For as long as the NFL has been around, there has always been the need for a team to have someone that they can rely on in the ground game.
For instance, whilst the Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970s had the Steel Curtain to help take them to their championships, where would they have been without Franco Harris? Or the Dallas Cowboys sides in the 1990s who needed Emmitt Smith in order to complete their ‘triplets’ with quarterback Troy Aikman and wide receiver Michael Irvin?
Whilst it is true that the NFL is moving to more of a pass orientated league, which is why there are some NFL rushing records that we think are liekly never going to be broken, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some players in the league that aren’t an important part of their team’s offence.
Take a look at Derrick Henry with the Tennessee Titans as a prime example, who led the league in rushing in back-to-back seasons in 2019 and 2020, with his efforts in the latter season enough to earn him a place in the prestigious 2,000-yard rushing club and the Titans the #1 seed in the AFC.
So if you can be dominant enough, those rewards will come, and as a result, so will the contracts. They might not be as big as those of wide receivers, again a consequence of the league being more pass-happy, but that doesn’t mean they don’t bring in the big bucks.
GiveMeSport (with figures provided by Spotrac and reflecting the overall value of their respective contracts), have compiled the 10 biggest contracts around the league for running backs, and put them together to see just how much they stand to earn:
10 – Austin Ekeler, Los Angeles Chargers, $24.5m
Austin Ekeler is addicted to scoring touchdowns pic.twitter.com/E7Ifb3kiWg— Barstool Sports (@barstoolsports) November 22, 2021
9 – Saquon Barkley, New York Giants, $31.2m
8 – Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns, $36.6m
6 – Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers, $48m
6 – Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals, $48m
5 – Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans, $50m
Never forget when Derrick Henry went 99 yards vs Jacksonville 👀pic.twitter.com/bCh3fiFtMJ— PFF (@PFF) October 10, 2021
4 – Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings, $63m
🔥205 Rushing Yards— PointsBet Sportsbook (@PointsBetUSA) December 10, 2021
Dalvin Cook was unstoppable last night pic.twitter.com/amx90V6g1a
3 – Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers, $64.1m
2 – Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints, $75m
1 – Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys, $90m
There are two big takeaways from this list. First, none of the top ten have managed to win a Super Bowl, with only Joe Mixon of the Cincinnati Bengals even reaching one. Which might explain why big contracts for running backs don’t make a lot of sense in this league. Are you really getting your value out of them if you dedicate so much of your salary cap to them?
Which is perhaps reflected in the second takeaway. The biggest contract of the lot, Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott, would only rank 7th when put up against the contracts of the wide receivers.