Michael Carter: Running backs are underpaid

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The receiver market has exploded this year, even as a constant stream of good-to-great receivers enters the NFL every year via the draft. Tight ends, who are underpaid in comparison, are taking notice. Running backs, who have been underpaid for a while, have known about the distinction for a while.

Via Brian Costello of the New York Post, Jets running back Michael Carter vented this week about the fact that running backs are getting further lost in the shuffle.

“To say that pay them as running backs, you label them as running backs, you should pay them as offensive weapons,” Carter said. “Where you’re going to give [Raiders receiver] Davante Adams a $100 million or whatever he got, but Aaron Jones is really doing great, too. I’m not pocket watching. He got paid, but not even half [$48 million] of what Adams got paid. Now I get there’s a market for receivers and it goes up every time someone gets signed and it goes up, goes up and goes up. But the same way they look at Tyreek Hill and the same way they look at [Stefon] Diggs and those guys are really great receivers, but Derrick Henry is a staple on his team. Jonathan Taylor is a staple on his team. Them guys deserve those big deals, too, and then from there the market can rise.”

Although every draft brings a fresh cycle of running backs to the NFL, Carter rejects the idea that the best running backs are expendable.

“I don’t like that because I’m just going to be honest, you’re not replacing Alvin Kamara. You’re not replacing [Christian] McCaffrey right now,” Carter said. “Not that the players behind them can’t do it because I’m friends with a lot of those guys. But the value that they add from the locker room and then . . . how many running backs have had a thousand and a thousand? You’ve got like McCaffrey, Marshall Faulk, Matt Forte, a few. You’re not going to just go get the next guy and expect them to do that. Dalvin Cook is not necessarily the most replaceable guy in the world right now.”

The difference between receivers and running backs comes from the relative physicality of the positions. Running backs absorb much more contact. There’s only so much of a pounding they can take before the wheels come off. That’s one of the reasons why 49ers receiver Deebo Samuel is taking a stand now; if the 49ers plan to use him as a running back as extensively as they did down the stretch in 2021, he’ll take more hits and sooner get to the point where those hits make it impossible to perform like he once did.

Several years ago (and as explained in Playmakers), former NFL running back Ben Tate said that, if he were to do it all over again, he would have played safety. Not that long ago, the best athletes ended up being running backs, largely because the lower levels of the sport consisted of giving the ball to the best athlete, pointing him in the direction of the end zone, and watching him run around and/or through the defense to gain yards and/or score points. Young players relish that role. It carries with it the most opportunities to get the ball in their hands and to demonstrate their skills.

Nowadays, the best young athletes gravitate toward quarterback (if they can throw) and to receiver (if they can’t). With the proliferation of seven-on-seven workouts and competitions, receivers refine abilities that allow them to gain yards and score touchdowns while being hit and tackled by defensive backs — not by defensive linemen and linebackers.

McCaffrey, for example, got a market-setting contract after three seasons of appearing in 16 games per year. He has played in a total 10 since then. And it’s not his fault. He suffered injuries in 2020 and 2021 due to the nature of the position he plays.

It was smart, in hindsight, for McCaffrey to get his contract when he did. The outcome, however, becomes a cautionary tale to other teams faced with a great running back who, after three years, expects a major payday.

And while plenty of running backs in recent years have indeed gotten big contracts, those deals pale in comparison to the contracts recently given to the best receivers.

Some teams, like the Titans, have opted to treat the receiver position like the running back position, trading a player who wanted a market-value deal and replacing him with someone cheaper. It’s a calculated risk, obviously. If the replacement doesn’t fill the shoes of his predecessor, the Titans will regret the move.

They surely don’t regret paying Henry, who got $12.5 million per year and has been worth every penny, and then some. But if they were to, for example, double Henry’s pay, they’d be taking an even greater risk of, say, a sudden foot injury that shelves him for more than half of the season.

And so that’s the difference. Injury risk. Or, for most running backs, injury reality. Rarely do running backs go unscathed. Quarterbacks and receivers stay healthier. They’re more likely to provide the return on the investment. Thus, teams are more willing to make a larger investment in the players who play the positions.

Fair or not, it’s a basic reality of the modern NFL. And the message should be heard all the way down to the pee-wee level. The kids who are the fastest, the most nimble, the most elusive, and the most athletic should shy away from playing running back and insist on playing quarterback or receiver.

23 responses to “Michael Carter: Running backs are underpaid

  1. Shut up already. Everyone knows this. It’s a passing league, so Qbs and OL are overpaid as are glorified scatbacks like McCaffrey and Kamara, etc.

  2. Underpaid? Remember, what you do is take a ball and run with it. That’s your career.

  3. If RBs were winning more teams SBs they would get paid more. 🤷‍♂️

  4. Mamas don’t let your babies grow up to be running backs…let ‘em be passers and flankers and such.

  5. It’s what the market demands and right now it’s a passing game. So if you’re a running back like Dalvin Cook (very talented) you’re in a perfect world- but if you can run but not catch you’re in trouble.

