Why Are NFL Running Backs Not Getting Paid?

Jul 31, 2023

If you’ve been following the Jim Irsay circus online this past week regarding running backs, their worth, and “bad faith” then you likely have an opinion on the situation. Why are NFL running backs not getting paid their worth? It’s a great question that many people that follow football have asked for years.

The current NFL CBA agreement gives drafted players a four-year contract with first-round players having the option to sign a fifth year, fully guaranteed. Most agents with players drafted in the first round negotiate a fully-guaranteed deal while players in later rounds don’t necessarily have that option.

There aren’t usually a lot of running backs that go in the first round but this year two players (Bijan Robinson and Jahmyr Gibbs) were selected with the 8th and 12th picks, respectively. In 2022, there were no RB selections in round one, two in 2021, one in 2020, and four combined first-round selections in 2019 and 2018.

One of those picks, Sony Michel, formally announced his retirement this past week. He played for five seasons.

The average career for an NFL running back is three years.

While it’s been proven that the running back position is one of the premier offensive spots on the field, for whatever reason, it’s been one of the lowest-paid positions.

Alvin Kamara of the New Orleans Saints is the highest-paid running back in the NFL with a 5-year/$75 m deal. He’s tied with four other players (2 tackles, 1 QB, 1 TE) for the 67th-richest contract in the league this season. Kamara is a versatile back with elite pass-catching and running talent.

Christian McCaffrey is the 99th highest-paid player in the NFL this season and is the only other running back in the league in the top 100 paid players. It’s no secret what CMC has done on the field and when he was traded to the 49ers last season, everyone believed that would be the thing that put them over the top and would make them unstoppable.

Both Kamara and CMC have been monster contributors to the league and have been top-5 fantasy contributors multi times since their rookie seasons.

Don’t get me started on Derrick Henry’s deal.

Even though these two guys are the highest-paid at their position, there are plenty of other running backs that are equally deserving of contracts in that ballpark, and yet the NFL GMs have kept the rushing kings from being paid their worth. Agents, taxes, and other costs take about half of the player’s salaries and even the league minimum of $750k for rookies (more for more years of experience) doesn’t leave much for guys being asked to do the most for their team alongside quarterbacks and receivers.

Adding to the previously mentioned statement that running backs only play an average of three years, it’s tough to make money when there isn’t a lot of time to do it.

First of all, why has this become a problem in the first place? Why are teams not paying their players regardless of position? Is it because they might be the most expendable? It’s possible.

Teams go through a ton of running backs throughout the season and there are usually at least three suited up in a game, this doesn’t include the full-back.

Much like receivers, running backs are asked to get in the dirty areas to create offense but unlike receivers, their bodies are being abused at a quicker pace which is why their careers are a lot shorter.

There are holdouts every season for players making a case why they deserve the bag and they usually get what they’re looking for so why can’t running backs get that money, too?

Jonathan Taylor of the Colts is holding out and has requested/demanded a trade after being told he won’t get pay raise going into his final rookie deal season. Taylor missed the final seven games of the season with an ankle injury but still racked up over 1000 all-purpose yards and four touchdowns.

In 2021, Taylor had over 2100 all-purpose yards and 20 TDs, was named an All-Pro, and was runner-up for AP Offensive Player of the Year. How is he not getting paid? How can the Colts not pony up (pun intended) for their star?

NFL teams have a funny way of showing loyalty, that’s for sure.

Maybe the NFL needs to look at their rookie deals and in the next CBA adjust them to three years. The problem with that is that players have one less year of job security but they’re one year closer to getting a better contract and maybe have the opportunity to negotiate a better contract after year two.

Of course, this creates a whole new set of problems for the rest of the league if they’re renegotiating the CBA for running backs alone.

This should never have been a thing. The good players should get paid their worth and with guaranteed contracts and the ability to cut players still, the nonsense needs to stop and just treat every position properly.

When a player like Dawson Knox is being paid more money than Derrick Henry, Aaron Jones, and even Nick Chubb (no offense Dawson, bless your heart), there are problems with the pay system in the NFL.

Why are running backs not getting paid in the NFL? I think there are bigger problems than we know about.

Ryan Hank

I co-host two of quite possibly the greatest live shows in the media today. PP1 Podcast and THNO (That Helps No One! FantasyCast) are where you can find my antics. I have a great moustache, a hairy six-pack and questionable takes on pretty much everything.

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