Jan 4, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy (25) looks to avoid New Orleans Saints linebacker David Hawthorne (57) during the fourth quarter during the 2013 NFC wild card playoff football game at Lincoln Financial Field. The Saints defeated the Eagles 26-24. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Smart Business: Never Extend an NFL RB


Dec 15, 2013; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray (29) is talked by Green Bay Packers defensive end Josh Boyd (93) in the third quarter at AT&T Stadium. Packers beat the Cowboys 37-36. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

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.

Dec 29, 2013; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray (29) runs with the ball against the Philadelphia Eagles at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

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.

Dec 1, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson (28) is tackled by the Chicago Bears defense during the first quarter at Mall of America Field at H.H.H. Metrodome. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

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.

The Risk

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

 

Do you have questions or comments regarding Dallas area sports? Email Reid at [email protected]. You may be included in the next weekly mailbag. Follow Sport DFW on twitter @TheRealSportDFW Check out more of Reid’s articles here: http://sportdfw.com/author/reidhanson/

 

Tags: Dallas Cowboys DeMarco Murray Featured Popular Salary Cap

  • SmartThinking

    Look. There’s nothing wrong with re-signing running backs, or any player, for that matter, who’s proven they’re worth the money.

    Using your logic, the only place you can look for Romo is on the trash heap.

    The truth is, big Jones has taken the concept of compensating his entire team-full of pet cats to wretched excess. Again. And again. And again. That’s why Ware and Hatcher aren’t still on the team. And that’s why Free re-structured his contract. And that’s why, every season, nearly every player gets his contract restructured and pushed back, some so far, they’re paid even after they leave the team.

    If Murray proves himself, he ought to get the money. In a proof of performance world, it’s the fairest and least bloody way to keep a team strong at every position. And it also shoos away all the pet cats who can’t make the grade as well. (If that were the case, the only guy on this Dallas team who’s left after big Jones gets done throwing money at them is the team bus driver).

    We sure wouldn’t have a 34 year old multi-millionaire cripple with, what, five years left on his contract crutching around Valley Ranch.

    • Reid Hanson

      Exceptions exist and for the right contract just about everyone is worth it. Typically RBs ask for a lot money on 2nd contracts because that’s the last one they are going to get. The transition from college RB to Pro RB is one of the easiest in the NFL. In addition, the late round success rate is higher than most other positions. This makes it a perfect position to cut costs without a substantial slip in production. Cutting costs at most other positions illicit a much wider delta in production.
      Like I said, every case is unique but treating the RB like a replaceable part is a great way to free funds to invest elsewhere.

      • SmartThinking

        Curiously, Dallas currently has money to spare. And more to come after June when Austin officially leaves Valley Ranch. So, except as a philosophical argument among friends, I fail to see where denying your Pro Bowl 1,000 yard running back his due buys you anything … unless you dislike the man for some reason.

        Given that a) the many needs on this team in areas other than RB pretty much preclude drafting a new RB this year, and b) this team’s other RB’s don’t seem to be capable of staying healthy or moving the ball forward, it makes sense, at least to me at this stage, paraphrasing Chairman Darrell, don’t try to fix what ain’t broke.

        Of course, you can always peg Murray’s compensation this next season to reaching 1k yards again and making the Pro Bowl again. But, as you’ve pointed out, that would be unrealistic.

        Incidentally, the word is “elicit,” not “illicit.”

        • Reid Hanson

          It would only be realistic if he considered it and that remains to be seen. You can offer any contract to any player but if it’s not considered it simply is not realistic. As I said earlier, I have not said what I want to do specifically with DeMarco Murray yet but I plan to shortly after I’ve finished discussing the issue in a few different venues. At the very least Murray is needed on the 2014 roster – beyond that is the question.

          • SmartThinking

            Then, your argument is moot.

          • Reid Hanson

            And yours misguided. Let’s end this conversation because it’s clearly going nowhere and not providing a venue for open discussion with others

          • SmartThinking

            I though anyone could contribute their comments to this forum whenever they wished. Is someone keeping others from freely expressing their ideas?

            Okay. I’ll table my questions, misguided as they are, until you pose the remainder of your premise.