Unlike AFC South division-mate and fellow former NFL rushing champion Chris Johnson, Arian Foster of the Houston Texans is not worried about the fact that he's set to make just $525,000 on an exclusive right free agent tender one year after he led the league in rushing yards with 1,616, rushing touchdowns with 16, and yards from scrimmage with 2,220. An undrafted free agent out of Tennessee, Foster came into the league in time for the 2009 season and put together a sophomore campaign that nobody could have possibly expected.
But while Johnson hasn't reported to camp, even as the Tennessee Titans say that they're willing to make him the highest-paid running back in the NFL, Foster, who will be a restricted free agent next season under the new CBA rules, reported to camp on time — even though he's grossly underpaid by any standard.
Why the different view? Between his upbringing and his undrafted status, Foster recently told ESPN's Paul Kuharsky, he learned that there's nothing to be gained in his own mind by pressing the issue.
"I grew up where sometimes the lights weren't on or sometimes we didn't eat dinner at night. You know, my daughter lives well, my wife lives well and I live well," Foster said "I believe in karma. You take care of the universe; the universe takes care of you. You can't run around thinking negative all the time. You neither."
This despite the relatively short shelf life of the average running back, and the mild pulled hamstring Foster's been contending with this preseason.
"Track athletes run year-round and pull hamstrings," he said. "They are going to happen to most athletes who do sprinting. And they focus on that and they try to do preventative exercises to prevent (pulled) hamstrings but hamstrings just happen.
"I'm in great shape. I'm hydrated, I stretch, I do yoga. It just happens," he said.
Texans owner Bob McNair recently told the Houston Chronicle that Foster will have to prove himself beyond 2010 to be paid like a marquee back. "I think Arian understands if he performs this year, shows that he can be consistent, he'll be rewarded," McNair said. "That's how the game works, but you don't do it based on one season."
And what about Johnson? After all, Foster could relate to Johnson's situation more than most — there aren't too many NFL rushing champions paid less than a million dollars per year.
"I think Chris Johnson is a grown man and he needs to do whatever he thinks is best for him and his family," he said.
As he concluded to Kuharsky, Foster is guided by a different voice.
"I'm a humanitarian."
That aside, there are reasons for Foster to worry this year. One of the main reasons for his great success last season was the dynamic blocking of fullback Vonta Leach, who's now in Baltimore. When I talked with him recently, Foster discussed the value of Leach and the continuity of the Houston running game. He also didn't sound at all concerned about his contract when I asked him about it.
"Whatever the system's going to be, it's going to be … but people who are proven in the league should be getting a little more compensation for what they're worth. Absolutely. My opinion is null and void, though, because I don't write any checks [laughs]."
Arian Foster is certainly a rare bird in a league where players frequently have to use whatever leverage they can attain to get when they deserve. Let's just hope his neutral position works out for him in the end.