Effort emerges to create separate union for running backs

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The NFL’s current compensation system does not fairly compensate running backs. An effort has been launched to change that.

Via Bloomberg.com, a petition has been filed with the National Labor Relations Board to create a separate union for NFL running backs.

In a petition dated August 6, the International Brotherhood of Professional Running Backs identifies Veronica Patton as the executive director of the group. The petition, which technically seeks clarification of the broader NFLPA bargaining unit, explains that the “rookie wage contract is economically harmful to workers in skill group (RB), but advantageous to players in skill group (QB),” and that the “current one-size fits all” approach to NFL players is “inappropriate.”

There’s definitely a point to all of this. Running backs have shorter careers, they incur far more physical abuse than most other positions, and the rookie wage structure often results in the best years of a running back’s career happening before they have a chance to renegotiate their deals or to hit free agency.

The NFL and NFL Players Association will have the ability to oppose this, and they surely will. And at some point, the IBPRB will have to persuade running backs to break away from the NFLPA.

Maybe some of them will. There’s a pervasive sense among running backs and the agents who represent them that the men who play the position have different circumstances than other players, and that they are not treated fairly in variety of ways, up to and including the rule that protects pro football’s free farm system by forcing players to wait three years after high school to join the NFL.

Of all players, running backs are the best suited to jump to the NFL after one (or no) years of college. Maybe wiping out that rule as to running backs will be the first order of business for the IBPRB, if/when the effort prevails.

47 responses to “Effort emerges to create separate union for running backs

  1. Seems like this would be an issue for the NFLPA to handle in the next CBA. The problem I see is that forcing running backs to be paid more on the rookie wage scale would cause running backs to be drafted later. If you’re deciding between a RB and a TE or something, you’re more likely to draft the cheaper position.

  2. I am sure the knuckle draggers on here will be quick to attack with their super hot “they get paid millions to play a game” take. But failure to address this unintended consequence of the rookie pay scale and free agency rules will eventually negatively affect the game. Running back play will decline because the best athletes simply won’t play there anymore.

    Of course, changing the rule so that running backs only can skip college or enter the draft sooner would also affect the game because then ALL the best athletes will want to play RB.

  3. Half the players are gutless and will cave if it costs them one dollar. The other half are too stupid to understand the issues. You aren’t dealing with a Mensa convention.

  4. Sorry but the game has changed.

    RB’s do have a short life in the NFL so I can see that point of the discussion. But it is what it is. More players can fill in at RB than other “Skilled Positions” and produce…so just how much can a new union have leverage wise?

    Just saying it is a shame when you earn only 4 -5 million a year verses a WR who earns 10 _ 16 million a year…

    I have no clue what it must be like… the feeling of disparity when it comes to millions… it is so terrible, that I can’t wrap my head around it all….

    yeah right …play the game earn your money..then save wisely.. don’t flaunt it away on 3-4 homes, 5-6 $75 – $100 K cars and learn to live for the future and not today…Anyone who earns 10 million over 4 years should never…never be broke 15 years from now. Live within a nice set of means and values.. you will be fine long term….

  5. “Of all players, running backs are the best suited to jump to the NFL after one (or no) years of college. Maybe wiping out that rule as to running backs will be the first order of business for the IBPRB, if/when the effort prevails.”
    Who is going to determine who is a rb and who isnt? Especially if you say you don’t have to spend time in college and your rookie contract will end up better if your a rb what happens then when a player decides to classify himself as a rb to avoid going to college and get the better pay and he gets drafted and is put at receiver? Or he ends up a return man? Especially coming out of high school players don’t always end up playing the position they assume since high school to division 1 football is a big jump. Seems like a convoluted mess.

  6. Long overdue. The whole rookie wage scale is rigged against running backs and it compounds their problem because less running backs become marquis players with influence over NFLPA and rule changes.
    Elite runningbacks fresh out of college are some of the most dominant players in the game, Alvin Kamara or Saquan Barkley. A couple years ago Leonard Fournette and Todd Gurley were the truth. Any team would pay them $10M+ easy but instead theyre locked into $2M or less contracts. And they have to wear themselves out to chase that contract at 26 or so when they might be washed up.
    Introduce a buyout clause on rookie contracts effective after year 1. See how many people put $20M on the table for Saquan and tell the Giants to match it.

  7. GREED! Will eventually kill the NFL, not from just running backs, but owners, players, unions and agents. Everyone wants top dollar at their position, even if they are just average. I get both sides of the argument. Something has to give though.

  8. I truly enjoy reading stories like these where people think they know the true value of something and are wrong.

    Gurley did not reset the market. His contract is a unicorn; its one a kind and impossible to find.

    A market exists when someone is willing to pay your asking price. A liquid market exists when there is more than one bidder. This suggests that the true value of a running back is not the most money ONE team will pay, but what multiple teams will pay for the next best alternative.

    In this case, the next best alterative is generally one or two rookies — a new running back union is not likely to solve that problem unless they can prevent college kids from accepting that first job paying millions of dollars. Not very likely.

    Here’s a radical thought: determine contract length, by the number of plays or touches. For example, Zeke signs a contract for 3 years or 600 carries / receptions whichever comes first. This system discourages teams from overusing productive players and gives players an early out if are great and play a lot.

  9. I don’t think this idea would work. The fact is that teams don’t pay top dollar for running backs and won’t start to simply because another union is involved. The union creates the framework for negotiates, but the marketplace will always set the price as a function of supply and demand. The fact is that NFL teams have figured out that you can be just a productive with a few mid-tier running backs at a reduced combined cost than if you pay one of the top 5 running backs. The last 5 super bowl winners were as follows:

    2019 – New England – Sony Michel
    2018 – Philadelphia – Jay Ajayi
    2017 – New England – LeGarrette Blount
    2016 – Denver – C.J. Anderson
    2015 – New England – Starting RB – Sony Michel

    Not one of those names would be considered a star running back and none of them were paid as a top tier running back, I don’t think they were even top 10! In order for running backs to demand premium rates they need to point to their impact in winning superbowls, and that just isn’t what recent history has shown. Why pay a RB $15 million a year when you can have one of those 5 backs making something like 20 – 25% of that and win the whole thing.

  10. Just do away with the 5th year option on RBs. It’s not going to cost owners any money, it just means that instead of overpaying $28 million for a guy like Kirk Cousins now you might only be able to over pay him in the neighborhood of $20-25 million. NFL salaries are a zero sum game, when one guy gets more it takes away money/cap space that could have gone to someone else

  11. Oh cry me a river.

    This has nothing to do with length of careers. The position has become devalued as the game has evolved into more of a passing offense. It’s not a ground and pound game any longer as it was in the 60’s and 70’s. Teams aren’t going to shell out big money for lots of years for a RB. All these new rule changes favoring the offense in the passing game will most likely keep it as a passing game. At least for the foreseeable future as we can tell right now.

    You can get running backs in the later rounds now that can be good serviceable players at that position. It’s just the way the game is. Makes more sense to put your money into other positions starting with a good QB. Maybe it would be different and probably would be if teams weren’t dealing with a salary cap.

  12. The opening sentence here is begging the question. We have no evidence that RBs are under-valued or not fairly compensated. When teams can replace “star” RBs like Hunt or Bell with relative unknowns or career backups and not skip a beat, it’s somewhat obvious that RBs are more a product of the offensive system than the system is a product of the RB.

  13. This would have been more of an issue 10 years ago, when RBs were more valuable to their team. As the offenses have progressed to being more pass oriented, RBs have become more easily replaceable. While the wear and tear issue might still be applicable, the value to their teams has lessened.

  14. Can try and make the system better, but sometimes you just have to realize there isn’t a perfect fix to everything. Running backs are the easiest position to replace and get similar production, yet they take the biggest beating. There is no fixing that. Trying to will introduce more problems than it solves. Let the market play itself out. As it is, eventually top athletes will stop playing running back, which will make the ones who continue to play it more valuable and thus paid more.

  15. I’d also argue that special teams players take more abuse than running backs. Again, they are easier to replace with someone who provides similar production. Thus they don’t get paid much. Just the way it is. Be happy you get paid more than a doctor to play a game you love.

  16. Running back is the most brutal position in football they should get a larger rookie scale , once the NFL starts making the linemen stand up in 2 point stance RB for sure will be the most brutal … but once they start doing that to linemen I’ll stop watching

  17. mantastic54 says:
    August 15, 2019 at 11:09 am
    NFL salaries are a zero sum game, when one guy gets more it takes away money/cap space that could have gone to someone else
    —————

    While I agree with doing away with the 5th year option or adding the stipulation that a player that receives the 5th year option cannot be franchised afterwards or the 5th year counts as the 1st franchise tag if the player is tagged again or something so that a team can’t squat for 6 or 7 years on a RB’s rights on a rookie deal, saying NFL salaries are a zero sum game is only true if every team is spending up to the cap limit. But, we know that they’re not. The Colts could have paid Marlon Mack $25M last year (not that they should, just an extreme example) and still been almost $30M under the cap. Likewise, the Steelers could have paid LeVeon Bell a 2nd franchise tag’s salary and still been under the cap. The Browns could have paid Duke Johnson a couple million more without affecting anything since they’re still as of this day $53M under the cap.

  18. I actually agree with this. Teams shop at the Dollar Store every offseason to find their current RB’s successor hoping to not have to pay them. Do they do this with QBs, WRs, TEs, or LTs?

  19. You know who really needs a Union lineman,if it wasnt for them doing their job,the pretty boys couldnt do crap. Pay them.

  20. Not only is their position not worth as much, each of these so called top tier players that are demanding the mint can be reasonably replaced with a fresh pair of young legs. Will it be as good? No, of course not. But you can get enough production that the value isn’t there to have the best guy.

