Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

11 Dec 2010

Chiefs Lock Up Jamaal Charles

Earlier this season, the Chiefs locked up Derrick Johnson to a long-term deal; today, they've signed running back Jamaal Charles to a five-year contract extension worth $32.5 million, with $13 million in guaranteed money.

Posted by: Bill Barnwell on 11 Dec 2010

22 comments, Last at 16 Dec 2010, 6:11pm by tuluse


by Sergio :: Sat, 12/11/2010 - 2:38pm

It's quite a cheap deal for the production he gives them.

Plus, the guy is young, right? He should give quite a bang for their buck...

-- Go Phins!

by Spielman :: Sat, 12/11/2010 - 2:53pm

He turns 24 this month.

This seems like a tremendous deal for the Chiefs. The money's not crazy, and the length is ideal.

by JasonK :: Sat, 12/11/2010 - 3:16pm

It is interesting how contract inflation for RBs has pretty much stopped ever since the big Shaun Alexander extension (and his subsequent dropping off the face of the earth). IIRC, either that or Reggie Bush's rookie deal is still the biggest contract ever signed by a RB.

This looks pretty comparable to the deals that Brandon Jacobs and Maurice Jones-Drew signed before the '09 season. MJD got more guaranteed money, and Jacobs was only a 4-year deal, but the parameters are pretty close.

by Yaguar :: Sat, 12/11/2010 - 3:22pm

Charles is straight-up the most valuable running back in the league. He has outperformed Chris Johnson over the last year and a half. He currently leads the league in DVOA, and it's not even close.

Let's get an all-time leaderboard of RBs since Jim Brown by yards per attempt in their first three seasons. Minimum 400 attempts.

5.95 Jamaal Charles
5.39 Paul Lowe
5.13 Gale Sayers
5.08 Larry Johnson
5.08 DeAngelo Williams
5.07 Jim Brown
5.07 Delvin Williams
5.04 Chris Johnson
5.02 Napoleon Kaufman
4.97 Abner Haynes
4.95 Lawrence McCutcheon
4.93 Barry Sanders

The absolute worst of this list is probably Delvin Williams or Larry Johnson, who still went on to become first-team all-pros once apiece after their third years. And Jamaal Charles isn't just on this list - he leads it, and it's not even close.

This doesn't even factor in the fact that Charles is an excellent receiver, too.

I claim that the only RB comparable to Charles in value is Chris Johnson. So the question for you is, do you take a 25-year-old with 867 career carries at a 5.04 ypc clip, or a 23-year-old with 439 carries at 5.95 yards per carry?

Johnson has produced more value so far, but as a future investment, I'm taking the younger guy with less mileage. If Jamaal Charles demanded to be the highest-paid running back ever, I would take that deal.

by Samson 151 (not verified) :: Sat, 12/11/2010 - 9:36pm

Yet somehow it's the team taking the chance. Charles is a speed back, not a pounder or a darting type, and those guys can get hurt.

by Mr Shush :: Sun, 12/12/2010 - 8:01am

Charles's per carry production to date is astonishing, and he is undoubtedly very valuable. I do think, however, that you appear to under-rate the value of being able to carry the load, which to date Charles has not been asked to do. I think it might be fairer to say that Charles is one of four plausible candidates for the title of "most valuable running back in the league", along with Johnson, Adrian Peterson and Arian Foster. Note that Foster is as clear a leader in rushing DYAR as Charles is in rushing DVOA (where Foster comes in 3rd with a very creditable 24.6%), also leads all running backs in receiving DYAR (192 to Charles's 104) and has better receiving DVOA than Charles (38.5%, 4th vs. 29.1%, 12th) on more targets (63 vs. 47). Foster doesn't yet have enough career carries to qualify for your list, due to barely playing as a rookie, but he's on course for the spot between Kaufman and Haynes, and he's the sort of super-consistent back without elite breakaway speed that YPC tends to underrate. He is three months older than Charles, but has even less wear and tear. I also think the extent to which Peterson and Johnson are the absolute focus of opposing defensive gameplans should not be over-looked: Charles and Foster are key components of their respective offenses, but Peterson and Johnson pretty much are their offenses.

