John Clayton believes that Trent Richardson is entering the league at a bad time to be a feature running back. As evidence, he points to what he believes to be sagging running back market. I disagree that the examples that Clayton gave and the long term prognosis for Richardson. I agree to some extent that the running back position is devalued compared to the past, though I think that past is further back than Clayton’s examples.
To show the difficulties of the running back, Clayton points to contracts this offseason. Matt Forte and Ray Rice have been franchised and to this point have been unsuccessful in negotiating long term deals. Only Marshawn Lynch and Arian Foster got long term contracts. All four of those situations have some bearing on Trent Richardson. The rest of the examples are non-sensical as applied to Richardson.
Michael Bush, Peyton Hillis, and Benjarvus Green-Ellis got deals in the 3 million per year range. They all have question marks and are seen as part of platoons. They do not represent the situation facing Richardson. Cedric Benson, Cadillac Williams, and Ronnie Brown? Come on, man. Williams and Brown haven’t been lead backs for a few years. That’s like saying that Vince Young not being able to find a team impacts Robert Griffin III’s long term outlook. Benson is approaching 30 and teams are not going to give a back his age a big money deal. That has been true for a while.
So, let’s talk about those four backs. The franchise tag number is close to 8 million for running backs. Rice and Forte want more long term money. Forte has one impediment that Richardson won’t. Age. He was 23 when he entered the league, and will be 27 and coming back from an injury when he plays next year. Richardson hasn’t turned 21 yet and enters as one of the youngest players in league history. Ray Rice is the closest example, similar age, and he is the only one that truly represents an issue for Richardson.
As for Lynch and Foster, I think that their contracts show the real impediment to deals–the surplus value that getting a younger running back provides. Lynch was 25 last year and just signed a 4 year, 30 million dollar deal. When I look at the 35 backs with the most similar yards from scrimmage at age 25 (that number was chosen because their were 35 backs selected in the Top 8 from 1978 to 2008), I see very similar performance over the next three years to top drafted backs.
The Lynch comps averaged 3230 yards from scrimmage from ages 26 to 28. The Richardson comps (top 8 picks) averaged 2960 yards in their first three years. The young top picks had more upside (8 with at least 5,000 yards from scrimmage in the first three years, compared to 4 for the Lynch comps) as well as downside. By year four, though, it shifted to the young guys.
Setting aside money, I don’t think many GM’s would choose Marshawn Lynch straight up over Trent Richardson if given the option. Well, Lynch just signed for 4 years and 30 million. For comparison, last year, A.J. Green’s deal as the fourth pick was 4 years/19.6 million and Julio Jones was at 4 years/16.2 million. For between 10 and 14 million less, the team that drafts Richardson is likely getting the better production over the next four years.
Trent Richardson does have an advantage in his age, though. Before his 24th birthday, he will be able to renegotiate and extend his deal, and if he is a star, he will get it. By his 25th birthday, he will be a free agent unless the team franchises him. By 26, he will probably be too cost prohibitive to franchise again, and would, worst case scenario, hit the market at a similar age to Foster and Lynch this year.
Clayton leaves out Adrian Peterson, who got an extension that included 36 million guaranteed just over 7 months ago. Peterson has a heck of a lot more to do with Richardson’s potential to get a good second contract than Cadillac Williams or Benjarvus Green-Ellis. Peterson was also a top pick, the last early running back pick to turn into a star, and he got paid when it came time to get an extension.
Of course, the other factor to consider is that while we bemoan the reduction in carries, that may aid Richardson in getting to a bigger money deal at age 25. I’m convinced that a player like Cadillac Williams was impacted negatively by having more carries through his first four games than any other rookie, and he was a shell of himself by age 25. If Richardson averages *only* 17 carries over his first four years, rather than 23-24 a game, and with the ever-growing salaries of veterans, it may not be such a bad time to be a star back after all.
[photo via US Presswire]