They remain fan favorites, and in many cases they are the best athlete on the team. They’re nearly as fast as the fastest player, nearly as strong as the strongest player, and often the toughest in a room full of legitimately tough guys.
But running backs still can’t get what they should, thanks to a system rigged against paying them what they deserve.
Titans running back Derrick Henry, one of the best running backs in recent years and still one of the very best in the league, knows that the men who play his position have more value than their salaries suggest.
“Have you all witnessed it? I’m pretty sure you all have,” Henry said, via Teresa M. Walker of the Associated Press. “So yes, just trying to show that we are valuable as any other position. They use us in commercials and all over the place. And we just want our share due.”
It’s hard for them to get it. Careers can be short. Injuries can make them shorter. And many do their best work while laboring under a slotted rookie deal.
“All you can do is try to be the best player you can and hope the team understands your value and appreciate you trying to do the best you can to carry the load to help your team win games and get to the Super Bowl,” Henry said.
Some teams do, some teams don’t. Some teams take a strict analytics-based approach, gauging a player’s value against the cost of a replacement. They conclude that, dollar for dollar, they can do better by not paying a veteran running back significant money and moving forward with a younger, cheaper, healthier option.
Henry plays for a team that knows his value to the overall effort.
“We’ve relied on Derrick as a large part of our offense and our success, and he’s had a level of consistency to be able to handle a workload,” coach Mike Vrabel said, via Walker.
As many teams embrace a platoon approach at the position, not many running backs play the old-school role of wearing down a defense over four full quarters, churning up consistent yardage and potentially breaking a long run through a battered assortment of men who have grown weary of trying to tackle a player who in many cases gets better and better with the more carries he receives.
Rule changes aimed at supercharging passing games don’t help. But in a league with so much emphasis on the passing game, there’s an opening to turn the clock back to the days when it took effort and heart and will to bring down a battering ram of a running back, especially since practices now consist of far less tackling to the ground.
But the players who make up the passing game — and the effort to counter passing attacks — get more money. The analytics crowd attributes it to surplus value. Still, it seems odd the No. 2 receivers routinely make as much or more than the top tailbacks in football.
Whether it’s collusion or coincidence, it’s out of whack. The problem is that running backs have no real solution. The union can’t rob Peter to pay Paul, and the league has no reason to do anything about it.
As the season approaches, there’s nothing the running backs can do at this point but demonstrate their value. Then, after the season, they need to continue to try to find ways to force real, meaningful, long-term solutions. Even if they will be hard to find.
This content was originally published here.