Rice, Forte Contracts Give Hope to Running Backs Who Won't Get Paid in Draft

Sigmund Bloom@SigmundBloomNFL Draft Lead WriterJuly 16, 2012

CINCINNATI, OH - JANUARY 01:  Matt Birk #77 and Ray Rice #27 of the Baltimore Ravens celebrate as they walk off of the field following the 24-16 win over the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on January 1, 2012 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The deadline to sign franchise tagged players to long-term deals brought two big new contracts for Matt Forte and Ray Rice, who happen to play the same position: running back. Their deals should bring solace to young running backs around college football and the NFL who are staring down the barrel of getting little for their sweat until their second contract.

Forte and Rice are both outstanding all-around running backs who fell to the second round of their draft class because they lacked breakaway speed and, in Rice's case, ideal NFL running back size. Since then, running back has become even more de-emphasized around the league, with more teams moving to a committee approach in the backfield. Franchises are looking for complementary parts instead of workhorses, and they are willing wait until the late second round or longer to reload at the position.

It takes a once-every-five-years prospect like Trent Richardson for a running back to break into the draft's top 10, which has seen greatly diminished salaries under the new collective bargaining agreement. Even high quality backs with explosiveness or workhorse ability like David Wilson and Doug Martin fell to the very end of the first round this year. Running backs can make a big impact earlier in their career than most positions, which conveniently allows teams to get their best years under their cheap rookie contracts.

Ray Rice and Matt Forte were important test cases for the running back market because they have given their teams at least double, if not five or 10 times the amount of value they were paid under their rookie deals. Would teams franchise them at the very cheap price of 7.7 million and wait to see if they suffered a catastrophic injury like the one that befell Adrian Peterson before re-upping them? Or would they reward the players for their unending effort and production with market-value deals even though they are playing at a position with a short shelf life?

Baltimore and Chicago doing right by their stud bell-cow backs instead of treating them the way college kids treat their apartments on a month-to-month lease is a terrific sign for top college running backs like Marcus Lattimore, Knile Davis and Ray Graham, who all suffered severe injuries last year. The precedent has been set that backs who play their hearts out under their rookie deals will be rewarded with a long-term commitment instead of being strung along under the new cheaper franchise tag guidelines.