The 2023 NFL offseason has been troubling for star running backs, and many of the league’s biggest names gathered Saturday to discuss what can be done to address the troubling market. The answer? Not much, at the moment.
In a meeting hosted by Chargers standout Austin Ekeler, several of the top running backs discussed possible ideas that could be made to address the collective approach in the league to de-emphasize paying top dollars to running backs.
But, according to the Browns’ Nick Chubb, players don’t have a lot of options.
“Right now, there’s really nothing we can do,” Chubb said, by ESPN. “We’re a little bit handcuffed with the situation. We’re the only position where our production hurts us the most. If we go out and run for 2,000 yards with that many carries, next year they’ll say, you’re probably burnt out. It’s tough… It hurts at the end of the day.”
There have been a number of concerning trends for running backs this offseason, all of which have been the latest in a multi-year span that has seen the market for the position dwindle as an emphasis is placed on saving money and getting capital out of the position.
This offseason, three running backs received the franchise tag: Saquon Barkley, Josh Jacobs and Tony Pollard. None of the three extensions inked. Pollard signed the tag, but Barkley and Jacobs have not, and both are reportedly considering holding out, according to ESPN.
Along with the three franchise-tagged players, two other notable running backs, Ezekiel Elliott and Dalvin Cook, were released by their respective teams and remain free agents. Two others, Joe Mixon and Aaron Jones, took pay cuts to avoid a similar fate to Elliott and Cook. Ekeler requested a trade from the Chargers when extension talks stopped, but he remains in Los Angeles.
“We’re definitely in a tough spot, running backs in general. Saquon is a great player and you can ask anyone in the league or even the Giants how much he means to that team,” Chubb said. “So it’s hard to see him not get what he deserves.”
FURTHER: Will Saquon Barkley hold out?
In an age when quarterbacks, wide receivers and linemen on both sides of the ball are receiving record deals, the running back market has yet to see the same boost in high-end contracts. According to Spotrac, only Christian McCaffrey (four years, $64 million) and Alvin Kamara (five years, $75 million) have an average annual worth of $15 million per year or more. McCaffrey’s $16 million AAV ranks 104th among all NFL players. Seven quarterbacks in the NFL have AAVs three times higher than McCaffrey’s AAV.
pff found running backs generate 58 percent of their value at age 25 or younger, which is almost always fully accounted for by the rookie contract. No other position generated more than 45 percent of its value with ages 25 and under.
Chubb acknowledged that he could be the next running back to be in the situation the others have found themselves in. The 2023 season will be the last in which he is guaranteed money, though he has one year left on his three-year, $36.6 million contract. After the season, he will be 28 years old. Are the current ages of the running backs at the center of the offseason discourse? Ekeler (28), Barkley (26), Jacobs (25), Pollard (26), Cook (27), Mixon (26) and Jones (28).
Browns general manager Andrew Berry described Chubb as the “type of player and person that you hope will be in this organization as long as possible.”
Of course, there’s no guarantee another Chubb season won’t change the Browns’ minds about the star running back. He is one of only two players with five consecutive seasons of at least 190 carries and 900 rushing yards (the other being the Titans’ Derrick Henry). by Stathead. And with another season for him, there’s a chance the Browns, already facing Deshaun Watson’s huge contract, will look to follow similar moves by other organizations this offseason and ask him to either cut his salary or leave.
“I know it can be me one day,” Chubb said. “I’m just playing both sides. I’m here for my team. But I also understand the situation I could be in.”