In today’s NFL, building a team is as much about proper budgeting as it is about acquiring talent. Gone are the days of finding great players and resigning every one of them. Teams are faced with tough decisions and must let good players walk away from time to time. This week we have spent time discussing whether the Cowboys should or should not resign RB DeMarco Murray. This provides an excellent opportunity for discussing RB extensions and whether they are generally good investments or poor investments.
Fear of the Unknown
This lesson has been a difficult lesson to learn for the Dallas Cowboys. Look back and you can see numerous examples of resigning players to troublesome contracts. Flozell Adams, Terence Newman, Ken Hamlin, Jay Ratliff, Terrell Owens, etc… are all examples of questionable contract extensions given to players in the past.
The Cowboys have long had an irrational fear of the unknown. They preferred to gamble on spending huge money on existing players rather than replace the replaceable with younger and cheaper alternatives. Some players resigned were past their prime making the resigning reprehensible. Other players were still in their prime making the resigning perfectly fine in its own right. But when a team decides to resign nearly EVERYONE, a day of reckoning is inevitable.
Replaceable vs Irreplaceable
Instead of rehashing every single bad extension the Cowboys have made, let’s look to the future and discuss a little budgeting strategy. Generally speaking, certain positions are replaceable while others are irreplaceable.
Today we will focus on one of the most replaceable positions in today’s NFL: The Running Back
In the past a consistent workhorse 3-down RB was a key to success. Teams valued RBs as much as QBs and leaned on them heavily. As the RB went so went the team… But in recent years things have changed.
Some say it’s changed because Running Backs are now taking poundings like never before. With free agency, NFL offensive lines just don’t develop the continuity as they once did. Gone are the days of an O-Line opening gigantic holes every play. As soon as an O-Line finds success, a key member leaves in free agency. In addition, NFL defenses are getting bigger stronger and faster. RBs are getting beat up and workhorses are becoming rarer and rarer.
Whatever the reason for the shift, the Age of the Replaceable RB is clearly here. Unless a team is blessed with a truly transcendent player like Adrian Peterson, he is probably replaceable. In fact, successful mid to late round RBs have been found every year in the NFL draft. RB is a true sleeper position that can be found anywhere and doesn’t require a 1st or 2nd round pick.
Letting a talented RB walk away in free agency is a difficult pill to swallow. Doing so involves risk. A team must fill the now-vacant position with a draft pick or two. As we all know – the draft is far from a sure thing. If the club in unsuccessful in replacing the RB, scrutiny is sure to follow. Even with the gamble we see RBs found in later rounds every draft - multiple times a draft. On top of that, who said a team needs to wait until the RB is a free agent to look for his replacement? Successful teams find replacements before they need replacements.
Resigning a RB with 4-5 years of NFL mileage is a risky investment in itself. The beatings these players take is almost inconceivable. That’s why it is so rare a RB even makes it to a 3rd contract in the NFL. The 30 year old cliff for a RB is well documented, but recently than number has been dropping. RB production often starts declining around 27 now, which is right in the middle of most second contracts.
The money involved in Second Contracts is traditionally the highest of all contracts given. This means often half of the life of that contract is made up of the RBs declining years. That’s not very good business.
Money Better Spent Elsewhere
It all comes down to the Salary Cap. If money were no object you could resign anyone you really wanted to. But money is an object so sacrifices must be made. If you spend money on a RB you need to go cheap somewhere else. Do you go cheap at OG? May LB or DT? You can’t go big everywhere because it’s not economically feasible.
There are a couple positions (including RB) that are more replaceable than others. Whenever a team decides where to spend the money, they are also indirectly deciding where not to spend the money.
Never Say Never
To say NEVER give a RB an extension is a little overkill. Every situation is unique and every RB and team cap situation is different. Looking around the league I can think of a couple cases where I would have been happy to offer extensions to RBs: Adrian Peterson and LeSean McCoy.
A couple more RBs I would have opted for the franchise tag (no long-term commitment involved): Chris Johnson and Jamaal Charles to name a couple. For the right price (a really low price or short duration) I would be open to considering others too. But as rule, it’s a bad investment on a replaceable player.
Tomorrow we will apply this discussion and Is DeMarco Murray Injury Prone to the conclusion in, What to do with DeMarco
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