The Chris Johnson Conundrum: Is it smart to pay big bucks to a running back?

Posted: August 30, 2011 in NFL News
Tags: , , , ,

Photo: esportsinfo.com

Things are getting ugly in Tennessee. Chris Johnson, who has averaged over one-third of the team’s total yards since being drafted in 2008, has yet to show up to camp. The two sides are far apart and there’s no indication Johnson plans to walk through the door ready to practice anytime soon. The Titans reportedly have offered to make Johnson the highest paid running back in the NFL, yet Johnson wishes to be paid like the top players in the NFL. This stalemate raises the question: should NFL teams dedicate a large portion of their salary cap space to a running back?

The answer is NO and to me it isn’t even a close argument! Quick, name the last Super Bowl Champion with a running back who finished top 5 in the NFL in rushing yards… Still trying to find the answer aren’t you? It hasn’t happened since Super Bowl 38 in 2004, when Clock Killin’ Corey Dillon finished third in the NFL in rushing yards. As great as Dillon was that year, let’s not forget who plays quarterback for the New England Patriots. Corey Dillon’s salary including bonuses in 2004, $1.75 million. Not quite on the level of pay for the so-called “elite” backs at the time.

Not convinced yet? How many of last year’s top 20 in rushing yards were first round draft picks? Only seven! In fact, four went undrafted (Arian Foster, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, LeGarrette Blunt, and Fred Jackson) and two others were 7th round draft picks (Ahmad Bradshaw and Peyton Hillis).

Over the past few years, the NFL has figured this out and we see less and less high draft picks used on running backs. A few years back, a guy with Mark Ingram’s pedigree and skill set would have been a lock for the top 10. The NFL has also caught onto the short lifespan of running backs and many teams now feature a two-back attack. Having a running back of Johnson’s caliber is of course a great luxury, but not by any means essential. The key to success in today’s NFL is good line play, limited turnovers, and a great quarterback.

Still not convinced? Ask Mike Shanahan and the Denver Broncos of the early 2000s, where anyone they pulled off the street was turned into a 1,000 yard back year after year. Denver’s dominating offensive line and zone blocking scheme was much more important to their success than having an elite back.

Now don’t get me wrong, I strongly believe Johnson deserves a big payday, but to be paid like the elite quarterbacks is just insane! Without Johnson, the Titans are lucky to be a 6-10 team and they likely will have a more difficult time filling the stands. With Johnson, maybe a 9-7 team at best? If you’re an NFL owner, are you breaking the bank for a few wins and ticket sales when your team has much more glaring needs?

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Comments
  1. Josephh says:

    I’m convinced. Keeping it factual — I like that. No RB is worth that type of $ yet, the 8-8 record explains it all along with the rest of the stats you’ve found.

    Keep up the good work bro!

    -Joe

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