When it comes to the running back position in the NFL, the position is at a crossroad from a value perspective. With the value of the position diminishing, teams are realizing that they can get similar production from players who don’t cost as much. Unfortunately, this team-building strategy has left well-established players not necessarily receiving their full value.
“The current CBA screws running backs. They make low wages in the best years of their careers, thanks to the rookie wage scale. Thanks to the franchise tag, the best of the best running backs see their compensation dragged down by a market that doesn’t pay much for veterans.”
Running backs around the league are starting to stand their ground. According to the NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, Las Vegas Raiders running back, Josh Jacobs could hold out of training camp after the team placed the franchise tag on him this offseason. Said Pelissero on the Rich Eisen Show,
“The one that nobody’s talking about is Josh Jacobs. At this point, if there’s not a long-term deal, I don’t anticipate Josh Jacobs being there at the start of training camp and I don’t know that he shows up Week 1.”
Jacobs isn’t the only running back that could be holding out of training camp while looking for a new contract. New York Giants running back, Saquon Barkley is also expected to hold out and that situation could linger into the season. The Giants placed the franchise tag on Barkley this offseason and he is now looking for a long-term deal.
We’ve seen this play out with Le’Veon Bell and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Bell held out for an entire season while his replacement James Connor rushed for over 900 yards and 12 touchdowns. The following offseason, Bell signed with the New York Jets and became one of the bigger free agent busts in recent memory.
It’s fair to wonder how much leverage Jacobs and Barkley have considering how running backs are valued around the NFL. The running back position is very reliant on the situation around them. Is the offensive line opening up running lanes and does the team have a strong passing game? How effective is the scheme?
These are all things that the running back position are reliant on when it comes to its success. Of course, talent matters. With that said, the Los Angeles Rams experienced this first-hand in 2018 when CJ Anderson signed late in the season off of his couch and had three consecutive 100-yard games. The Rams had one of the best offensive lines in the NFL as well as a great scheme and Anderson was able to come in and succeed.
This situation is one in which the Rams could be dealing with next offseason, especially if Akers picks up where he left off at the end of 2022. Following this season, Akers will be a restricted free agent, meaning the Rams still control his contractual rights.
For example, the team could place a second-round tender on Akers and have the option to match any offer or get compensated with a draft pick. All tenders are just one-year deals similar to franchise tag. However, the value is based on the level of the tender.
Let’s assume that Akers keeps the same pace that he had over the final eight games of last season. That would mean that the Rams running back finishes with 1,296 yards on 267 carries with almost 13 touchdowns.
With that type of season, Akers would obviously be looking for a long-term deal and rightfully so. There may even be some pressure from the fanbase for the Rams to pay Akers. However, Los Angeles could place a second-round tender on Akers and only have to pay him around $4M.
This would allow the Rams to see if Akers can repeat those numbers while keeping a potentially good player on a cheaper deal. In the current NFL landscape, it doesn’t make sense to pay the running back position long-term. General manager Les Snead and head coach Sean McVay made this mistake with Todd Gurley.
This would put Akers and the Rams at the same crossroad that Jacobs and the Raiders as well as Barkey and the Giants are currently at in contract negotiations. Of course, teams would love to be able to pay all of their players. In a salary cap era, it’s important to prioritize resources and it’s been proven that teams shouldn’t allocate high-level resources to the running back position.
In this situation and given his injury history with the torn achilles, could Akers hold out in the hope for a long-term deal? It’s not a situation completely out of the realm of possibility. The Rams and Akers have already had their fair share of drama. Last season, the Rams placed their starting running back on the trade block and kept him inactive for two games.
There’s a reason that the Rams drafted Zach Evans in the sixth-round of the NFL Draft. It may not have been to prepare for an Akers holdout or with the idea that Evans would take over for Akers. However, it at least keeps the Rams prepared in the case that something like that does happen.
This isn’t to say that Akers will definitely hold out when he is presumably on a one-year deal as a restricted free agent. However, the same situation that the Giants and Raiders are currently in with their starting running backs is one that the Rams could be facing in exactly one year.