Regardless, I agree that this is a good deal for the team. Well done, Scott Pioli.

by Yaguar :: Sun, 12/12/2010 - 1:46pm

Charles can carry the load. He did so in the last nine weeks of the 2009 season, once Haley cut Larry Johnson, who was starting over him. (What the hell is with AFC West coaching?) He got over 20 carries per game towards the end.

The fact that Charles has been brilliant for two consecutive seasons is a big deal to me. Foster has less than one season of data available. I believe that, on some occasions, an offensive line can get together and have an unusually excellent year for run blocking. Think of the 2008 Giants, where Derrick Ward looked excellent. That's what I think could be happening with the Texans. (Note that Derrick Ward also has looked excellent in his limited playing time with the 2010 Texans.)

Let's wait a year on Foster. It could be that he and his OL are playing considerably above their "true" talent level by having a collective career year.

Adrian Peterson: fumble problems have been corrected, pass protection and receiving "abilities" are still very questionable. Lots of wear and tear.

I would put Johnson and Charles a tier above Peterson and Foster, and those two a tier above everyone else.

by Kibbles :: Sun, 12/12/2010 - 3:23pm

Jamaal Charles had 190 carries last year. I think you and I have different definitions of "carrying the load". Sure, Charles got a lot of carries over a short span of games, but I think that's different than proving that you can handle the cumulative wear-and-tear that accompanies a full season's worth of carries.

Also, I suspect that if any team in the league could swap their RB for Adrian Peterson, 29 out of 31 teams would jump at the chance. One of the teams that would pass is Tennessee, and the other isn't Kansas City- it's Jacksonville. His "wear and tear" is overrated- he only has about 300 carries more than Chris Johnson, and besides, there's no real correlation between career carries to date and carries remaining in an RB's career (actually, there is a correlation, but it's the opposite of what you think- RBs that have more carries before age 26 tend to have more carries after age 26, too). The only thing that matters when predicting decline is age, and Peterson is the same age as Johnson. As for his receiving ability... the only question is why the Vikings don't throw it to him more. His receiving DVOA was 43.6% in 2007, 13.7% in '08, 15.7% in '09, and 24.5% this year. His career ypc average is 10, which is unbelievable for an RB (Chris Johnson only averaged 7.3 ypc). His pass protection isn't as good as, say, MJD, but it's odd that you'd raise that point when comparing him to Johnson or Charles, neither of whom are devastating pass protectors. If you're looking for reasons why Peterson isn't the best RB in the NFL, you haven't found them yet.

By the way, speaking of MJD, he doesn't get enough love. No elite RB plays in a worse situation- he's got the worst offensive line of any of the top RBs, he's had the least potent passing game of any of the top RBs, he represents the largest portion of his team's total offense. Despite being the focal point of every defense, he still dominates the league. He's one of the very best runners in the entire league, one of the very best receiving RBs in the entire league, and one of the very best blockers in the entire league. If anyone other than Peterson deserves to be called the best back in the league, my money's on Jones-Drew.

by Yaguar :: Sun, 12/12/2010 - 5:59pm

"There's no real correlation between career carries to date and carries remaining in an RB's career (actually, there is a correlation, but it's the opposite of what you think- RBs that have more carries before age 26 tend to have more carries after age 26, too)"

Obviously. Guys with lots of carries are better players. It's really hard to separate all the effects. Here's an attempt at pro football reference blog:


Also, guys, please stop talking about all the spectacular RBs in the AFC South. I'm a Colts fan, and it's making me depressed.

by Kibbles :: Sun, 12/12/2010 - 6:56pm

I'm familiar with that post. I also liked the method the second post in the series used to address the issue. That trio of posts, as well as Jason Lisk's look at what kinds of overuse actually correlate with injuries (linked below), was what finally convinced me that "mileage" was essentially meaningless and age was really all that matters. The fact that Peterson has more carries than MJD and Johnson doesn't really matter- since he's the same age as Jones-Drew (2 days older) and a similar age to Chris Johnson (6 months older), I would have similar expectations for just how long each of those players would remain effective.

