With training camp set to open, the Kansas City Chiefs agreed to a two-year, $18.1 million extension with running back, Jamaal Charles.
According to media reports, the new deal, will pay the former Texas running back $5.1 million over the next two seasons. Before the extension, Charles was set to make $3.9 million, per sources, including a base salary of $2.65 million.
Set to begin camp without Charles, he Chiefs had been in discussions with Charles on the prospect of a new deal, were hoping to have one worked out prior to the start of the camp.
There are few that would argue that there was a more valuable player to his team last year than Charles was to the Chiefs.
Outside of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, no player made his team’s offense ‘go’ quite like Charles who was responsible for 36 percent of the Chiefs’ yards from scrimmage; the highest figure in the league with Chicago Bears’ running back Matt Forte and Philadelphia Eagles’ speedster LeSean McCoy tied for second at 31 percent.
Yet, Forte is scheduled to make $6.9 million in 2014 with McCoy slated in at $8 million, double Charles’ projected salary. Only in 2015 will Charles even be in the realm of the highest paid backs in the league (with the exception of Adrian Peterson who is in a different stratosphere with a $14.4 million annual payout.
Peterson, by the way, was only responsible for 26 percent of the Minnesota Vikings’ total yards.) Charles served as the leading rusher and receiver for the team, accounting for 1,287 yards on the ground, 70 receptions, and 19 total touchdowns totaling close to 2,000 all-purpose yards and setting career highs in several statistical categories.
As the de-facto workhorse for the Chiefs’ offense and based on the above factors Charles is underpaid – that is not debatable. The question at hand isn’t whether he has been undervalued in the past but, rather, what his value is going forward.
As we are so often reminded, the NFL is a business first.
And in any profitable business, you do not pay for past performance but, rather, what that employee can offer you in the future.
At the age of 27, Charles, unfortunately, has hit the age where it has been shown that running backs’ level of play begins to decline. This is especially true of smaller running backs of which, at 5’11” and 195 pounds, Charles would classify as.
There are exceptions – Fred Jackson had two of his most productive seasons at the ages of 31 and 32 – but in general the demarcation line of 27-28 has held over the years. The positive news for Charles is that, while he is entering his seventh year in the league, he has really only played with a full workload in four of them.
Charles played sparingly during his rookie season, accumulating less than 400 yards, and missed all but two games of the 2011 season due to an ACL injury, meaning, in theory, he could have a few more productive years left in him than the typical 27-year-old back. However, Charles has carried the ball an average of 275 times per season the last two years, perilously close to that 300 carry line that so often accelerates the demise of a running back’s career, and that doesn’t even include the work he does in the receiving game.
And that workload isn’t likely to decrease this year either.
Much was made of the Chiefs did little in free agency or the draft to address their major needs, one of which was adding a veteran receiver – or at least a young player ready to give right away – to aid number one wide receiver Dwayne Bowe.
Bowe, who had just 57 receptions for 673 yards and five touchdowns last year, hasn’t resembled a true No.1 wideout since 2011, because teams have been able to focus all of their energy on containing him as there hasn’t been a legitimate receiver lined up opposite of him in several years.
Thus, Charles has become their de facto No. 2 receiver – or number one considering he led the team in receptions last year.
Instead of bringing in players the Chiefs have chosen to rely on what they already had on their roster; primarily the improvement of Donny Avery – on his fourth team in six seasons in the league – and second year tight end Travis Kelce to pick up the slack.
Kelce was highly touted when the Chiefs drafted him but his real transition to the NFL was delayed by a torn ACL which caused him to miss his entire rookie season, making him a virtual unknown.
Their depth at running back isn’t exactly expansive either considering that Knile Davis rushed for just 242 yards in his rookie season and his average yards per carry (3.5) was far below the production of Charles (5.6 yards per carry career average) and what would be acceptable for a lead or even change of pace back.
Davis also had a fumbling issue that suggests it might be difficult to increase his presence in the game plan without an assurance that the issue has been fixed. Fourth round draft pick, D’Anthony Thomas, was selected for his speed and at a diminutive 174 pounds isn’t an every down back.
Thus, we return to Charles.
Charles was asked to do more last year than at any time in the past and the Chiefs’ failure to add another true offensive weapon or two to the roster indicates that burden isn’t about to be eased this year.
Making matters worse the Chiefs let three starters on their offensive line, including Pro Bowl left tackle Brandon Albert, walk this offseason without adequate replacements. Eric Fisher, the first overall pick of the 2013 draft will now take over at the left tackle spot after struggling in the relatively easier right tackle spot last year.
Quite frankly, the offensive line will be remarkably weaker than last year, meaning Charles will not find many open holes and will have to grind for every yard leading to an acceleration of the wear and tear on his body.
It’s also not the type of back he was cut out to be – his strength remains his explosiveness and versatility. Most would say that this would make Charles even more valuable to the Chiefs’ offense and, thus, even more worthy of a lucrative reworking of his current deal.
But we’re not talking about tearing up the old deal and adding an extra year at a higher salary. Charles is most likely looking for his last big pay-day; a contract that will carry him into his 30’s and retirement.
And based on the Chiefs’ (over) reliance on him, Charles is liable to be beat-up and have little left in the tank before such a deal is even half way through its length – making it a potential albatross around the Chiefs’ collective neck in a couple of years when they need the cap space to make upgrades elsewhere.
Moreover, the Chiefs have to address new contracts for quarterback Alex Smith and outside linebacker Justin Houston next year as well, two positions that are more important in the game today than a running back.
This is not to say that either Smith or Houston are better players than Charles is but like it or not this is a quarterback driven league and without a decent one your team won’t go far – and without someone to pressure said quarterback (Houston) your defense will suffer as well.
Smith is not an elite quarterback but he is a solid, smart and plays the game virtually mistake free meaning if the Chiefs’ don’t lock him up some other team certainly will. Seeing as any deal with Smith will likely start in the $15-16 million per year range, and Houston is probably seeking in the neighborhood of $10 million annually with upwards of $25 million guaranteed, that doesn’t leave much room for Charles to see the same comparatively rewarding contract.
And while our hearts tell us the Chiefs’ ability to use Charles up and spit him out without paying him appropriately is grossly unfair it is the NFL we live in today.
Making your running back one of your highest paid players or committing to him long-term is just not a sound economical model.
Even Peterson’s amazing 2012 season where he nearly broke Eric Dickerson’s 30 year single season rushing record saw the Vikings barely eke into the playoffs – only to get blown out in the divisional round when their starting quarterback was unable to play.
Charles’ may deserve to be paid based on his past production, but the Chiefs’ were wise to refrain from doing so and instead stick to what today’s NFL market on running backs dictates that he’s worth.
Unfortunately for Charles, that’s not much.
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