  6. I got news for ya, MC, you are ALL astonishingly OVERPAID. Being the pig that it is, the NFL will eat itself

  7. Someone needs to explain the concept of supply and demand to Carter. Running Backs just are not valued like they used to be in the modern day NFL, you can regularly draft RBs who are absolute studs between the 3rd n 6th rounds of the draft sometimes landing excellent UDFA Backs like Adrian Fodtrr or Chris Carson. AZ landed USC RB Keontay Ingram who’s game is very comparable to Kareem Hunts n likely wil be a beast in AZs offense fitting it like a glove n they drafted him in RD6!!! U can land great backs all through day 3 of the draft so no one is going to pay 80/90 or 100M Dollars on a RB in the modern NFL which is A PASSING LEAGUE designed to favor the pass. All the money goes to QBs/OL/WR/ZTE and to building the defense esp pass rushers and corners. With a salary cap teams need to save wheee they can and unfortunately for RBs they get the short end of the stick if u count making millions the short end of the stick

  8. Running backs need a union of their own. Teams rarely draft them in the first round anymore, so their initial salaries are low. They rarely receive decent 2nd contracts, so again their salaries are lower than many positions. Yet teams give them the ball and run them into the ground. Only the quarterback and centers touch the ball more than running backs and running backs are the position that gets tackled the most. Starting running backs generally get tackled 2 to three times more than the best wide receivers, and by bigger, heavier & more defenders. It is understandable that team’s value contracts based on future production but it remains unfair that running backs don’t get paid as well as they should for their actual contributions and production.

  9. It’s all about winning and value. Running backs in todays game just aren’t as valuable. The drop off between the top guys and the middle toe isn’t enough to justify a massive contract.

  10. Darvin cook, Kamara and especially McCaffrey are good for missing atleast 5 games a season. Best ability is availability my guy

  11. They game has changed Michael. It’s a pass-happy league and no going back.

    If you want to talk about underpaid, that would be offensive lineman. Who gives a turd what GOAT you have in the backfield or in the slot if your OL sucks.

  12. Everybody is overpaid.
    As for running backs, they don’t last as long, are easily replaced with cheaper/younger players, and are no longer the focus of NFL offences. Their monetary value is just gone.
    It’s not surprising they don’t earn as much relative money as in times past. They simply aren’t worth as much within a pass happy league, and unless the NFL returns to a more ground and pound style of game that will continue to be the case in the near and distant future.

  13. Jerry Jones agrees with Michael. See Zeke’s absurd contract paying off. Not.

  14. Nope. The league for too long overvalued and overpaid for a position that has the easiest learning curve in the league. Time and time again we’ve seen midround to udfa’s that come in and outperform 1st and 2nd round picks or veterans with inflated contracts.

    It’s the easiest position in the league to play and is paid accordingly.

  15. The nature of the beast. Use them up and let them go before you have to pay them. Committee really is the way to go if you want to preserve any running backs. Hoping the Broncos continue to do so with Javonte Williams.

  16. Boohoo. Anyone who would sign a RB for $100 mil, won’t last in the league very long.

  17. The players union needs to renegotiate the length of rookie contracts. Its far too long especially for the running back position. Reduce it from five years to three with an option fourth.

  18. I agree with Michael Carter. My advice would be to form a player’s union and have your union boss negotiate deal that takes the lifespan of a RB into consideration when they’re figuring out the number of years before a player can re-negotiate his contract. Under the current system, most RB’s are close to being over-the-hill by the time their rookie deal is up. No team is going to pay a huge mega deal for a guy based on what they did in the past. Unlike most other positions, most RB’s can’t play at the same level for 12 years. Oh, if you already have a player’s union, they’re not doing a good job representing RB’s. You shouldn’t have to pay union fees if you’re not being represented. The system works fine for the other positions, but not for RB’s. It’s a QB league, but RB’s generate a lot of revenue for the league. They just don’t have as many years to get paid. Lots of teams would be willing to pay a game changing RB like Jonathan Taylor, but if he loses his affectiveness in 2 years, his earning power is gone.

  19. If teams are forced to pay WR’s $25 – $30 million/year,.. you’ll see more game planning around the pass game and RB’s. Teams will draft WR’s and use them until they are up for their 2nd contract. If they ask for that kind of cash,… adios. Take the compensatory pick in return.
    It kinda was the same with RB’s about 6 – 8 years back. Leveon Bell. Wanted a huge deal,.. Pitts wasn’t going to pay that. He sat out a year. And there were other RB’s asking for huge contracts. But it’s a passing game these days. If the WR markets gets crazy,… more RB’s and TE’s.

  20. So are dock workers and garbage men and they are much more imoortant than a running back.

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