African Americans: The obstacles of NFL running backs in today’s financial market.



( Days ago, Pro Football Hall of Famer Barry Sanders celebrated his 55th birthday. One of the most fascinating and entertaining professional athletes of all-time, former Detroit Lion Barry Sanders’s elusive running style and jaw-dropping juke moves endeared him to sports fans in Detroit and across the world. Barry Sanders’s dad famously considered a couple of other NFL legends higher on the “mythical” NFL all-time running back list, Walter Payton and Jim Brown. Brown died months ago and is undeniably one of the greatest NFL players of all-time and dominated running the football during the 1950s and 1960s. It is interesting to think of what the financial market would be for legendary running backs like Sanders and Brown in their prime of today’s NFL given what some of the best running backs in the NFL are viewing today?

 NFL running backs

The NFL’s franchise tag isn’t a favorite among today’s players as most would prefer significant guaranteed money over a long-term contract compared to a one-year deal with guaranteed money. Three NFL running backs, New York Giants’ Saquon Barkley, Las Vegas Raiders’ Josh Jacobs, and Dallas Cowboys’ Tony Pollard failed to receive contract extensions from their respective organizations before the NFL’s Franchise Tag Deadline on July 17th. All three are coming off productive 2022 NFL seasons and are talented and versatile players for their teams. All three are also among the top one or two offensive players on their respective teams. Unfortunately for them, the NFL as a whole doesn’t seem to value running backs following their rookie contracts being completed as the NFL once did.

The NFL cliché that it is a “passing league” is true. The last ten AP NFL Most Valuable Player winners have all been quarterbacks. The last running back to win AP NFL MVP was Adrian Peterson back in 2012. The NFL Draft places a similar emphasis on passing with five out of the last six first overall NFL Draft picks being quarterbacks and the only player to break that quarterback streak was Georgia’s Travon Walker, who’s primary duty will be to affect the opposing team’s quarterback from passing the ball effectively through his pass rush.

Playing in the NFL is exceptionally hard and there is no “easy” position among those who play in the league. However, while being an NFL running back is arguably the most physically demanding NFL position as a ball carrier being targeted by eleven defenders on multiple plays to be brought down to the turf or field, it is also relatively easier compared to quarterback or cornerback in which the average salaries of those positions are significantly higher than running back. It is “easier” to translate running back success in college than it is any other position in the NFL. 2023 NFL Draft first round pick Bijan Robinson of the Atlanta Falcons is considered among the frontrunner candidates for the 2023 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year based on both his talents but also the fact that the learning curve for the position isn’t as steep as others in the NFL.

There was an uproar on social media from several NFL running backs after Barkley, Jacobs, and Pollard failed to secure long-term contracts from their teams. It will be interesting to see if this season, a running back can challenge for the NFL’s Most Valuable Player award and help raise the financial standard for the position. It will help if veteran running backs in their late 20s are productive into their early 30s to have NFL organizations not shy away from giving running backs long-term contracts.

Staff Writer; Mark Hines