So did anything happen yesterday? Because it certainly seems as though it did, even though it did not affect the Pittsburgh Steelers. As I joked on Twitter last night, the news of Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley’s four-year, $60 million extension was seemingly even bigger for Steelers bloggers than for our Rams counterparts.
The fact that the Rams and Gurley even got a deal done is interesting in and of itself, but that’s a topic for a bit later on. The long and short of it was that there was no immediate pressure to get a contract worked out because Los Angeles still controlled the running back for two more seasons with the fifth-year option.
The 2017 Offensive Player of the Year is heading into his fourth season, and his new extension adds four years in ties to the Rams, meaning that he is now slated to be with Los Angeles through the 2023 season, or the first nine years of his career.
And more notably from a global perspective, he just became the first running back to sign a long-term contract north of $10 million per season in quite some time, going back to the contracts signed by Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson in 2011.
You can probably guess where I’m going. The point I’d like to make is that he won’t be the only one. Gurley’s contract was the long-awaited last push in resetting the top tier of the running back market that Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell dragged to about the two-yard line for the past two years.
Bell held off on signing very lucrative and league-leading contracts for the past two years, believing that there was even more out there for him. On the high end, he was reported to have turned down deals averaging $13.3 million and $15 million in 2017 and 2018, respectively.
With Gurley now making $15 million per season once he hits the new-money portion of his contract, Bell’s deal in 2019, barring the unlikely, will make two $15 million running backs. Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson will likely follow within the next 12 months with a deal in a similar range, and Ezekiel Elliott could see a new contract as early as 2019 as well.
By this time next year, we could have at least four running backs making just under the top tier of the wide receiver market, which is much closer to how it should be than how the position has paid out for about the past half-decade or so.
In hindsight, the comments of Bell’s agent sound more prescient. Adisa Bakari pointed out that the running back position has not been devalued; it’s simply that it had been missing the top-end talent that we last saw with the 2008 draft.
The 21st-century talent has now arrived on the scene, however, and they’re starting to get paid. Bell will have already earned about $26 million over two years on franchise tenders and will cash in in 2019. Gurley’s deal came this year. Johnson could sign this year or next. And we have projections to follow for Leonard Fournette and Saquon Barkley in the future.