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The NFL Has a Running Back Problem 

NFL Sports Photos

The NFL currently has a problem in which productive running backs aren’t getting long-term contract extensions like other offensive positions.

Before the beginning of the NFL’s preseason games, two-time Pro Bowl running back Saquon Barkley and the New York Giants agreed to a one-year contract for the 2023 season worth $10 million. Meanwhile, Giants quarterback Daniel Jones signed a four-year $160 million contract extension earlier that off season.

Giants fans and analysts were confused as to why the team prioritized Jones’ contract extension over Barkley’s. Jones has been an average quarterback throughout his career, while Barkley has been one of the best running backs since his debut year, when he won the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award.

Throughout the league, quarterbacks are receiving record-breaking contract extensions. Bengals QB Joe Burrow signed a 5 year, $275 million contract extension, making him the highest-paid player in NFL history. In contrast, Pro Bowl running backs like Tony Pollard and Josh Jacobs, are signing one-year contract extensions with the teams that drafted them, meaning they may be free agents in 2024.

As of Week 2 of the NFL regular season, Colts running back Johnathan Taylor is still holding out for a new contract. He’s been placed on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list and hasn’t been traveling or practicing with the team. Taylor, a first-team All-Pro player in 2021, is the strongest player on a rebuilding Colts team.

Colts owner Jim Irsay rejected Taylor’s request to be traded from the team. Previously, he said, “If I die tonight and Jonathan Taylor is out of the league, no one’s gonna miss us. The league goes on.”

Irsay’s comments reflect what many league executives think about the running back position. Compared to quarterbacks, offensive linemen, and wide receivers, the running back is the most replaceable position in football. Since the NFL has become a passing league over time, the positions that are involved in the passing game are usually the highest-paid.

There have been recent examples of running backs getting long-term extensions. Titans running back Derrick Henry and 49ers running back Christian McCaffery reset the running back market with their contract extensions. They were considered the best at their position at the time of signing, and Titans and Panthers’ offenses ran through them. For running backs to get paid, they have to be more than great runners of the football. They must be dynamic pass catchers and reliable pass blockers.

However, with the emergence of rookie Falcons running back Bijan Robinson as a gamechanger in his offense, the position of running back might be considered more valuable by league executives.

Next offseason there will be multiple star running backs looking for long-term contracts, and the market may not be there.

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