The 3 reasons the NFL running back market is shrinking

NFL runningback

The NFL is evolving. Running backs are struggling to get paid in the new era, and it’s becoming incredibly uncommon to see them stay with a team for long. What has brought us to this point? Why aren’t running backs getting their big contracts?

The Modern NFL offense

The obvious answer might be the evolving offense. All but 3 teams pass more than they run. The game has changed to feature more throws. Even when a lot of those throws may be check-downs and screens, teams still rely on the quarterback to make the plays. Sure teams still use run plays, as they keep a defense honest, but they aren’t expected to make a huge splash with the ground game. Teams no longer try for up the gut runs to tire out a defensive line as much, and hardly use a fullback to power through for a few yards. Often, the running back is expected to just run to wherever there’s a gap and pick up a good deal of yards. No one likes to see a 2 or 3 yard rush.

Another thing is the evolution of mobile quarterbacks. Many QB’s have great legs, and oftentimes scramble for first downs, and use their legs to make something out of nothing. Defenses are forced to watch the QB on every play, as the running back is no longer the only position which can run for chunks of yards. As well, the position dubbed “Wide-back” is gaining popularity. These versatile players can line up as a runner in the backfield or as a receiver. These guys eat up RB snaps, and seem like they are the future of the position.

Durability is a problem

NFL caliber RB’s have a huge risk every time they touch the ball. With how much they are expected to run and get tackled, it’s pretty obvious there is going to be some troubles with injury. Over time, these players suffer from lots of wear and tear, making it less appealing to sign them to a longer contract. Todd Gurley signed an extension with the Rams in 2018, but only played one season of that contract before injuries got to his knee and his production fell off a cliff.

This makes signing an RB to a long-term deal very risky. GMs would rather not risk breaking the bank for a player who plays a position prone to injury. The nature of being a RB means you will be tackled a lot, and that means they are going to get hurt. The age of only having one feature RB is over, often in favor of a running back by committee approach.

Running back by Committee

Having backups will always be a part of sports. You never know when something may happen that prevents your starter from playing. But now, the RB position has evolved to the point where having more than one starter-level RB is necessary. Offenses split snaps between the different backs, typically using a different running back for each task. This lessens the amount of potential wear and tear, and allows for different schemes and plays for each back.

However, it leads to the players receiving smaller contracts as there’s more of them to hand out. With more players, not only does the production of a single player go down, but so does the price. Star RB’s may only have a few good seasons in them, but you can reduce their pay and put them in a room with other good backs leading to a solid ground game, and a longer career, There obviously is less of a need to pay a RB the big bucks when you could pay several players the smaller contracts and get the same production with less risk of injury derailing the entire ground game.

This is the New Era

This is the running back market today, and unfortunately so. Paying them seems like it’s not much of a priority for GMs. It’s tough to see these very talented players get paid less and less as their position and team needs evolve. The tricky part is, that now these players have begun to work together to progress their positional pay gap. Players like Jonathan Taylor, Saquon Barkley, Austin Ekeler, and Josh Jacobs all asked for more money this offseason.

While watching these players struggle to get the contracts they deserve by the teams they still play for, Ekeler and Taylor opted to request a trade. We see more evidence of the gap in pay on the free agent market where once coveted veterans like Dalvin Cook, Leonard Fournette, and Ezekiel Elliott can’t seem to find their next home. I hope that the players manage to get their paydays and evolve with their sport. Stay tuned to the Shady Sports Network for your NFL running back news and all things sports.


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