Earlier today, it was announced that Jamaal Charles had signed a contract extension with the Kansas City Chiefs, worth a reported $13 million in guaranteed money and $32.5 million potentially overall for five years. Charles was playing under his initial three year deal as a third round pick from 2008, and would have been a restricted free agent.
I think it is a beyond great deal for the Chiefs, and a good deal for the player considering that contracts are not guaranteed, the running back position can be brutal and careers can be cut short, and the labor situation is still unresolved. Charles, because his rookie contract was about to expire and he is relatively young for his draft class (he turns 24 in a few weeks) would have actually been hitting the market at the right time. We see so often backs, like Edgerrin James and Shaun Alexander, looking for a big pay day at age 27, when teams know backs will not likely make it to the end of their contracts. Here, the Chiefs are signing Charles to a contract that could realistically provide full value. As Arrowhead Pride points out, the contract numbers are close to what some other top backs have gotten recently with extensions.
As for Charles, he should be right in the competition for an AFC pro bowl berth with Foster, Hillis and Jones-Drew, despite having far fewer touches than other leading candidates. He repeatedly rips off 10 yard runs and picks up first downs, and is a valuable receiver. Football Outsiders has him as the most efficient running back by their DVOA stat. He’s a danger to break a long one at any time, but the interesting thing is, he really hasn’t had any really long runs this year. He is on pace to be only the fourth running back in the NFL to average over 6.00 yards per carry in a season with at least 200 rush attempts, joining Hall of Famers Jim Brown, Barry Sanders, and O.J. Simpson (AAFC star Spec Sanders also did it). However, he is doing it by more consistently picking up 5-10 yards. He has only one touchdown run over 50 yards so far (58 yarder in the season opener against San Diego). In comparison, Jim Brown (83, 80, 72, 71, 62, 62, 59), Barry (82, 80, 80, 66, 51) and O.J. (80, 78, 58) all had several long runs that brought the yards per carry up far more than Charles has.
If anything, he may be a bit unlucky to not have more big runs in 2010, given how fast he is, and how good his vision and elusiveness at avoiding the first defender is. I know I was critical of Haley’s usage of Charles early, but I think the team has used him perfectly since the Oakland loss, when they mistakenly gave Jones more carries on a wet track. Since then, Charles has averaged 20.5 touches a game, which is about ideal. You don’t want to overuse him, but you want to make sure he consistently maxes out on quality touches, because he will make plays every game.
Charles reminds me of a couple of guys who played in the 1980′s, Wendell Tyler and James Brooks, except based on what we’ve seen so far, he’s probably even better. Those two were versatile guys who played in two back systems, and didn’t have to carry a full load but could make plays as both runners and receivers. It’s a fine line between using him too much and not enough, but I think if the Chiefs consistently give Charles 15-20 carries a game while having a complementary back, he can easily get to the end of this contract and still be very productive as he approaches age 30, like both Tyler and Brooks were.
[photo via Getty]