While the questions linger about Matt Forte's contract situation, coaches and fans ooh and ahh over Trent Richardson in shorts, and the rumblings get louder from Ray Rice and Maurice Jones-Drew about wanting new fat contracts, it seems pretty clear to me that teams are wise not to invest significant chunks of their salary cap in the running back position.
Not only is that a gamble due to the pounding those guys take in today's NFL, but investing heavily in a franchise, workhorse running back simply does not equate to wins on the football field. Not in today's NFL.
Those days are over, and they aren't coming back. I'm all for balance in terms of the offensive attack, but the ground-oriented offenses simply don't work anymore if the goal is to win the Super Bowl.
Football purists are going to fire right back, and talk about how the NFL is cyclical and that the league will get back to running the ball. They'll say that the Wildcat will be hot again in New York, and coaches will try to emulate Jeff Fisher's approach and grind out wins.
In reality, the rules have changed. The college game has changed. The athletes have changed. I can look to several prime examples to prove my point:
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Let's start in Minnesota. Adrian Peterson has ran over, through, and around NFL defenders for five incredible seasons now. Highlight after highlight after highlight. But other than the magical 2009 season with Bret Favre slinging the ball all over the field and Sidney Rice having a career year, Peterson and his Vikings have been mediocre. In his five seasons, the Vikings have made the playoffs only twice. In 2008, they got bounced at home by the Eagles in the first round. In 2009, they won their first-round game, and then took the Saints to overtime in the Superdome before falling in defeat. And that's the extent of it in terms of postseason glory and success for Peterson.
Outside of Favre's 4,000-plus yard passing season in 2009, the Vikings have been below-average throwing the football, with very few legit weapons in the passing game, and they've failed to win football games. The fact that they've had a workhorse in Peterson has been irrelevant to wins and losses for Minnesota.
The same can be said for Chris Johnson in Tennessee. He took a great deal of criticism for a subpar performance last season. Fans and media members nationwide continuously question whether or not he can return to his explosive form from 2009 when he ran for 2,006 yards and added 503 yards receiving. Ultimately, it may not matter if he returns to that level of production or not considering Tennessee didn't make the playoffs in '09.
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Johnson has played all 16 regular-season games the past three seasons for the Titans. He didn't appear in any postseason games since Tennessee never made the playoffs in that stretch. That's right. For all of Johnson's heroics, his team has gone 8-8, 6-10, and 9-7 over the past three years, only making the postseason when Tennessee won 13 games during his rookie campaign of '08. The Titans have been in the middle of the pack in terms of throwing the football, and thus they've been a middle-of-the-pack football team. Tennessee lacks special players in the passing game, and that certainly reflects in how Johnson performs on Sundays. It also reflects in the win-loss column at the end of the season.
It was mind-boggling when the Cleveland Browns traded up one slot to select Alabama running back Trent Richardson in April's NFL draft. Not to hate on Richardson or the Browns – Richardson can be a great NFL running back and it'd be great to see the Browns become a contender.
But will Richardson's production drastically impact the number of games Cleveland wins in '12? In 2010, Cleveland had Peyton Hillis blowing up defenders on his way to a 1,177-yard season on the ground (and 477 yards receiving through the air). He scored 13 touchdowns that season, and Cleveland went 5-11. We all saw Hillis drop way off in terms of his attitude, production on the field, and what he brought to the team each day in 2011. Again, it didn't matter. Cleveland was still awful, going 3-13. The Browns couldn't throw the ball in 2010, and their record reflected that inability. Those problems continued into 2011, and the mediocrity continued. That won't change this year with Richardson taking carries.
Whether it's Colt McCoy, Brandon Weeden, or Seneca Wallace under center for the Browns, they still have no tight end and no playmakers at receiver. They'll still be dead last in the AFC North, regardless of how much of a moose Richardson proves to be.
Whether we like it or not, the NFL is a passing league now, and the importance of the running back position has been forever diminished. Win/Loss records certainly reflect that fact.
Warren McCarty is the founder of My Passion is Football
Follow Warren on Twitter: @mpifradio
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- Trent Richardson
- Adrian Peterson
- Chris Johnson