A detailed look at why Roseman is so reluctant to pay running backs originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia
Over the last six years, the Eagles are 19 games over .500, have reached the playoffs five times, won one Super Bowl and reached another one.
They've also had the 3rd-most rushing yards in the NFL during that span.
And they've spent the second-lowest amount of money in the NFL on running backs.
The rest of the NFL is catching onto something Howie Roseman has realized since he began his second stint as Eagles general manager.
There’s no reason to spend a ton of money or use high draft picks on running backs. It doesn’t make sense.
It’s not a bias. It’s smart cap management.
And with the Colts in town for a joint practice Tuesday and South Jersey’s Jonathan Taylor looking for a new team and a new contract, here are a couple interesting facts and figures to consider:
• The Eagles haven’t given a veteran running back a big-money multi-year contract since 2012, when they re-signed LeSean McCoy to a five-year, $45 million extension. That was 11 years ago.
• The Eagles haven’t had one of the NFL’s 25-highest-paid running backs in any season since 2017, when Darren Sproles was 14th with a one-year, $4 million deal (and that deal was as much about his returning ability as his RB production). Sproles in 2016 was the Eagles’ last top-10 running back (9th with a $5.1 million cap hit).
• Since 2017, the Eagles have allocated a total of $29.3 million in salary cap on running backs. Only the Washington Football Team ($29.0 million) has spent less. The Eagles are the only NFL team that hasn’t spent $8 million in cap dollars on running backs in any single year since 2017.
Considering all this, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that the Eagles made no attempt to re-sign Miles Sanders, even though he was coming off a 1,269-yard, 11-touchdown Pro Bowl season.
Sanders wound up with the Panthers, who gave him a four-year deal worth an average of $6.35 million per year.
Compare that to the running back collection Roseman has put together as the Eagles begin training camp.
D’Andre Swift ($2.13 million cap hit), Boston Scott ($2 million), Rashaad Penny ($1.35 million) and Kenny Gainwell ($953,882) have a combined cap figure of $6.4 million – about $84,000 more than Sanders alone.
And for that $6 ½ million you get a veteran with a 4.6 career rushing average and 50 catches per year, a speedster with the highest rushing average in NFL history by a running back, a 24-year-old coming off an auspicious postseason and a short-yardage specialist who’s scored 19 touchdowns on 304 career carries.
You get four talented backs for the price of one. And if Sanders gets hurt or struggles, the Panthers are stuck with his contract. If one of the Eagles’ backs gets hurt or struggles? They have three others they can turn to without any cap implications.
It’s not just the Eagles. Teams league-wide are finally realizing that big-ticket running backs don’t help teams win Super Bowls.
The leading rusher on the last nine Super Bowl champions had a cap figure below $2 million, according to Spotrac. And more than half of them – five of those nine – were undrafted. Here’s a look at each Super Bowl winner’s leading rusher over the last decade:
2022 Chiefs – Isiah Pacheco, 830 yards [undrafted] - $724,777 cap
2021 Rams – Sony Michel, 845 yards [1st round] - $1,792,731 cap
2020 Bucs – Ronald Jones, 978 yards [2nd round] - $1,928,702 cap
2019 Chiefs – Damien Williams, 498 yards [undrafted] - $1,733,333 cap
2018 Patriots – Sony Michel, 931 yards [1st round] - $1,750,308 cap
2017 Eagles – LeGarrette Blount, 766 yards [undrafted] - $1,250,000 cap
2016 Patriots – LeGarrette Blount, 1,161 yards [undrafted] - $1,025,000 cap
2015 Broncos – Ronnie Hillman, 863 yards [3rd round] - $942,708 cap
2014 Patriots – Jonas Gray, 412 yards [undrafted] - $271,765 cap
2013 Seahawks – Marshawn Lynch, 1,257 yards [1st round] - $8.5 million cap
The easy explanation for all of this is that the NFL is more of a passing league now than ever, so there’s no reason to spend on running backs.
But that’s really not true. NFL teams averaged 27.3 carries per game in 2022. Thirty years earlier, in 1992, that figure was 27.4.
Teams are still running the ball as much as ever, they’re just realizing that it makes no sense to invest in the position when running backs have such a short shelf life and are essentially interchangeable, and that an investment in the running back position has no correlation to team success.
Think about the Eagles’ playoff appearances since Roseman regained his GM powers.
In 2017, their leading rushers were LeGarrette Blount, who had a $1.25 million cap hit; Jay Ajayi at $625,203 and undrafted Corey Clement at $558,333. Super Bowl champs.
In 2018, Sproles had the highest cap figure at $1.4 million, and in 2019 and 2021 it was Sanders at $1.34 million each year on his rookie deal. And then Boston Scott last year at $1.75 million.
Roseman was among the first GMs to realize that spending big money on running backs makes little sense. The rest of the league is now starting to catch up, but Roseman was among the GMs who pioneered the philosophy.
And the obvious upshot is that the less he’s spent on running backs, the more cap space he’s had to spend on big-ticket acquisitions – like A.J. Brown, Haason Reddick, Darius Slay and James Bradberry – and to re-sign valuable pieces like Dallas Goedert, Jordan Mailata and Josh Sweat.
It's not being cheap. It’s not being unfair. It’s not playing favorites or treating anybody poorly. It’s smart roster building, and it's not going to change anytime soon.