Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

11 Nov 2011

ESPN: Which Top Running Backs to Pay

Looking at similarity scores for top young running backs Matt Forte, Ray Rice, and Arian Foster, and trying to figure out who deserves to be paid the big bucks.

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 11 Nov 2011

11 comments, Last at 14 Nov 2011, 7:00pm by tuluse


by Guido Merkens :: Fri, 11/11/2011 - 12:50pm

I don't understand why we don't see more big-dollar, short-term deals for RBs. All three of these guys are large parts of their teams' offenses, but since they play RB their teams are rightfully concerned about how long they can maintain this level of production.

So rather than DeAngelo Williams or Adrian Peterson-type long-term contracts, why don't we see something along the lines of a 3 yr/$30 million contract with $21 million guaranteed? A contract like that would recognize their production and provide them with some security, but if they go Shaun Alexander in a year or two it wouldn't cripple the cap too badly.

by Flounder :: Fri, 11/11/2011 - 12:53pm

I think because it's easy for a team - see Chicago - to simply run out the rookie contract, slap on the franchise tag for two years, and then cut the cord. It's basically the same thing.

by Nathan :: Sat, 11/12/2011 - 10:01am

To be perfectly honest, outside of a guy like Adrian Peterson I don't see why any team would ever resign a RB. Too easy to replace. I guess it would make it difficult and drive up the price for rookie RB deals and maybe dissuade free agents if it was common knowledge you acted like this but still.

I wouldn't pay Forte long term. I'd consider franchising him until his production slipped.

by Mr Shush :: Sat, 11/12/2011 - 11:42am

I think the whole running back fungibility thing has now reached the point where it's overstated. I look at the Texans' red zone performance before Foster came back, and at the difference between Foster and Tate's performance as receivers and blockers, and conclude that I am all in favour of paying Foster. And Tate is by no means a bad running back.

All these guys are around 25 (as compared to say Shaun Alexander, who was about to turn 29 when he signed his mega-deal). I'd pay all three - I think they're all likely to be good for at least three more years, and that's long enough for cutting them at that point not to be a problem.

by Noah Arkadia :: Sat, 11/12/2011 - 12:52pm

I absolutely agree: There is no LeSean McCoy. There is no Ronnie Brown. There is only "Eagles running back".

It's ridiculous (and I liked Ronnie Brown before this year).

We are number one. All others are number two, or lower.

by DEW (not verified) :: Sat, 11/12/2011 - 1:27pm

*nod* Given a certain OL, an offensive scheme that suits the OL's capacity, and a running back whose skillset fits the scheme, RBs are pretty fungible. However, saying that "any back with a given skillset will work in this scheme" is not the same thing as saying "any back will work in this scheme," much as Mike Shanahan's Broncos tried to prove otherwise.

A better lesson to take is that not many running backs are productive into their 30s, which means that long-term, high-dollar contracts are not advisable, and that there are more options at RB than at, say, QB, left tackle, middle linebacker, etc. Supply and demand dictates that even if Chris Johnson was 2009 Chris Johnson, he's not worth overpaying for.

It sucks for Matt Forte, who's been awesome for the Bears these past few years, but giving him a megabucks deal would be an economic mistake (indeed, it would even be more of an economic mistake for a team NOT the Bears to give him that deal, because re-signing him with the Bears buys some fan goodwill and locker room contentment, which have a certain value of their own).

by LionInAZ (not verified) :: Sat, 11/12/2011 - 7:02pm

It's not necessarily about paying Forte long-term, it's about paying him what he's worth to the team right now. And Forte is worth more to the Bears right now than even Julius Peppers, given that Forte is providing nearly 50% of the Bears offense.

Some people will point to the Chris Johnson episode and say screw the guy, but the Titans left Johnson hanging when he was running his butt off. I wouldn't blame Forte if he shut it down now and left the Bears hanging out to dry, because they sure as hell won't make the playoffs without him.

by Anonymous_Marver (not verified) :: Mon, 11/14/2011 - 5:21am

By your logic, then all the guys on the offense with 0% of the passing yards, receiving yards, and rushing yards -- namely the offensive line -- are providing 0% of the Bears' offense. Furthermore, if you include passing yards -- it would be strange to say Tom Brady provides 0% of the Patriots offense -- then you end up with a given team's offense, in aggregate, providing >100% of that team's offense.

In other words, your logic utterly fails, and is missing the point of the article in totality. Much of Forte's success is attributable to people other than Forte, and a significant portion could be "provided" by someone off the scrap-heap.

by Noah Arkadia :: Mon, 11/14/2011 - 9:53am

Nice, you found the flaw in the X% of the offense logic

We are number one. All others are number two, or lower.

by tuluse :: Mon, 11/14/2011 - 7:00pm

Forte has 192 combined DYAR, Cutler has 251, Knox has 76 and Roy Williams somehow has 76, no one else on the Bears has a number worth mentioning.

Also, the Bears line has not been good (though I think it has achieved average at times this year), and Forte's DVOA has been significantly higher than his backups.

Still, I think the Bears offer to him was fair and I wouldn't give him the 8 million he's asking for unless he's Walter Payton.

by LionInAZ (not verified) :: Sat, 11/12/2011 - 6:57pm

You can't use the franchise tag for two years anymore, though.