The Running Back Run Up

Ab Stanley

Pittsburgh Steelers’ running back Le’Veon Bell is arguably the NFL’s best offensive player and he still does not have a long term contract. Bell reportedly turned down a four year $70 million dollar offer from Pittsburgh with guaranteed money in the neighborhood of $33 million. He feels he is worth more than the $14 million per year and four years might not be long enough for the 26 year old.

Bell will instead play on his second franchise tag that will pay him just over $14 million. He will become a unrestricted free agent at seasons end at the age of 27. The Steelers have no aspirations of giving Bell the kind of long term deal he requested and frankly deserves. It still remains to be seen if he will get that deal from any team so late in his 20s.

NFL teams have running backs backs in a never ending story of getting cheated out of big bucks. Think about it, a second round pick like Bell signs a modest four year deal as a rookie. He takes the league by storm putting up ridiculous numbers and by the time his rookie deal is done he wants to negotiate. The Steelers can bypass signing Bell to a long term deal and franchise tag him for not just one but two seasons. A running back franchise tag number that started very low in the $6 – 7 million range.

Bell and a few other signings have changed that for future running backs. By turning down the $60 million other owners now have a higher bar set when looking at a long term deals for the position. Now the top five salaries have been raised and other players have made deals to help secure bigger money for the running back position.


The Rookie:

The New York Giants signed first-round pick Saquon Barkley to a four-year, fully guaranteed contract worth $31.2 million. The contract comes with a $20.8 million signing bonus that will pay him $15 million immediately upon signing. The signing will put Barkley make Barkley one of the highest-paid running backs in the NFL.

The Giants are hoping the Penn State product comes as advertised to help out Eli Manning and the offense. He finished his college career with 5,038 yards from scrimmage and 51 touchdowns. This signing plus a great couple of seasons from Barkley, will mean the Giants cant come to the negotiation table with mediocre numbers when this deal is over. It also means that next years crop of first round backs will more than likely see a higher number coming out of college.


The Young Veteran:

The Los Angeles Rams agreed on a 4-year extension with running back Todd Gurley worth around the same $60 million Bell turned down. The deal includes $45 million in guaranteed money, which would make it the most lucrative long term deal for a running back in the league.

Gurley led the NFL in 2017 with 2,093 yards from scrimmage and 19 overall touchdowns. The fourth year player out of the University of Georgia received the AP Offensive Player of the year award and was voted first team All-Pro in 2017.

He will earn a base salary of $2.3 million in 2018 with a $2 million signing bonus. The small sum given at the outset of the contract is so Gurley can maintain a low number of $4.3 million against the salary cap. He will receive a $9.6 million base salary in year two.

The Rams have made a preemptive strike signing Gurley early to a long term deal, giving the team more flexibility for future contracts and free agents. The team has also figured a new way to lock up guys even longer. Why wait until the rookie deal is even over? By extending Gurley after year three, the Rams can conceivably control Gurley’s contract for nine seasons.


So is it a gift or a curse? Will these deals only lead to higher salaries for running backs overall or more holdouts by players looking at the money their peers are getting? A change like this can backfire on the players side, especially if these guys stop producing like they are expected to. Bell, Barkley and Gurley have gotten the ball rolling and at least for now the direction is trending up.

Ab Stanley

Atlanta, GA

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