The deadline for franchise-tagged players and their teams to come to an agreement has come and gone, and neither Saquon Barkley nor Josh Jacobs got the long-term extension they were seeking. Of course, everyone has an opinion on the situation NFL running backs find themselves in frequently. There might not be anyone more equipped to speak on this topic than former NFL RB Le’Veon Bell, who sat out an entire season of his prime over a contract dispute with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“At the time, no one could see my vision, or what I was standing for, but all I was doing was just preparing to go against the grasshoppers/owners,” Bell tweeted on Tuesday. “But as a lone inventive ant/RB, I obviously couldn’t beat the grasshoppers/owners alone .. !!”
In other words, Bell took one for the team, and five years later, not much has changed. NFL RBs are still the most undervalued players on the field, and there aren’t any signs of that changing anytime soon. Look at how the fullback position has pretty much been eliminated from the game, as most NFL teams don’t use them anymore.
Most NFL offenses have resorted to the “running back by committee” mindset concerning the running game. Those who go with one primary back and eventually cut them or tag that player once they’ve exceeded expectations like we’re seeing with Barkley and Jacobs. Dallas Cowboys back Tony Pollard had to settle for the franchise tag this offseason, and the Minnesota Vikings cut ties with Dalvin Cook.
Ultimately nothing will change in the world of NFL RBs until the players get the NFLPA to step up and get everyone fully guaranteed contracts. The league isn’t going back to the days of ground and pound. It’s all about quarterbacks passing 35-plus times per game now to wide receivers making spectacular plays. Running backs are mostly an afterthought in today’s NFL, and their contributions are minimized by general managers, and owners like Bell mentions from A Bug’s Life.