The journey toward Super Bowl LII ended far too prematurely for the Pittsburgh Steelers, sending them into offseason mode before we were ready for it. But we are in it now, and are ready to move on, through the Combine, through free agency, through the draft, into OTAs, and beyond.
We have asked and answered a lot of questions over the years and will continue to do so, and at the moment, there seem to be a ton of questions that need answering. A surprise early exit in the postseason will do that to you though, especially when it happens in the way it did.
You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring developments all throughout the offseason process, all the way down to Latrobe. Pending free agents, possible veteran roster cuts, contract extensions, pre-draft visits, pro days, all of it will have its place when the time arises.
Question: What will the top end of the running back market look like in 2020?
I don’t know about you, but I find this to be a very interesting question, and there are a number of players in the league right now who are quite curious as well. Needless to say, it’s quite relevant to the Pittsburgh Steelers right now as well.
Flat out, what are the top running back contracts going to average per season by 2020? It’s well known that the top of the running back market has collapsed in recent years. Even while Adrian Peterson’s $14 million per year contract several years ago was a clear outlier, relative to today’s pay scale, shouldn’t that be more representative of what the top running backs are paid?
Or, has the league and its thinking too fundamentally shifted toward the passing game since then? Pretty much literally every season we see the percentage of snaps played by wide receivers (e.g. teams using more three- and four-receiver sets) and the percentage of plays run that are passes trending upward.
This seemed to coincide with a sudden dearth of high-end running back talent, but there are clear signs that that is no longer the case. The Steelers’ Le’Veon Bell has volunteered to be the flagbearer for the running backs’ cause, and has earned for himself close to $27 million for 2017 and 2018 with a pair of franchise tags for his trouble as he stands his ground.
In 2019, surely, if not by July, he will sign a new long-term contract that is going to dwarf the next-highest running back contract at that time. By 2020, Todd Gurley III, Ezekiel Elliott, David Johnson, and others would be eligible for unrestricted free agency or at least be in line for extensions.
Hot on their tails, at least projecting continued success and growth, will be names like Leonard Fournette, Kareem Hunt, Alvin Kamara, perhaps Christian McCaffrey, and, really projecting, Saquon Barkely.
What kinds of contracts will they be getting then? Will the market change? Or is it a doomed cause?