NFL’s Unfairness To Running Backs

Football, NCAAF, CFB, NFL article at Knup Sports

Most of the NFL’s top running backs are struggling with injuries and it has only been two weeks. Is it fair that we continue to ask a position that is injury prone to take pay cuts? 

Most of the NFL’s top running backs are struggling with injuries and it has only been two weeks. Is it fair that we continue to ask a position that is injury prone to take pay cuts? 

NFL’s Unfairness To Running Backs

It has been two weeks in the 2023 NFL season, and as always, a common topic has been injuries. In a sport as physical as football, players get hurt, and it is even more common for a lot of those players to be running backs. To name a few, Saquon Barkley, Austin Ekeler, Aaron Jones, Nick Chubb, and David Montgomery are some of the running backs that have already sustained injuries.

These injuries are not small either, they are mostly lower body injuries that can end or derail seasons for many of these players. This injury bug comes after a summer in which many running backs including Barkley, Josh Jacobs, and Jonathan Taylor, were not given long term contracts despite being important pieces to their teams.

This can be pinned on the short term span of most NFL RB careers, as many teams are unwilling to pay a position that gets hurt often and peaks quickly. There is an unfairness here, and it should be addressed. 

The Prime of Running Backs

One of the most interesting things about running backs is that they tend to peak earlier than most NFL players. Due to the physicality of the position, and the fact that it is not technical, it does not take as much time to learn how to play running back as it does for quarterback or wide receiver.

You also take big, physical hits early and often, as almost any run ends in a tackle which means getting pinned to the floor by a big NFL defensive lineman. Because of this, most running backs hit the ground running, and are able to quickly make an impact. We are seeing it this season with Falcons rookie Bijan Robinson, who already looks excellent through two games. Guys like Ezekiel Elliott, Saquon Barkley, and Jonathan Taylor also proved themselves as elite offensive players within their first two years in the league. 

The thing is though, NFL rookie contracts are usually four years long, which means running backs are good for most of this cheap deal. Other positions take a few years to develop, and get paid after their third year when they have just flashed their talent and potential. Meanwhile, running backs have been taking hits on a large carry share for these years, and there is more worry about injuries in their future. GMs may ask how many more hits they can take, and usually it is not many past the age of 28 or so. 

Poor Contract History

For the reasons listed above, NFL franchises have become stingy about giving out big long term contracts to running backs. You sign a guy for his future, and the future is never guaranteed when you could leave the game hurt on any given Sunday.

However, there are some elite talents that have defied the norms, and been deemed worthy of a big contract as a running back. Guys like Todd Gurley, who’s dominance led the Rams to the Super Bowl in 2018, and Ezekiel Elliott, who led the Cowboys to the 1 seed in 2016, were paid contracts before the 2019 season. And they were expected to do well on them. 

However, injury risk caught up to these guys, and they were immediately not very productive. Gurley was quickly released by the Rams, and Elliott’s production declined every year until he left Dallas this past offseason. After this, guys like Christian McCaffrey, Dalvin Cook, and Alvin Kamara were also given big deals, just to end up traded, released, or underperforming.

These are not bad players we are talking about, many were Pro-Bowlers and All-Pros. And they were still not able to handle the physicality of being a running back. For this reason, many GMs have officially made the decision that it doesn’t matter who it is, the solution at running back is the younger and cheaper guy, not the more talented guy. 


This leads us to the situation we are in now, where even the elite of elite running backs are having to fight for every penny. And at this position, you almost have to wonder how long young players will even consider playing running back with the treatment they are getting. You are even seeing running quarterbacks and more physical wide receivers ask to limit hits in order to protect their health and wallets. Something has to be done about this.

I believe a possible solution could be a CBA change where running backs are allowed to have shorter rookie deals, or have a higher franchise tag in relation to the cap. Elite talents need to be incentivized to do their job by being compensated for their hard work. And teams shouldn’t have to feel like they are being financially irresponsible by doing so.

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