Value Pricing the NFL Running Back- Updated Pricing
With Maurice Jones-Drew of the Jacksonville Jaguars seemingly prepared to hold out in hopes of a new contract I wanted to go back and revisit my old RB valuation article and see what price he and some others should receive. There is clearly a battle line being drawn between the RB's and the league. Runners have a short shelf life and everyone knows it. The days of the Shaun Alexander and Larry Johnson deals are more or less long gone but with the players union foolishly giving in to this new franchise tag formula they have made it even easier for teams to avoid contracts with these players. Under the old tag system the RB position grew a total of 16% over a 4 year period and was last used at a figure of $9.566 million. Under the new system the figure is only $7.7 million, a huge loss, with no gains expected in the coming years.
Jones-Drew is not the first player to be upset by his contract status. Both Ray Rice and Matt Forte are resisting the franchise tag and last years holdout of Chris Johnson and the demand for a new deal by Frank Gore were more examples of runners realizing the poor situation that they are in relative to their peers. The recent exceptions would be Arian Foster who signed a $43 million dollar deal this past season and Adrian Peterson, who signed once the framework of the new market was set by Johnson. So the question is what are the runners actually worth?
Going back to my old article I have two sets to look at. One is last seasons veteran players who were no longer on their rookie contracts. The second set would include both veterans and rookies together. I think they can be used to tell different things. By looking at the veteran only set I think we can come up with a solid estimate as to the value of a specific player to a team that is in desperate need of a running back. For example the Ravens are pretty dependent on Rice and he holds tremendous value for them. Their alternative option of drafting a rookie brings a high degree of uncertainty so its not feasible for them to consider it an option. This is the upper most price a team should probably pay for that type of player, though certain players will make more until the market fully corrects itself.
The full set gives an overview of the entire market and gives you what I would call an "indifference price". This is the maximum value you should pay for a player that you might like but don't think is a necessity for the team. You aren't sure how well that player will fit in with your offense, how they will play off a big contract, plus you know they will not produce the next three years as they did the prior three years based on analysis of the position. In this case the drafted rookie or other complementary back signing becomes more important. I would consider Forte that type of player since the Bears have other options in both the passing and running game that they did not have last season. The Bears are probably indifferent to the return of Forte at a high figure or drafting a running back and keeping their fingers crossed that they play well.
So how did I calculate the salaries? First I looked at the scores, as calculated in the original article on runners performance, and determined how much above or below the average score the individual player graded. The index is based on score above average and score above veteran average. That would be his index. This score was used to adjust the average salary up or down to come up with his indifference price and maximum price. Using Jones-Drew as the example he was 1.128 times more productive that the average running back last year and 1.217 times as productive as just veteran backs based on the metrics. The average of the total salary pool was $2.803 million and that of the total veteran salary pool was $3.716 million. Simply multiply the numbers to come up with his prices relative to the market, which are $5.97 and $8.24 million respectively.
Jones-Drew is set to earn about $5 million each of the next two seasons on a contract that averages about $7.6 million a year. You could probably make the argument he deserves a small raise because he is so important to the Jaguars, but Jacksonville looks to be a bad team and the indifference price is only $5.97 million a season, which is close to what he earns now. When you consider how much he earned early in the contract he probably won't get more than a token extension like Gore received last year from San Francisco. At 27 years old this is probably his last opportunity for any contract so its understandable why he may have chosen to do this. Foster's recent deal is going to make him slightly overpaid at the position, but the Texans see him as an important player to the team and paid him accordingly, especially in light of the terrible contract given to DeAngelo Williams by the Panthers. One thing with these type of charts is while they can provide a guideline for a salary scale there is nothing that can account for a Williams type contract. Once that hits the market it kind of becomes a firm number for a high caliber player like Foster.
Rice should be worth slightly less than Foster, but similarly will exceed the prices here due to Foster's and Williams' contracts. The franchise tag number is very fair for both sides if just taken as a 1 year deal with no threat of injury, but clearly that threat is real for Rice. Rice is 25 and might still score a deal next season if healthy. At the very least he needs the Ravens to agree to not franchise him again. Forte was never in the class of these players and I see him being close to that indifference market price, which is way less than he will make on the tag. He never should have turned the Bears down earlier this year Peyton Hillis settled for just under his indifference cost, which should be a nice value pickup for the Chiefs. Fred Jackson has been promised a new deal by the Bills and looks to be set to make around $5 million a year. It will be interesting since he is 31 but has been ultra productive. If I had to guess it will probably be a 2-3 year contract that rewards him for still playing well. The Jets Shonn Greene, if he has a similar 2012 season as he did in 2011 will be around that $3 million mark to keep on the team.
Unlike other positions I think if I updated this every season there will be limited growth in the average salary and once certain players are let go, notably Johnson and Williams, it may decline a lot. It's a tough position to play and an even tougher one to be paid at. The union really needed to fight more for these guys but pretty much sacrificed them to get a deal done last year.
Despite the fact that the NFL is evolving into a more pass-friendly league, the Jets (at least verbally) seem intent on designing a ground and pound team. In your equation, does this raise Shonn Greene's Total Score? I ask this because (and I am not blaming this entirely on Greene either, what with the offensive line problems and all) he did not seem all that productive last season. I was a little surprised to see him rank as high as he does on the chart.
I remember when Greene was averaging more than five yards a carry, but I also feel that was more of a testament to how good the offensive line was, too. Heck! I could have run five yards a clip the way the OL was performing, and I used to play nose tackle (slowest guy on the team.....*sigh*)
I do love the passing game, and I do feel it is quintessential to be able to complete passes downfield in order to keep defenses honest, but I sure do miss having a running back who instinctively knows how to get those extra yards, and Shonn Greene, to me, runs too much like a fullback. I like his power, but it is not difficult to gang tackle a straight ahead back.
I'm anxious to see how this year's draft shakes out.
Jason, thanks for explaining the stats to me; helps to put things in perspective.