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