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Run stuffers not as expensive as they once were in NFL

Apr 1, 2015, 9:55 AM | Updated: 10:03 am
Seattle's Brandon Mebane is scheduled to make $5.5 million next season, a salary that exceeds what nose tackles tend to command in today's NFL. (AP)
(AP)

When it comes to paying run stuffers, NFL teams have chosen to pass.

Wait.

That’s a bad choice of words. It’s the pass-happy offenses of today’s NFL that have placed a premium on pass rushers, in some cases at the expense of the big-bellied men who are on the field on for first and second down with the charge of stopping the run.

Guys like Red Bryant, who was released by Seattle a year ago, and Brandon Mebane, whose continued employment with the Seahawks has been characterized as a question mark by some people.

Turns out that running backs aren’t the only ones who’ve seen their value diminished over the past few years. So have early-down defensive linemen. You know, the big-bodied Brontosauruses (or is Brontosauri?) who clog the running lanes and stand up to double teams and push into the backfield. Nose tackles like Vince Wilfork, released by the Patriots this offseason before signing in Houston, or Haloti Ngata, whom the Ravens traded to Detroit.

It’s not that those players aren’t important to a defense. Or capable. It’s just that right now in the NFL, the big guys up front who come off the field when it’s time for the other team to throw don’t tend to command much more than $4 million a year. Now, that’s hardly minimum wage, but it’s also about half what a similarly talented pass rusher can look for in free agency.

That brings us to Mebane, who is scheduled to make $5.5 million in 2015. He has been a mainstay in Seattle’s defense, the longest-tenured player on the team. But the Seahawks’ acquisition of Ahtyba Rubin two weeks ago was a sign that Seattle wasn’t going to rely on the status quo.

Rubin, 28, is precisely the kind of moderately-priced defensive lineman Seattle has excelled at finding in free agency whether it was Alan Branch in 2011 or Tony McDaniel in 2013.

Meanwhile, Seattle has paid bigger bucks for pass rush. Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett both came off the bench in 2013, mainstays of the team’s nickel pass rush. Both were subsequently re-signed while Bryant – a four-year starter – was let go after the 2013 season in a decision that wasn’t personal, but rather personnel.

Pass rush commands a premium in today’s NFL, and in some ways that has come at the expense of those early-down run stuffers who aren’t endangered per se. They’re just not as expensive in today’s NFL.

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Run stuffers not as expensive as they once were in NFL