Over the past few seasons, the emergence of the platoon running back system has come to dominate the NFL backfield, at least for successful franchises. Out of the 12 playoff teams from 2007, only one team (San Diego) had their featured back gain more than 65% of the teams total rushing yards for the season. And out of the 2007 playoff teams, only San Diego (LT) and Jacksonville (Fred Taylor) had a running back who one of the top 10 highest paid running backs in 2007.
NFL teams have to decide: is it advantageous to invest significant
salary cap space in a player who is likely not going to lead their team to the
In 2007, Rudi Johnson was the 8th highest paid
running back in the NFL, but due to some injury troubles and the emergence of
Kenny Watson, finished the season as the 39th leading rusher in the NFL
with 497 yards on 170 carries for 3 touchdowns. The Bengals as a team finished as the 24th best rushing team
in the NFL, based on average yards from scrimmage per game
Who were the backs who made more than Rudi? Most were either busts (Lamont
It is clear that in today’s NFL, unless you have a superstar
running back (LT, Adrian Peterson), they are simply not worth the money. The platoon system has shown that offensive
coordinators can rotate backs to showcase their strengths (and ensure fresh
legs all game), and recent injuries have shown that teams must invest in a
depth at the position.
All told, the Bengals spent $8,989,169 in total cap value in 2007 in their backfield, to finish 24th in total rushing yards from scrimmage. Out of the top 10 rushing teams in 2007, 7 spent less overall in their backfield than the Bengals.
How? They sign young RBs and give them cheap money and
invest the difference instead in offensive line. You might call this the Shanahan effect, with
Bronco’s coach Mike Shanahan rotating running backs more often than most Bronco’s
fans rotate their John Elway underwear. Running
backs are expendable – put a premier offensive line in front of them and you
will get yards.
You want some examples? How about Minnesota (put their money in Steve Hutchison, drafted Adrian Peterson), Pittsburgh (Willie Parker makes $1M less per year than Rudi and the Steelers rushed for 40 more yards per game) and New York Giants (who pay their backfield less than half than the Bengals), not to mention the Patriots, Titans, Cowboys, Bucs and Seahawks, who all employed 2 back systems and made the playoffs.
The Bengals, on the other hand, have invested $4.75 million
in Rudi, $1.326 in Chris Perry and $1.3 million in Jeremi Johnson – and for
what? Give me two more Kenny Watson at $816,666
per year and invest the rest in the offensive line.
For this year, give Rudi his shot at proving he is a superstar back, but if he can’t impress, send him packing and take the cap money to invest in some offensive line depth for the future.
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