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Some thoughts on “The Titans shouldn’t pay Derrick Henry because paying running backs never works out”

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There has been so much talk about what the Titans should do with Derrick Henry’s contract. The majority of that discussion centers around the fact that traditionally playing a running back huge money hasn’t worked out. It has been pointed out #nofreeshouts (h/t @BussinWTB) that the top 5 current running back contracts are all with guys on teams that weren’t good in 2019. Those include:

  1. Ezekiel Elliott- Cowboys- $15 million AAV*
  2. Todd Gurley- Rams- $14.375 million AAV
  3. Le’Veon Bell- Jets- $13.125 million AAV
  4. David Johnson- Cardinals- $13 million AAV
  5. Devonta Freeman- Falcons- $8.25 million AAV

People want to use those contracts to prove that tying that much money up in a running back makes the overall team worse. I have 2 arguments against that:

The first is that those teams listed above are bad for reasons other than the money they are paying their running back.

The Cowboys were bad because Jason Garrett is a bad coach. That is why they fired him after the season. You also have to take into account that the average per year on a contract isn’t always how much the contract counts against the salary cap. While Zeke’s contract averages $15 million per year, his cap numer is only $10.9 million in 2020. That makes him the 5th highest player on the team, and that is BEFORE they sign Dak Prescott and possibly Amari Cooper.

The Rams were bad because the Patriots put out a blueprint on how to stop Sean McVay’s offense when New England beat Los Angeles in the Super Bowl. You can also make the argument that it is Jared Goff’s contract that is hurting the Rams more than Gurley’s. Gurley has the 3rd highest cap number on the Rams in 2020 behind Goff and Aaron Donald at $17.25 million. Goff’s cap number is $36.04(!). Which of those is holding that team back more??

Next we come to Le’Veon Bell. For people that actually watch football intelligently, all you have to say here is that he is on a team coached by Adam Gase. That should be enough for the conversation to be over but it isn’t always. Bell does have a cap number of $15.5 in 2020, but the Jets still have over $49 million in cap space remaining. Man, they aren’t going to be able to afford any players with that!

The David Johnson and the Cardinals argument is also a really simple one for football people to understand. Arizona has the least talent of just about any team in the league. Their offensive line is a disaster and their defense is worse. That’s why they aren’t good. Now, Johnson was pretty bad this year, so if you want to make the running backs breakdown argument, we can talk about that, but his contract isn’t why the Cardinals aren’t good.

Last we have Devonta Freeman. He will most likely be cut this offseason according to reports, but even before that happens Freeman has just the 8th highest cap number on the team. His contract isn’t preventing the Falcons from doing anything they want to do in free agency.

So just picking the top 5 running back contracts without adding any context to the team they play on is a dumb argument.

The second argument I would make here is that you can look at the top 5 contracts at any position and use that argument. Here is a breakdown of the top 5 paid at ever position and how many of their teams made the playoffs:

QB- 2

WR- 2

LT- 2

LG- 2

C- 1

RG- 0

RT- 1

Interior DL- 1

EDGE- 1

CB- 1

S- 3

Does that mean the only position worth paying for is safety? It’s the only group that had more than half of the teams make the playoffs.

Look, I get why paying running backs almost never works in the long run. If the Titans give Derrick Henry a 4 or 5 year deal, there is a pretty good chance that he isn’t worth the money in the last couple of years, but that doesn’t mean you don’t pay him now to keep together what they had on offense in 2019.

Here’s the other thing, Jon Robinson has proven to be really smart when it comes to contract negotiations. I guarantee you that he will work a deal with Henry that gives him a lot of money in the first couple of years and a pretty easy out for the team after year 3 whatever the terms of the contract are. That is good for both sides because King Henry gets his money and the Titans are paying him that money while he is still productive.

If you have been a Titans fan for very long you know how rare it is to have an offense here like they did last season. To be so willing to break it up just because “paying running backs big money never works” or “running backs are really easy to find**” is just stupid.

*Number courtesy of OverTheCap.com.

**A great point against that line of thinking: