Jones-Drew thinks running back market will rebound

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Veteran running back Maurice Jones-Drew finally got his long-awaited crack at the open market in 2014.

And his new contract pays, on average, little more than half of what he made in the final year of a contract with the Jaguars that prompted a lengthy (and ultimately unsuccessful) holdout in 2012.

But Jones-Drew doesn’t believe there has been a fundamental change in the tailback market.

“There was no one proven on the free-agent market but me, and I am 29,” Jones-Drew recently told Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle.  “I am 29, coming off a major foot injury, and people say I had a bad year, ‘He’s done.’

“I don’t think the running back position has been devalued.  It’s the toughest position in the league, and people saw again last year in the playoffs how important the running game is.  Running the ball is all that matters.”

While the running game arguably takes on greater importance in the postseason, it’s hardly “all that matters.”  Regardless of the extent to which it matters, the performance of LeGarrette Blount against the Colts in prime-time on a Saturday night should have gotten him a lot more on the open market than a deal that averages less than $2 million per year in Pittsburgh, if the position hasn’t been devalued.

It’s important to agree on what “devalued” means in this context.  The position itself remains valuable.  The men who play it, however, have increasingly become viewed as interchangeable in recent years.  First-round running backs will be fewer and farther between.  Top-10 tailbacks will be a thing of the past, especially after the Browns’ misadventures with Trent Richardson.

Ditto for big-money free agents.  The truly great running backs typically won’t become free agents until the tread has flown off the tires.  Which means that the only young tailbacks available in free agency typically will be guys who have yet to get a full and fair chance to show they can carry the load.

Jones-Drew specifically mentioned Ben Tate and Toby Gerhart when pointing out that their lack of experience translates to a lack of significant compensation.

“Why would a team give them a bunch of money?” Jones-Drew said.  “I guarantee the money will go back up for running backs next year. It’s just a down year.”

Jones-Drew’s remarks overlook the fact that Chris Johnson, one of the very best running backs in the league over the last six seasons, had minimal serious suitors and ultimately got only $4 million per year on a two-year deal in New York.  Those figures confirm that the market currently is bad for veteran tailbacks, and that it will stay that way.

Not because running backs aren’t important.  But because there are plenty of guys flooding the market every year, as rookies and as veterans, who will move the chains if the offensive line blocks for them.

Like anything else, it’s about supply and demand.  Despite the physical demands of playing the position, the supply of guys who can do it exceeds the number of available positions.  And so only a very small handful will get huge money — and that likely won’t last for very long for any of them.

27 responses to “Jones-Drew thinks running back market will rebound

  1. Using the Browns errors as an example isn’t really fair.

    They haven’t done anything right in about 10 years now.

    What would make anyone assume they draft the right people now?

  2. The running back market has been just fine for Adrian Peterson, as he swindled the hapless and tasteless Vikings out of $100M back in 2011. However, the Vikings were and are flush with cash because they don’t have to pay a QB.

    This brilliant strategy has led to last place finishes in 3 of the last 4 seasons.

  3. A team with 3 average RBs can do a lot more then a team with 1 great RB. Peterson is the best in the game today, probably top 5 of all time. How many times have the Vikings made the playoffs with him? How many playoff wins do they have with him? A few years back Pittsburgh and Green Bay played in the SB. At best you could call the starting RBs slightly above average with average RBs.

  4. I hope MJD has an investment advisor who is better at predicting future growth opportunities than HE is predicting the future of running backs in The NFL. The position grinds up players over a VERY short span of time, and there is a NEVER-ENDING supply of younger men arriving from NCAA football EVERY year ready to replace the ground up RBS.

  5. The rules have changed to make the NFL a passing-dominated league; the reason RBs make less money is they’re far less important than they used to be. Add to that the fact you’re almost undoubtedly done with your career by 30, and RBs will never see huge money again. A running game just doesn’t mean what it used to be because of how the rules have changed.

  6. Mojo was a very good RB but age, injury, and hits have taken their toll on him. I really hope that he is the player of old, but he played like garbage last year, is 29, and is coming off a major foot injury. His whining does make me laugh though, HE pushed out Fred Taylor when he was a young player and Fred left for the Patriots and had little tread left on HIS tires and retired. It happens to almost all RBs if they play a lot- at 30 they are done.

  7. It’s all about timing, CJ and MJD should have saved their 2000 and 1600 yard respective rushing seasons for contract years…

  8. MJD seems to be whistling in the dark a little bit here. He can hope all he wants, but the RB market likely will remain what it is for the foreseable future, if not for good.
    Many teams now have 2-3 good, productive RB’s (Steelers, Chargers Bengals, etc.) to distribute touches to, while saving wear and tear on all of them. The days of huge-money RB’s appear to be drawing to a close, if they haven’t completely closed already.

  9. I hate to hear anyone use Adrian Peterson as part of their reasoning. With an absence of a top tier QB, opponents only worked on shutting him down. He has had the most plays for negative yardage several years running. This is not a reflection on him, but on the defenses he faces. I agree that there are a ton of serviceable tailbacks out there for little money. But I don’t agree that AP proves that a great running back makes little difference. To win you need great players at all the skill positions and the Vikings have struggled with QB and at times WR for years. AP with a good offensive coordinator and even an average QB is a unique game changer and worth big $. Plus he sells tickets for an otherwise average team.

  10. Hear me out….
    It’s my opinion that the value of RB position is no different other jobs that the “Joe Sixpack” might get.
    Often times you are judged on how diverse your skills are. Case in point, Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles can run between tackles, blitz pass block and catch screens out of the backfield. Mix in potentially lining up at slot WR and running 10 yard crossing patterns and you have a valuable piece to an offense.
    My own team, the Eagles…just gave up a 5th rd pick for a 31 year old RB. They did this because his talents are very diverse. They are willing to invest in the position as long as it is not one dimension.
    I believe that teams will open the wallet for backs that can give you more looks, create more matchup problems in open space.
    If MJD and CJ2K are feeling like the door is closing on them, perhaps they need to add some skills to their resume.

