Non-Stop NFL Week 1: Running Back Value

Non-Stop NFL is a new weekly article that will focus on a specific topic that has to do with current events occurring  in the National Football League and give analysis on previous and future activity in the NFL in regards to the offseason. This week, the focus will be running backs and the decreasing value they hold in the NFL.

Don’t tell the Philadelphia Eagles or the Buffalo Bills, but the value of running backs in the NFL is quickly dropping with more teams passing, the NFL lifetime of a running back becoming increasingly shorter, and the emergence of young undrafted skilled running backs. Just this past week, Frank Gore, Demarco Murray, Lesean McCoy, DeAngelo Williams, and Reggie Bush all found new homes and some good money that will be coming their way. That isn’t all as plenty of other running backs being signed elsewhere, but is it really worth it to pay big cash for a running back?
In 2014, 11 (could have been 12 if Nick Foles did not get injured) different quarter eclipsed 4,000 yards passing for the season. That is over a third of the league’s starting quarterbacks throwing for big numbers.  Even more astounding, 13 quarterbacks had over 550 attempts this season.  Ten years ago (2004 regular season), only one quarterback posted over 550 attempts (Good for you, Trent Green) and only five posted 4,000 yards passing on the season.  Throwing the football down the field and doing it frequently has become the name of the game and that has left many running backs as complementary players who are only called to keep the offense unpredictable.  Teams realize that it doesn’t take a star to step out onto the field and carry the ball a few times. 
Besides passing becoming the name of the game, the career length of a running back is not very long.  Of the top 15 rushers from 2011, only four of those running backs were in the top 20 in 2014. I understand that running backs can take severe punishment running the football which can ultimately lead to career-changing injuries, but ultimately running backs do not survive very long in the NFL. This makes the contracts that the Bills and Eagles signed with running backs Lesean McCoy and Demarco Murray, respectively, extremely risky.  The odds are against either one of those backs to consistently produce each of the years included in the five year deals making these contracts somewhat illogical for teams.  Nevertheless, these two players are current stars that demand top dollar and will receive the most money they can get.
What do C.J. Anderson, Arian Foster, Isaiah Crowell all have in common? They each had 600+ rushing yards, 8 rushing TDs, and had over 4.1 yards per carry in the 2014 NFL season. One other thing they have in common, they all went undrafted. All of them out ran former first round picks Trent Richardson, Doug Martin, and David Wilson.  The success of these players make many executives feel better about upgrading other positions before they try to sign or draft a running back.  It has become a much safer bet to sign low end running backs to small contracts and hope they are successful then bet it all and sign a star running back to a big contract.  Teams also are able to wait to draft running backs until later in the draft because a fourth round pick that doesn’t develop is nowhere near as bad as drafting a player in the first round that doesn’t develop and the organization failed to fill any needs in the first round.  Less risk, higher reward coming from bringing in running backs later in the draft.  When was the last time you heard of Cadillac Williams? The 5th overall pick in the 2005 draft was taken 60 picks before Frank Gore and 125 picks before Darren Sproles. If you compare the Williams to either of the other two backs, his numbers in all purpose yards and TDs don’t even come close. 
In the end, running backs aren’t worth the money that many teams are throwing at them.  Here are the big winners and losers of some of the running back signings:
Lesean McCoy signs 5yr-$40M deal with Bills: The Bills now have McCoy locked under contract until he’s over 30 years old and that might be a little too long for a guy who has already been in the league for 6 years. Considering they gave up Kiko Alonso to acquire McCoy, they lose this deal unless McCoy defies NFL aging and the Bills upgrade the offense around McCoy.
Demarco Murray signs 5yr-$42M deal with Eagles: Most of this may end up covering for medical insurance as Murray is injury prone, but with that said, it is a great deal for the Eagles. If Murray can stay healthy for at least four of the years, the Eagles may win this deal.
Frank Gore signs 3yr-$12M deal with Colts: Colts win, get a consistent running back and at a nice price. Gore still has some gas left in the tank and will help provide the balance lacking in Indy.
DeAngelo Williams signs 2yr-$4M deal with Steelers: Great price, solid backup for Le’Veon Bell in case of injury. Hopefully Williams can mentor Bell and maybe teach him the laws of our nation so he doesn’t get in arrested again… Steelers win.
CJ Spiller signs 4yr-$18M with Saints: Saints win, well kind of. Spiller can be a great running back when healthy and the Saints need a running back. The 18 million dollar question is whether or not he can stay healthy. The length of the contract isn’t awful and its a nice price for a player of his skill level so now is the time for Spiller to deliver.
Thanks for reading, check back next week for a new article!
– @raydunne21 on twitter

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