Why Are NFL Running Backs Shockingly Underpaid? It has roots with a Rams blunder

Rams running back Todd Gurley Seahawks cornerback Tre Flowers with stiff arms in a game in December 2019. Gurley was cut by the Rams three months later, less than two years after signing one of the largest contracts for a running back. (Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

NFL running backs are like buffalo: wonderful, thunderous, but weighed down by uniformity. You rarely stand out from the pack any longer.

Also, they are marked with early expiration dates. Exactly one of the 27 running backs to rush for more than 800 yards in 2022 (Miami Dolphins’ Raheem Mostert) had celebrated his 30th birthday.

Fifteen rushed for more than 1,000 yards and teams considered them interchangeable. Their prime years are often played for free in college, and they get drafted late and tossed aside, just as they are due for a big paycheck.

Read more: Adrian Peterson is not retired yet. He is 38 and wants to play in the NFL this season

Result? The average salary for a kicker ($2.26 million) is greater than that of a running back ($1.81 million) in 2023, according to Spotrac.

Many teams seem to have learned from the Rams’ mistakes as well Todd Gurley in 2018, when they signed the running back to a four-year, $57 million extension, even though he had two years remaining on his rookie contract.

The blunder meant the Rams paid Gurley $20 million more than they needed to, especially when knee problems limited his productivity. They cut him in March 2020, when he was all of 25 years old.

The running backs’ plight sparked outrage Monday when the Las Vegas Raiders’ Josh Jacobs and the New York Giants’ Saquon Barkley was not offered long-term deals and appears destined to play for the one-year $10.1 million franchise tag salary. Jacobs was the NFL’s leading rusher last season with 1,653 yards, and Barkley was fourth with 1,312. The Cowboys’ Tony Pollard, who rushed for 1,007 yards and averaged a robust 5.2 yards per carry. carry in 2022, signed a franchise brand agreement.

Read more: Lamar Jackson and Saquon Barkley will be franchise tagged. Tom Brady gets a kitten

Among the free agents awaiting an offer — any offer — are three-time All-Pro Ezekiel Elliott and four-time Pro Bowl selection Dalvin Cook.

Their fellow runners expressed anger and dismay on social media. Referring to Jacobs, Barkley and Pollard, the San Francisco 49ers’ Christian McCaffrey tweeted“This is criminal. Three of the best players in the entire league, regardless of position.”

Tennessee Titans’ Derrick Henry tweeted“At this point, just take the RB position out of the game.”

the barns’ Austin Thank youwhose nose for the end zone makes him a fantasy favorite, tweeted, “Everybody knows it’s hard to win without a top RB and yet they act like we’re disposable widgets.”

Ekeler, who has yet to rush for 1,000 yards but led the NFL with 38 total touchdowns the last two years, will be a free agent after the 2023 season. He requested a trade this offseason before to accept a restructured agreement it added $1.75 million in incentives.

Read more: Austin Ekeler and the Chargers reach a truce as he enters the final year of his contract

At 28, Ekeler is old by running back standards, and getting a franchise tag offer a year from now would likely be a favorable outcome for him, even though running back is the only position in football to see a franchise tag drop since 2015.

It’s been two years since a running back – Nick Chubb of the Cleveland Browns – signed a multi-year contract worth more than $10 million a year. Chubb’s three-year, $36.6 million deal will pay him $10.85 million this season, not much more than the franchise mark.

After the Gurley episode, the Rams have shrugged off running backs. Cam Akers and Sony Michel led the team in decidedly pedestrian rushing totals the last two years. They top the depth chart again, and coach Sean McVay seems pleased, saying of Akers recently on Sirius XM radio: “Cam is going to be a key figure in this offense. I think he’s setting himself up to have a good year.”

The Rams must be particularly pleased with Akers’ contract. His minimum four-year, $6,173,035 rookie deal expires at the end of the season — he’ll make about $1.8 million in 2023 — but he’ll be a restricted free agent because he didn’t play at least six games in 2021.

That means the Rams could choose to keep him for another year at a price close to $4 million should he perform as well as he did at the end of last season, when he rushed for more than 100 yards in each of the last three games.

And if they prefer to upgrade, there should be good buffalo on the market.

Read more: The Rams bring back Sony Michel, a key component for the Super Bowl LVI champions

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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