Here's the Lisk post I mentioned: http://www.pro-football-reference.com/blog/?p=328

by slipknottin :: Sat, 12/11/2010 - 5:22pm

He should fire his agent, he's worth far more than that.

by ..ik (not verified) :: Sat, 12/11/2010 - 5:54pm

Charles was drafted in 2008. He subsequently signed a three-year deal, which would have expired after this season making him a restricted free agent. Kansas City would have had the option to tender him at the highest level. Another team could opt to give up a first, a third, and a contract the Chiefs could not match to get him. The Chiefs also could have franchised him assuming the new CBA allowed it. In either case, the fact that Charles was under contract and only heading into his RFA year limited his bargaining power. Add to that relative uncertainty about the CBA (e.g., will it take four, five, or six years to reach unrestricted free agency in the future) and it isn't hard to see why Charles signed a deal now.

As an aside, it seems that agents are always the ones that get blamed in this situation. If a contract is deemed below market rate or below the player's value, why doesn't the player draw the criticism? He is after all the one that hired the agent, gave the agent the go ahead to negotiate a new deal, and ultimately signed the deal.

by tuluse :: Sun, 12/12/2010 - 4:32am

I don't expect players to be experts in valuation of resources, understanding how much leverage they have, and negotiation. That's the reason they hire an agent, to do these things on their behalf. If a player has hired a bad agent, you could argue he should have done a better job when choosing, but it doesn't change the fact the agent is bad.

by Whatev :: Sun, 12/12/2010 - 6:53am

You don't expect them to understand? Maybe they aren't masters of negotiation, but they ought to know at least as much about their own value relative to others on the market as some jackasses on an internet forum. If it's obvious to US that the deal is bad, either we have completely no idea what we're talking about or the player himself made a stupid decision.

by tuluse :: Thu, 12/16/2010 - 6:11pm

I expect them to be experts and playing football. There are a lot of football players who are not very bright individuals. Which is why they hire agents instead of representing themselves.

by rk (not verified) :: Sat, 12/11/2010 - 10:36pm

Word is Todd Haley wants him to split the signing bonus with Thomas Jones.

by Duff Soviet Union :: Sat, 12/11/2010 - 11:06pm

Actually, he wants Jones to get 65% of it.

by BJR :: Sun, 12/12/2010 - 8:54am

It seems like a nice deal for the Chiefs, but I would say that Charles' production to date is directly related to him having a shared role in the backfield. It's been easy to ridicule Todd Haley this season for not using Charles more when he is quite clearly the better and more productive of the two backs, but the more I think about it, the more I feel they may have the formula correct for maximising Charles' productivity right now. They run the ball a lot: too much for a relatively small body like Charles to cope with.

I guess the next move for the Chiefs is to aggressively go after another WR to line up opposite Bowe this offseason. Then they can transition towards more pass attempts, fewer rushing attempts, which will allow Charles to take on the feature role in the backfield without asking him to shoulder a huge burden. However, the question remains; is Matt Cassel good enough to carry this (hypothetical) extra load?

by Anonymous12930941 (not verified) :: Sun, 12/12/2010 - 9:06am

The above posters are right. Unlike most people, professional athletes have the luxury of knowing exactly what their peers are making. In terms of guaranteed money, Charles should know that he's much better than 50% of Darren McFadden without his agent's assistance. He signed a bad deal and he should know it. However, I will say that maybe he had other motivating factors for signing this deal (financial or family issues for example). So we don't know the whole story.

by RichC (not verified) :: Mon, 12/13/2010 - 1:38pm

It doesn't matter what his peers are making. He's not a free agent yet. He sacrificed total earnings to get his money now.

The deal that McFadden had wasn't on the table. His choice was to take this deal, or wait till free agency. He took the former.

by Sergio :: Thu, 12/16/2010 - 2:06pm

*Maybe*. McFadden has been playing lights out lately.

-- Go Phins!

by Dice :: Sun, 12/12/2010 - 11:51am

Better to take the signing bonus right now before the lock out? And if he continues in a timeshare, he'll still have a shot at another payday.