Never Pay a Running Back!

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Washington Redskins
Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

The Ravens are paying the price for breaking Rule #1 in the modern, pass happy NFL: NEVER Pay a Running Back!

The current trend for compensating the position is in full view during this year’s free agency period. Running backs are getting no respect; some are being paid less than kickers!

This movement began a number of years ago when former GM Bill Polian, then of the Indianapolis Colts, maneuvered himself onto the NFL’s competition committee. By force of personality, the imperious Polian was able to change the rules to favor passing over running. And surely the fact that Polian’s Colts had one of the greatest regular season quarterbacks in history, Peyton Manning, at the helm, was purely coincidental.

Since Mr. Polian’s high jacking of the running game, most of those players who earn a living “toting the rock” have fallen upon hard times. Except for a few, like Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson, Chicago’s Matt Forte and the Ravens’ Ray Rice, running backs have been significantly devalued in the modern, “golden age” of passing.

Rice may have received his big payday from the Ravens as much for his pass catching ability as for his running skills. Still, the decision to pay Rice looks like a mistake. Rice’s 2014, seventh highest base salary of $4 million may have kept the Ravens from acquiring LeGarrette Blount, who just signed with the Steelers at a bargain basement price. Worse still, the Ravens are tied to Rice for at least two more years.

Let’s look at a few of the reasons running backs should never be paid the big money.

The running back position is for young men

Most backs wear down during their rookie contract because the job is just too brutal for the human body. Even if a back survives his first four or five years as a relatively healthy twenty-six or twenty-seven year old his chances of lasting through his second, big money contract are not too good! Ray Rice is a prime example with his hip troubles last year.

Too rich can become too comfortable over night

It is human nature to try to protect what you have earned over the years and running backs are no different from the rest us. A young, “poor,” hungry running back is usually more productive than an older, richer, “defensive” running back trying to protect himself in the brutal world of the NFL. Maybe the older guy who has cashed in the big money contract gets a little lazy, slightly less motivated and much more concerned about staying healthy so he can continue to collect the big bucks. NFL teams need young, fearless running backs, not old jocks that come to camp ten pounds overweight.

Teams lose too much flexibility with long-term contracts

Locking in a running back to a long-term contract is asking for cap trouble. The position is inherently risky to begin with and most long term contracts are given to backs that already have four or five years of wear and tear on their bodies. The team that gives a rich, long term contract to a running back is playing Russian roulette with its salary cap and future playoff prospects. The Vikings have been betting that Adrian Peterson, the highest paid running back in the NFL, can get them to the Promised Land, and right now it looks like a losing bet.

Running backs are a dime a dozen

It’s sounds harsh but it’s true, backs are like busses, there will be another one coming by every ten minutes, or, in NFL parlance, in all of the late rounds of every draft. Maybe in the old days, when Emmitt Smith, Larry Csonka or John Riggins could carry his team to a championship, it was worth it to pay a running back big bucks, but no longer. The offensive “skill” positions that matter are quarterback, wide receiver and tight end.

The Ravens have one of the best scouting departments in the NFL. The team finds undrafted free agent gems every year. If the hopeless Prince Georges County Skins can find a great back like Alfred Morris than surely the Ravens can find an inexpensive but capable running back in the late rounds.

Free agency can also provide a smorgasbord of running backs at below market prices. No one is better than Ozzie Newsome at finding such bargains, as long as he is not burdened by a long term commitment to an aging, unproductive, running back.

Running back by committee

As long as a team remains flexible, it can maneuver in, out, and around the running back markets in the draft and free agency to acquire a running back by committee. Many teams are using this method and with good reason. As soon as one member of the committee is injured or becomes unproductive, teams just exchange him for another back and the committee as a whole doesn’t miss a beat. Of course, it is not always so simple but the committee approach is much safer than putting all your eggs in one high priced running back basket.


Ravens’ Owner Steve Bisciotti’s recent defense of Ray Rice has been admirable because it is so courageous. Offering a very public and vigorous defense of a man accused of knocking his fiancé unconscious surely did not come easy.

What may have happened in Atlantic City just does not seem possible based on the public Ray Rice that Baltimore Ravens fans have come to know and love. It looks like Ray and his lady will have a tough mountain to climb; no doubt, they appreciate the support of the Ravens organization. Still, Ray will have to pay his debt to society, the NFL, and his fiancée before he plays another down for the Ravens.

As Mr. Bisciotti said, this will never be “behind” Ray; he will have to live with this shame for the rest of his life.

And as tough as it sounds, what happened to Ray Rice in Atlantic City is another reason, perhaps the most convincing of all reasons, that teams should never give big money contracts to aging running backs. As sad as it is, the NFL offseason has become “police blotter” season for all too many rich, young, football players.

Although the NFL has undertaken Herculean efforts to keep its employees out of trouble, success has eluded the Commissioner in this area. “Police blotter” reports of criminal acts by NFL stars are routine and that is not likely to change any time soon.

Running backs are right up there with the rest of the NFL stars in these transgressions.

And this is just one more reason to: NEVER PAY A RUNNING BACK!


Submitted by Rob Ward

21 Raves on “Never Pay a Running Back!

  1. Joe on said:

    The trend of devalued RBs over the age of 30 is relatively new in the NFL. Probably last 3 years or so. Before that, plenty of older RBs managed to get paid.

    The problem with Rice’s contract is he was so much more than a RB to us. Rice was the primary weapon in our offense from 2009-2011. Before Boldin came in here, he combined with Mason as Joe’s security blanket. And his ability in the open field made him a HUGE asset in the receiving game.

    Now that we are trending more towards a passing style offense, it makes a little more sense to treat the RB position like the Long Snapper position. Draft a good RB, keep them around until they reach a payday, then let someone else overpay while you have the next young guy coming up in the ranks.

