Todd Gurley Revived the Value of the Running Back

Todd Gurley walks into the running back fortress of solitude to a crowded room. David Johnson, Ezekiel Elliot, and Le’Veon Bell are all in attendance. Todd freezes at the sight of all his peers, unsure of what to think. Why are they there? What do they want? After a moment of silence, Leonard Fournette stands up and begins to slowly clap. One by one, more players begin to stand up and clap. The claps get faster and faster before the entire room is standing, erupting in cheers. Devonta Freeman is standing on the table tossing papers into the air. Lesean Mccoy is sitting down crying tears of joy with his face buried in his hands. The running backs storm Gurley and lift him up on their shoulders. “Don’t Stop Believin'” by Journey begins playing as the camera zooms out and fades to black. He’s done it. Todd Gurley has revived the value of the running back. 

Before Tuesday, running backs had the third lowest cap hit in the NFL behind punters and kickers. Before Tuesday, the running back with the highest guaranteed money in the league was Saquon Barkley, who hasn’t played a single snap yet. Before Tuesday, the NFL running back was a rapidly diminishing asset. That was all before Todd Gurley reshaped the running back market by securing a four-year contract extension with an unprecedented $45 million guaranteed.

His contract extension should quell the concerns he brought up earlier this month when he stated the players should consider a lockout to fight for more guaranteed money when the current CBA ends. “Us NFL players, we’re just mad about NBA contracts right now, that’s all,” he said. “I just want like $80 million. Those guys are getting like $150 [million]. It’s crazy. It’s insane.” His gripe is a common concern among players in the league. NFL players bring in more money than NBA players, yet make significantly less guaranteed money despite having shorter careers in a sport that could cripple them on any given play. For reference, Kevin Love also inked a new deal on the same day as Todd Gurley. Love’s deal, although he isn’t nearly the caliber player Gurley is, towers over Gurley’s at four-years $120 million (fully guaranteed).

Going forward, running backs like Gurley have a sound argument for more money. In 2017, Gurley had 788 receiving yards, which was second in the league among running backs behind Alvin Kamara. His contributions, both as a runner and a receiver, are worth 2,000 yards per year. Players like Gurley, Kamara, and Johnson are equally as dangerous as receivers as they are runners. If they can accumulate 2,000 yards a year, shouldn’t running backs be worth as much as receivers? Gurley inked a monumental deal, but still won’t make as much money next season as teammate Brandin Cooks, even though Gurley is the AP Offensive Player of the Year and Brandin Cooks missed the Pro Bowl last season. The argument for running backs is there. Their on the field value is arguably second behind quarterbacks. We’ve seen teams like the Jaguars and Cowboys center their offense around the ground game. They can fill in the role of a running back and a wide receiver, plus, since it’s a single player, they are only worth one cap it for teams. Who deserves more money, Todd Gurley racking up 1,300 rushing yards and 700 receiving yards, or Brandin Cooks accumulating 1000 receiving yards?

Gurley’s deal is the new benchmark for running backs negotiating contracts. Players like David Johnson, Ezekiel Elliot, and Le’Veon Bell should all be licking their chops when their contracts are up because they’ll be able to push for a contract equal to or greater than Gurley’s.

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