July 2023

NFL Running Backs Are Asking, "How Come He Don't Want Me Man?"

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image: Chipermc, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The running back position is undervalued in real-life contracts but is the golden ticket to fantasy football glory.

This precarious balance has left players like Tony Pollard, Saquon Barkley, and Josh Jacobs in a challenging situation, with no long-term deals on the horizon.

As they face the dilemma of securing their futures while navigating the risks of playing one of the most physically demanding positions in the NFL, the lessons learned from Le'Veon Bell's 2018 holdout loom large. It is time for players and teams to find a common ground that values their talent and contributions while considering the realities of the business side of football.

Running quarterbacks are winning, receivers are winning, backs do both yet are neglected.

Fantasy Sports Treasure vs NFL Trash

In fantasy sports, running backs have reigned supreme, serving as the cornerstone of many successful teams. Their ability to rack up points through predictable touches, touchdowns and yardage makes them invaluable assets in the virtual world. However, fantasy popularity has not translated into a commensurate increase in real-life contracts for the players themselves.

Derrick Henry and Christian McCaffrey won't make it past the first round, besting MVPs like Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson yet will never sniff the career earnings of even average quarterbacks despite often being just as important to their teams and the focal point of defenses.

Are we seeing the last of great running backs?

As Tony Pollard, Saquon Barkley, and Josh Jacobs face uncertain contract situations, it becomes evident that the running back position is still not given much respect terms of financial compensation. While these players possess incredible talent and play an integral role in their teams' success, the overall contracts for the position have not seen significant growth in recent years. This reality leaves players in a tight spot, torn between their passion for the game and securing their future.

The majority of the recent Superbowl winning teams didn't feature a top running back, with most employing a running back by committee instead, with running backs more supplemental to the nearly mandatory Quarterback greatness required to succeed in today's NFL.

Learning from Le'Veon Bell's Holdout

The cautionary tale of Le'Veon Bell's holdout in 2018 serves as a stark reminder of the potential consequences of contract disputes. Despite his undeniable talent, the decision to sit out an entire season ultimately took a toll on Bell's career trajectory. As players like Pollard, Barkley, and Jacobs contemplate their own contract situations, they must consider the long-term implications of their actions.

Can they afford to hold out?

For players, with short career spans this is their one shot for glory. If the position is indeed replaceable, they also don't have much leverage since there theoretically should be plenty replacements waiting in the wings for their turn. Even worse, the clock begins ticking on their relevancy as soon as they are off the field and out of the public eye. Adding insult to injury, for athletes it is winning that ultimately increases their influence with the fans, and the league.

On the other hand, teams should consider the immense contributions of their star running backs and reward them accordingly, striking a balance between long-term investment and immediate financial constraints. Running backs also should coordinate amongst themselves to create some leverage in unison.

The truth is, you cannot force the team owners to pay, and running backs don't have many other options. Running backs may be going the way of the old school big man in the NBA.

It's just business.

Issa Hall, Esq

Issa has founded multiple ventures, is an author, and founding partner of Hall & Dixon law firm, with over a decade of experience in tech and law.

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