Clayton: Running backs looking to get paid should find it’s getting more difficult
Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook made news recently threatened a holdout because of not having much going on with his contract negotiations.
What he apparently forgot was that he has no leverage. He is entering his fourth year in the league and the new collective bargaining agreement makes it almost impossible for a player in his rookie contract to hold out. If he misses the first day of training camp, Cook loses a year towards free agency. That means he would be a restricted free agent and not a free agent who could get franchised or get into the free agency market.
For years, running backs in the NFL have struggled to get good deals. Teams prioritize other positions. Quarterbacks, tackles, defensive ends, cornerbacks and wide receivers get paid. Running backs get to carry the ball but not load up their bank accounts.
This year will further illustrate that. The 2017 running back class that included Cook is one of the best in NFL history. It featured Christian McCaffery, Leonard Fournette, Joe Mixon, Alvin Kamara, James Conner, Aaron Jones, Marlon Mack, Kareem Hunt, Tarik Cohen and Chris Carson as draft choices. Most have either been to the Pro Bowl or had 1,000-yard seasons.
Other than McCaffery, who signed a $16 million contract to stay with the Carolina Panthers, that group of 2017 draft choices are in their contract years at a time they have so little leverage.
I wouldn’t be surprised if none of them get more than $10 million a year even though several deserve it.
According to reports, Cook wants $13 million a year. The Vikings could be at around $10 million a year.
If Cook can’t get a deal done and the other backs don’t get done, the 2021 free agency market is going to be too loaded for quality backs and they will be hurting each other leverage.
The other problem getting a deal done for a back this year is the salary cap could drop next year. No one can say for sure if fans will be in the stands. Forbes Magazine projects that as a $5.5 billion drop in revenue. The NFLPA projects a $3 billion drop.
Safe to say, the cap isn’t going up. If it goes down or stays the same, backs are going to have a hard time getting long-term extensions unless they sign for $6 million or $7 million a year.
The cap had been going up $10 million a year for several years and look how bad it was for running backs this season. McCaffrey got his money, but look at the rest of the backs.
Melvin Gordon rejected a $10 million offer from the Los Angeles Chargers last year and got a two-year, $16 million deal from the Denver Broncos.
Austin Ekeler replaces Gordon as the Chargers starter. He got a four-year deal for $25 million total. By the way, he was an undrafted product from the 2017 draft.
Todd Gurley got $5.5 million from the Atlanta Falcons, but that’s after being cut from a $14 million-plus per year contract from the Los Angeles Rams.
Jordan Howard moved from the Philadelphia Eagles to the Miami Dolphins for $4.875 million a year. J.D. McKissic got $3.27 million from the Washington Redskins, who gave $3 million to Peyton Barber. Carlos Hyde received $2.75 million from the Seahawks less than two weeks ago.
Overall, excluding McCaffrey, only nine backs got above the NFL minimum and that’s with a cap that went up $10 million. Unbelievable.
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