    I would love to know what others think on this topic.

  11. This specifically is why teams like sf and Seattle can allocate so much of their payroll like 30% to a position with qb in their or not . Every team can afford a few 2-4 max contracts bc other positions are decreasing in value such as RB and even DE are taking a little slide . They won’t recover until a new fad comes around . Right now the value on secondary had never been higher in large part bc of the Seahawks and defense in general because of the defensive teams dominating the league as of late as well as passing so rb have been devalued until that trend dissipates. Sorry MJD your wrong on this one in the near future but possibly in the next 5-10 years maybe .very few rb tote the pill like AD and Beast Mode and even Gore . They get more miles than others but also revive more money than most so it evens out . Either your a 2-3 down back or 1-2 down back and you will be paid accordingly simple as that .

  12. The running back market WILL rebound… When the league allows all defenses to get away with as much contact and interference as they allow Seattle to get away with.

  13. The NFL is a league of cycles. Once each teams defense has been built on speed to combat the passing attacks, the running game will be the way to score points once again.

    That will take a few years, so MJD wont be a part of it. Neither will Blount but the Steelers certainly got the best deal of the FA RBs.

  14. The author makes a great point at Chris Johnson.

    It should also be noted that Ben Tate and Toby Gerhart where in similar situations as M. Turner when he left the Chargers as LT’s backup and sign with Atlanta. But the current guys, got no where near that miney

  15. MJD over values the position he plays. RB are a dime a dozen and the easiest position to replace for several years now.

  16. Remember when Terrell Davis so just soooo good, then went down with an injury, was replaced by Olandis Gary and then Mike Anderson, and everyone gushed about the ‘stable’ of running backs Denver had- while NEVER praising the O-line?

    It’s all about the O-line, it doesn’t matter who is running the ball!

  17. Nice karmic result for the guy who spent a couple of years trying to run Fred Taylor out of town. Too bad he never lived up to Taylor on or off the field.

  18. Tate nothing special, too injured, Gerhart dont get me started, as long as you are a superstar you will get paid. If McCoy, Peterson, Charles were to be cut this of-season dont you think GM’s will be bumbling over them selves to get them signed and paid. People will mention CJ .2k, well his stats seem to be trending downwards, but he still got more $$ done the guys that were available this FA period. So yes, MJD makes some valid points.

  19. In response to: “Jones-Drew’s remarks overlook the fact that Chris Johnson, one of the very best running backs in the league over the last six seasons, had minimal serious suitors and ultimately got only $4 million per year on a two-year deal in New York. Those figures confirm that the market currently is bad for veteran tailbacks, and that it will stay that way.”

    CJ2K hit the market late. Had he been on the market from the very beginning of free agency before most teams addressed their RB needs, CJ may have gotten a higher contract. Also CJ has not been “one of the very best” the last two years.

    RB salaries have and will continue to go down, because teams will keep their great RBs, and proven great RBs are not hitting free agency in their prime. If a top 10 RB hit free agency at the age of 24 or 25, he’d get a monster contract from someone.

  20. The market for mid-tier and lower RBs isn’t great for the players. Rather than overpay for decent-at-best free agents, teams are giving big contracts to guys they have drafted and want to re-sign.

    Especially with the current CBA, rookies are so cheap that teams can pick up a bunch of them, let them play out their rookie deals, and pay the guy who produces results.

    Let’s look at the contracts for the top 10 rushers last season:

    1. LeSean McCoy – 5/17/2012 – 6 yrs, $45.6m, $20.8m guaranteed
    2. Matt Forte – 7/16/2012 – 4 yrs, $30.4m, $13.8m guaranteed
    3. Jamaal Charles – 12/11/2010 – 6 yrs, $28m, $13m guarnteed
    4. Alfred Morris – 5/6/2012 – 4 yrs, $2.2m (rookie deal)
    5. Adrian Peterson – 9/10/2011 – 7 yrs, $96m, $36m guaranteed
    6. Marshawn Lynch – 3/4/2012 – 4 yrs, $31m, $17m guaranteed
    7. Ryan Mathews – 8/1/2010 – 5 yrs, $20.5m, $15m guaranteed (rookie deal)
    8. Eddie Lacy – 5/29/2013 – 4 yrs, $3.4m (rookie deal)
    9. Frank Gore – 8/30/2011 – 4 yrs, $25.9m, $13.5m guaranteed
    10. DeMarco Murray – 7/28/2011 – 4 yrs, $3m (rookie deal)

    Some takeaways:

    Marshawn Lynch is the only guy on the list who has ever changed teams, and he was traded. The Seahawks re-signed him after he played out his rookie deal signed with Buffalo.

    Ryan Mathews has a rookie deal from the old CBA.

    Adrian Peterson’s guaranteed money isn’t nearly as ridiculous as the overall size of the contract.

    Assuming Morris, Lacy and Murray continue to produce up through the end of their rookie deals, their respective teams will most likely sign them to deals similar to the other guys on this list not named Adrian Peterson.

  21. I miss the days of smash mouth, kill the clock football. Back when an NFL team could make a deep run simply by toting the rock and having a breakneck defense.

    Goodell’s sissification of the league has made the running back position ‘devalued’. The rules are set up such that unless you have a 6’5″ pretty boy throwing 40 times out of the shotgun you aren’t winning many ball games.

    Maybe my perspective isn’t quite the same, as I don’t watch the game from an air conditioned suite while sipping on fine wine and snacking on caviar, but from where I stand this game has become a shadow of it’s former self.

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