  2. Brian Bower on said:

    “And as tough as it sounds, what happened to Ray Rice in Atlantic City is another reason, perhaps the most convincing of all reasons, that teams should never give big money contracts to aging running backs.” So it’s just aging running backs that get into trouble? Not sure I agree with that statement.

    Solid read though.

  3. Jason on said:

    His contract was right before that really became a rule, he’ll be restructured or cut in due time. Also, would have loved to see Blount in a ravens uniform but either Andre Williams or Terrance West would be great in the fourth round

  4. Hollywoodheiz on said:

    Ever hear of a guy with off the field issues named Marshawn Lynch?
    Thinking that this Super Bowl winning Pro Bowler didnt cross your mind prior to this article. In every scenario/ reason that is brought up Lynch breaks the mold. Good article, but I’m thinking that there are very few things in life are always and never.

  5. NDRonin1401 on said:

    Other side of the story:
    2014 SB champs Seahawks: Lynch
    2013 Ravens: a healthy Rice
    it still pays off to have an ace RB !

        • Dreuu on said:

          Look, McLovin, it’s one thing to criticize grammar in a response comment. That’s why I am not going to point out your typo. However, if someone like Rob Ward want to hold themselves out as a journalist who writes critical articles about other people, then we as a society have the right and duty to hold them to a higher standard. The difference between then and than is basic. There is no excuse for a professional to make this error in a published piece that should have been edited prio to posting.

  6. Mark on said:

    Ozzie is the best GM in the league but he is more than entitled to one poor contract and Rice is it. Other bad contracts, like Foxworth were injury related but Rice got paid for past, not future, production. In addition to the known life of NFL backs, Rice had a lot of mileage on him before he ever got to the NFL . In his last 2 years at Rutgers, he touched the ball an unbelievable 759 times. My guess is Rice’s ability to catch the ball and the personal affection of the owner and front office for Rice convinced themselves that Rice would be an exception to the rule. The jury is out as to whether Rice, even if healthy and in shape, is suited to the role of a ZBS back. The team’s “support” for Rice with the pending criminal case is understandable until the facts reveal or confirm that Rice struck his girlfriend/fiancee/now wife and knocked her unconscious. At that point in time, it is more than a “mistake” or “incident”. It is a violent assault by a man against his femaile partner that, if committed by almost any other person, would result in incarceration, loss of employment (probably before trial) and total loss of reputation, certainly not talk about being a “good guy” who made a mistake.

  7. Voice of Reason on said:

    I totally agree with the article. As far as Ray Rice is concerned, there is more than meets the eye. I don’t believe this is the first time he hit his fiance, now wife. Any man that strikes a woman has serious issues. I believe this will be his last year with the Ravens. They are only standing by him because of the salary cap hit. I also think he will not get off easy in New Jersey. He got married quickly to help his upcoming trial. People who hit each other shouldn’t be getting married at all.

  8. TRUTH on said:

    You’re exactly right about Ray Rice being more than just a RB to us. He’s an offensive weapon that lines up in the backfield. I think with last year’s disastrous performance on offense along with the way we didn’t properly utilize Ray Rice, his value kind of got swept under the rug and shrugged off with the excuse being he’s washed up and overpaid. From the lingering injuries that plagued his season and the lack of run support from our linemen, many people have seemed to forget what Ray Rice is capable of doing when healthy behind a functional o-line. Which is unfortunate, imo.

    Once Ray Rice overcomes the adversity he’s facing now, he will go on to have a career year in Kubiak’s offense. It’s a shame though that’s what it’s going to take for people to forgive him.

    Everyone is so quick to write off a man’s character because he made a mistake. Heaven forbid their lives get scrutinized under a public microscope. Last time I’ve checked no one is immune to making a mistake. I think Jesus said it best, “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and the measure in which you use will be used against you”. If that’s not you’re cup of tea though, then you can always take solace knowing Karma works the same way, only she’s more of a bitch.

  9. Rick S on said:

    As hard as it is to say, I am very concerned about the Ray Rice NJ arrest and what the truth may be about what happened.

  10. james on said:

    Wow, I know it’s that slow part of the year when free agency is moving at a snail’s pace and everyone has made their 5 or 6 first round draft predictions but to write this proves you have nothing left to write about.

    Tell the Seahawks that you don’t pay running backs. Lynch signed an extension in 2012 and is a huge reason why that team has been successful. And it’s not just the Seahawks. Without Gore or Charles the 49ers and Chiefs probably aren’t playoff contenders. Yes, your right, Peterson is the best running back in the NFL and he couldn’t get his team to the Super Bowl, but I can’t think of any one current player that could carry his team to the playoffs like Peterson did two years ago. Having that running back helps but you need other pieces around him.

    Probably the worst part of your argument is when you bring up Blount. You don’t want the team to pay a running back but you have no problem with them paying almost 2 million to a guy that will barely see the field. He would be the third back on the team and wiil probably only play during certain situations. People keep saying we lost him, but I have a feeling that Ozzie was never after him. Not to mention, Blount has had some off the field issues too. Yes, adding Blount would have been the easy fix but addressing this hole in the roster through the draft makes more sense.

    The bottom line is, running backs are a dime a dozen, but the good ones are worth holding on to.

  11. Mark on said:

    The point is not that Rice and Lynch weren’t big parts of their respective teams winning the last 2 Super Bowls. They clearly were. It is the length and value of the contracts and age of the players which is being questioned. Both were paid for past performance, particularly Rice who was coming off a monster year. Whether it is injuries, general aging, wear and tear, lack of motivation after getting paid or something else, RB’s have short productive playing llives. Hoping that your guy is the exception to the rule is risky.

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