September 2023

NFL Owners Have Said Checkmate to Running Backs, the Players are to Blame

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The Franchise Tag Conundrum: Running Backs Caught in a Business Web

In the high-stakes world of professional football, where careers can be as fleeting as a sprint to the end zone, running backs face a unique and often unforgiving reality. The franchise tag, a mechanism designed to retain star players, sometimes becomes a double-edged sword when applied to these players.

The average career span for running backs hovers around a short 2.5 years, the implications of the predatory franchise tag on their careers are catastrophic.

For running backs, the franchise tag can be a game of diminishing returns. While it provides teams with a unilateral means to retain top-tier talent, it also allows them to do so at a premium that is overall much lower than what a long-term contract might demand. Teams can comfortably extend a player's contract for two years, even with the higher franchise tag rate, paying significantly less than they would for a comprehensive deal that includes lucrative signing bonuses.

This is compounded by the fact that teams can exercise a 5th year option for players drafted in the first round. Considering the average draft age of 22, it creates a Catch-22 scenario: teams are reluctant to commit to a long-term deal when they can secure a player's prime years through extensions without assuming the long-term risk.

Le'Veon Bell sat out one year, wasted a year in his prime and never recovered.

Running backs often find themselves at the mercy of time. The physical demands of the position, coupled with the statistical decline that sets in around the age of 31, create a sense of urgency for these players to secure long-term contracts. However, the franchise tag allows teams to apply pressure, extracting peak performance while postponing a substantial financial commitment.

related: Jonathan Taylor vs Jim Irsay: The Harm of the Franchise Tag, and Why a Lockout Will Be Needed To Eliminate It

Billionaire owners didn't amass their fortunes by doling out lavish deals; they achieved success by leveraging every available advantage.

The franchise tag presents an opportunity for owners to extract maximum value while minimizing long-term financial risk.

In this stark business reality, the personal dynamics between players and teams come into play. When a team ultimately decides to offer a substantial deal, it often signifies a deeper appreciation for the individual beyond their on-field contributions. This personal valuation can serve as a rare beacon of hope for running backs navigating the treacherous waters of NFL contracts.

related: Want To Own A Sports Team? Drop Everything And Focus On Being A Billionaire

In the grand scheme of NFL negotiations, the franchise tag serves as a powerful tool for teams, offering a calculated balance between retaining talent and managing financial risk. However, for running backs, this tool can feel more like a vice grip, squeezing the potential for long-term security.

Until then, running backs must navigate this intricate landscape with eyes wide open, recognizing that the path to a fair deal often hinges on the intangible value they bring as both athletes and individuals.

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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