Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
July 4, 2020

Gurley money is too much buck for too little bang

By BEN SCHLESINGER | September 26, 2019

Todd Gurley is the worst. Not only did he reset an already saturated running back market with a landmark contract that included $21.9 million guaranteed, but he also accidentally created a completely new term for getting paid and it’s absolutely ridiculous: Gurley money. 

Everybody wants Gurley money. 

If you are a running back, you want Gurley money. If you have made the Pro Bowl recently, you want Gurley money. If Stephen A. Smith said you are overrated, then you probably want Gurley money. 

Gurley money is the antithesis of general managers everywhere, the bane of salary caps and the force behind player holdouts. 

From Melvin Gordon to Le’Veon Bell, many running backs are starting to push for what many would call a “player driven league.” 

I call it an increasingly obsolete position in a buyers market whining about contracts that no one wants to give them. 

Before I get crucified for bashing one of the oldest positions in the game, allow me to elaborate. 

Let me point out that I’m no statistician — as a matter of fact, I’m a salty Steelers fan that is watching my team crash and burn in the absence of Antonio Brown (good riddance) and Le’Veon Bell, a star running back. 

But I have also seen a trend that I think a lot of people are starting to notice and I have decided to do a quick dive into the numbers to illustrate my point. 

This trend I’m talking about, if you haven’t picked up on it yet, is that paying a superstar running back does not always translate into wins. As a matter of fact, I’d argue it’s more of a financial burden than it is an advantage. 

Before we talk numbers, let’s talk about the history of the position and how the running back was doomed from the start. 

First, let’s talk early NFL. I’m talking early NFL. I’m talking about a time when onside kicks were a favored offensive strategy, John Madden Football was still a good 80 years away from being released on console and the concept of passing the ball was still in its infancy. 

Initially, “running the rock” was your bread and butter, and, quite frankly, your spreading knife, plate, table, kitchen and napkins. 

Passing was still a minor part of the sport and would remain that way until the two way nightmare and Crimson Tide alumna Don Hutson transformed the game into something looking much closer to the modern NFL. 

Don Hutson was not only an accomplished safety and placekicker, but he also essentially invented the concept of being a wide receiver while also sowing the seeds of modern route trees. 

Now, I know what you might be saying. “How is this relevant to the modern NFL running back?” I have to admit that I can’t say that that’s an entirely misguided question. 

I get it, Don Hutson played a long time ago, and while I’m not saying that the invention of the wide receiver was the last nail in the coffin of running backs, I do think that it sets a very important precedent and maybe started digging the NFL running back’s eventual modern grave. 

Ever since Don ran his first chair route, the NFL began its slow transition to the modern pass-heavy league we see today. 

There have always been evolutions of the league, but one thing that has been consistent is the gradual increase in passing touchdowns per game, and the inverse being true for rushing touchdowns. 

To give some perspective, in 1987, during the offensive frenzy that saw Jerry Rice’s 22 receiving touchdowns, there were still only 2.9 receiving touchdowns per game on average, versus 2019’s 3.24 touchdowns through the air per game. 

On the other hand, in 1987 the league averaged 1.72 scores by ground compared to the modern 1.48 rushing touchdowns per game last season. And while I can lie all I want about how important getting this article done is compared to midterms, one thing that cannot lie is the stats.

Before I lose you in a whole bunch of boring numbers about an era of play that I wasn’t even alive for, let’s talk about the modern NFL.

Honestly the numbers get muddy. I tried to collect info on team rushing and average yards per carry, and I couldn’t really validate my point. 

My assumption was that the teams that ran their ground game by committee would average more yards, but that wasn’t true. 

I got stuck, and felt kind of duped. 

Here I was, sitting in the AMR I kitchen, waiting for my laundry to finish in the dryer, and my numbers didn’t add up. 

But then I looked at playoff teams, and I understood that I do, in fact, still have a point. 

Just looking at Super Bowl matchups (i.e. the Patriots versus the National Football Conference (NFC)), most success come from a varied run game that is used as a tool to open up the play action. 

Tom Brady knows better than most not only how to win at the highest level, but also that running backs allow you to pass with an air of misdirection. 

Outside of Brady’s bunch, you have NFC claimants to the Lombardi Trophy, such as the Los Angeles Rams and the Philadelphia Eagles. 

The Eagles are an easy one; they generated offense through a balanced pass attack bolstered by a rotation of cost-effective workable running backs. 

While you may think that the Rams, on the other hand, throw a wrench in my argument, saying that this whole article is a not-so-veiled complaint about their starting running back, I’d argue that their most recent playoff run only bolsters my point. 

With the absence of their All-Pro running back, they trusted the ball in veteran workhorse CJ Anderson, who managed to rush his way to a Super Bowl appearance for the Rams. 

As long as CJ was serviceable, the offensive line held and Sean McVay understood how to open up the pass through the run, they could play without Gurley and succeed. 

My point with this isn’t that the running back position is doomed to obscurity and will never appreciate the limelight like they once did in their glory days. 

There are still plenty of jaw-dropping highlights and big plays generated on the ground. 

In fact, I think I have proved the point that running backs are an incredibly important part of any good team’s offensive game plan. 

I’m just pointing out that paying big money for a star running back does not always translate to wins. Still, many teams choose to take big names for big money regardless.

At the end of the day, my main point is to never trust a Patriots running back on your fantasy team, and that Melvin Gordon needs to shut up. 

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