  21. jlbay says:
    August 15, 2019 at 11:07 am
    I don’t think this idea would work. The fact is that teams don’t pay top dollar for running backs and won’t start to simply because another union is involved. The union creates the framework for negotiates, but the marketplace will always set the price as a function of supply and demand. The fact is that NFL teams have figured out that you can be just a productive with a few mid-tier running backs at a reduced combined cost than if you pay one of the top 5 running backs. The last 5 super bowl winners were as follows:

    2019 – New England – Sony Michel
    2018 – Philadelphia – Jay Ajayi
    2017 – New England – LeGarrette Blount
    2016 – Denver – C.J. Anderson
    2015 – New England – Starting RB – Sony Michel

    ————

    2015 – Sony Michel????

    Ummmm…..no

  22. I am a strong proponent of Unions. Some of the values and standards all workers hold dear wouldn’t exist without their leadership. However, this is ridiculous.

  23. It doesn’t matter, because eventually, everything paid to every player has to fit under the salary cap. So what we’ve learned is that this position, RB, is simply more elastic than we may have originally thought and owners and GM’s see more alternatives to this position in regards to staffing it.

  24. The reason that running backs aren’t “worth that much” is because running backs are forced to give their best years at the rookie wage scale

  25. Since running back careers are shorter than other positions, maybe they could just let them reach free agency earlier.

  26. Of all players, running backs are the best suited to jump to the NFL after one (or no) years of college.

    Yeah, like Maurice Clarett.

  27. I think limiting their rookie contract to 3-4 years is reasonable.

    A five-year rooking contract for a RB is using 50-100% of his possible productivity, and all on one contract? I’m not one to push for the contemporary forms of “fairness” but I do sympathize with RBs… they get less bites at the apple than other positions while being the hardest-tackled position in all of football. Seems imbalanced to me.

    Refer to Brian Westbrook’s contractual history in Philly, if you want to see gobs of production for chump change.

  28. Who says RBs aren’t fairly compensated? They play a sport in which their impact is more limited than it used to be and their profile is greater than how much they help teams win, plus they are more susceptible to injury, which is a GOOD reason to pay them less, not a bad one. Are kickers and punters undercompensated? Are fullbacks?

    Wake up: highly drafted and average-second-contract RBs make FAR MORE THAN THE AVERAGE HARD WORKING PERSON. Their compensation is, in some ways, grossly TOO HIGH, given that they’re working to play a game. The market determines fair compensation, and this is what it is. They’re doing just fine – the truth is that, as with many people, they want to work to get as much as they can, whether they deserve it or not.

  29. The market has spoken, stop trying to get the government to make you those extra millions. Unions are to keep 11 year olds from working 16 hours shifts in a factory and ensure workers get a decent wage…not stuffing extra millions in millionaire’s pockets. No RBs were complaining about RB salaries when running the ball was the prevailing strategy. It will come back, sorry if you’re not going to be in the league when the RB position pays more

  30. Offensive linemen are already getting paid much better than RBs.

    Steelers1275 says:

    August 15, 2019 at 11:47 am

    You know who really needs a Union lineman,if it wasnt for them doing their job,the pretty boys couldnt do crap. Pay them.

  31. This is the dumbest idea I’ve heard in a long time. What’s next? A union for WRs? I union for safeties? A union for each position player?

    If they do create a separate union what’s stopping the NFL from not doing business with this new union? Will they then file a collusion lawsuit against the NFL?

    Sure, RBs have a shorter average playing career but that doesn’t mean that applies to all of them. Look at Frank Gore, Adrian Peterson, et. al.

  32. It seems like many commenters are missing the forest for the trees. “Good RB’s can be found in the 4th round!” Exactly, that’s the whole point. A mid-round pick on a rookie contract is not making anything close to millions per year and they have a standard 4 year deal. I bet even Alvin Kamara, clearly one of the best RB’s in football right now, makes barely $1 million, if that in the 3rd year of his career, after hundreds of touches and 2 great seasons. Why would New Orleans ever have any motivation to pay him, when they can sit on him for 2 more years, franchise him for two more, and probably not re-sign at all after that.

  33. econ 101. Supply and demand. There are many many more guys that can be serviceable RBs in the NFL than can catch or throw. Why donyou think LT makes more than most other lineman positions?

  34. Simple, if a player on a rookie contract plays more than 70% of their snaps at RB, the player should be able to opt out of the last year of his rookie deal.

  35. If Elliot doesn’t show up by September 1 put him on trading block Pollard and Morris can deal with running the. Ball. If Dallas don’t get what they want suspend him game by game and give pollard the job he can handle it

  36. How did the NFLPA allow a rookie wage scale of this magnitude to begin with? The owners have been robbing players of hundreds of millions of dollars since 2012.

  37. Linemen, offensive and defensive, are the positions that most contribute to the success of a football team. The Giants are going to continue to be a 6-win team with or without Barkley.

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