source with knowledge of the high-end tailback contracts, the non-Adrian Peterson/Chris Johnson bar currently resides at $30 million over three years. Though the players get there via various structures and formulas, LeSean McCoy of the Eagles, Arian Foster of the Texans, and DeAngelo Williams of the Panthers each have deals that will kick out $10 million per year over the first three years, assuming that the players perform well enough to persuade their respective teams to continue the arrangement.
The bar for the very top of the market goes to $36 million over three years for Johnson, and a whopping $40 million over three years for Peterson. That’s what Rice supposedly wants, and he reportedly is never going to get it.
The real question is whether any of these guys will get $30 million over three. With the Bears putting out negative vibes regarding Forte’s knee and the Jaguars now reportedly questioning whether Jones-Drew is as explosive as he used to be, it’s highly unlikely. (It’s hard not to wonder how many yards the 2011 NFL rushing champ would have gained if he were as explosive as he used to be — and if his team has something resembling a real passing attack.)
Only a very small handful of running backs will ever get truly big money, and the primary challenge for the agent is to position the player to pocket a big contract while he’s still young enough to truly earn it. For guys with four or more years of taking an NFL-style pounding, it’s increasingly difficult for teams to justify forking over huge money — especially with the Vikings giving Peterson his contract at the outset of his fifth season and seeing him tear an ACL at what otherwise would have been the next-to-last game of his rookie deal.
With so few running backs ever truly striking it rich, the reality remains that it makes more sense for kids to quit running with the football and to start kicking it.