Yahoo! Sports’ Charles Robinson has a very interesting piece up today looking at how the contract extension the Los Angeles Rams gave to RB Todd Gurley a year ago is complicating negotiations for other running backs across the league.
With two running backs holding out right now in Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott and Los Angeles Chargers RB Melvin Gordon a year after New York Jets RB Le’Veon Bell held out for an entire regular season from the Pittsburgh Steelers, the position is undergoing a bit of a radical reevaluation on the salary front. We’ve seen running back salary growth plummet taking it to the bottom of average positional salaries below even kicker and punter. Yes, the running back is the lowest paid position in the NFL on average. And teams are trying to push that even further:
“Teams with running backs hate that Gurley deal. It’s in their heads,” one veteran contract adviser said of Gurley’s four-year $57.5 million extension, which was reached with the Rams on the eve of training camp in 2018. “Now other franchises are trying to get it under control and roll [the salaries] back.”
“With good running backs, teams are trying to make the thought process something along the lines of negotiating off Freeman’s [$8.25 million per year] salary,” he said. “And if it’s a great running back, teams want that premium in the $12 million neighborhood or even less – not building off of Todd’s [$14.375 million] per-year average.”
“It comes down to whether some teams believe the Rams did a bad deal with Todd,” the contract adviser said. “Then it’s whether you have the [guts] to say, ‘We’re not even going to consider that a real bar in these [negotiations].’”
Robinson cites Gurley’s deal as a specific thorn in the Steelers’ side that interrupted their negotiations with their “unicorn” back. Instead of matching Gurley’s salary level at $14-1$15, Bell was pushed to take $13m. That forced the Chargers to open with an offer of $10m to Gordon while his side is asking for Bell-level compensation.
It was only a matter of time. Running backs are being overpaid for their on-field contributions and teams continue to find out by how much. Well-stocked offensive rosters can get 90% of a “unicorn” back’s production for less than 30% of the cost. The Rams only reinforced that with C.J. Anderson late last year.
Now, we have to see just how far teams are willing to fight to pay the position for its on-field value and not the off-field repercussions it might beget.