The hottest topic in the NFL is running back contracts, and the Falcons will soon be in a similar situation as these other clubs.
It all began when Austin Ekeler, Christian McCaffrey, and Derrick Henry took to Twitter to share their displeasure about the current state of the running back market, which eventually turned into a video chat between about a dozen current players to discuss options.
Most recently, it’s culminated in Indianapolis, where Colts owner Jim Irsay tweeted, “NFL Running Back situation- We have negotiated a CBA, that took years of effort and hard work and compromise in good faith by both sides..to say now that a specific Player category wants another negotiation after the fact, is inappropriate. Some Agents are selling ‘bad faith’..”
To which Jonathan Taylor’s agent replied, “Bad faith is not paying your top offensive player.”
Bad faith is not paying your top offensive player https://t.co/ZYvrLhxygG
— malki kawa (@malkikawa) July 27, 2023
Eventually, Taylor would weigh in and describe what it’s like to be a running back and how it’s a vicious cycle that always leaves the players with the short end of the stick. He’s one of the most talented players in football and is hopefully in line for a significant raise from the $5.1 million he will earn this season.
This relates to the Falcons because sooner or later they’ll have the same scenario to work out with Bijan Robinson. Instead of handing out long-term deals, clubs opt to use the franchise tag to use cap space in other areas. What’s especially interesting is that running backs are the only position where their franchise tag price has gone down over the years — $12.12 million in 2017 and $10.091 million in 2023.
With Robinson, it’s a bit different because of his value as a receiver. Like McCaffrey, Robinson’s representation will be able to bring more than most running backs to the negotiating table, which will likely result in a bigger contract. However, Falcons owner Arthur Blank is in no hurry to be the one to change the market.
“This is a free market system. The players are taken care of,” he said. “They are obviously our partners. They participate in 50 percent of the revenue in the NFL, so it’s split. I think running backs that are used creatively and become an important part of the offense are going to be paid more and the other ones probably will be paid a little bit less.”
He’s right. It’s unfortunate, but Blank is correct. Running backs are being paid less because they are less valuable. It’s a sad reality for a position that takes just about more abuse than any other. It won’t be changing any time soon by the owners.
Running back contracts are “dictated by the market … not dictated by the owner,” Blank said.
To a certain extent, he is once again correct. Then again, he does, in fact, have the power to dictate the market. Blank stepped in during contract negotiations with Julio Jones and gave him exactly what he was demanding. The only difference is another club might have acquiesced to Jones’ financial demands had the Falcons balked, but that’s not provable.
The fact is clubs can get usually similar production from a cheaper draft pick or a committee approach. The premium positions — QB, WR, OT, CB, DE, OLB — will always garner the most desirable contracts. However, there are always exceptions. Christian McCaffrey is the best example. He received a $64+ million deal over four years with around $30 million fully guaranteed, which pays him around $16 million per season. And the reason he received that contract is because of his uniqueness.
Alvin Kamara is another example. The Saints versatile running back is on a $75 million deal that pays him $15 million per year because of his value in the passing game. Bijan Robinson will likely draw similar comparisons when his time comes. It also looks like Blank is more likely to pay up than some other owners.
“You get X amount of dollars that you can commit every year, and we are right at the last nickel every year in the salary cap,” Blank said. “It’s up to the coaches and personnel department to determine what is the best way to invest that money. When you have a running back who is used creatively, they are creating more value for themselves and the team. I think it depends on the player more so than the position and how the player is used and how the player maximizes their talents.”
Photographer: David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire