Charles Rewarded with New Contract

Just over a year ago, Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles burst onto the scene and become one of the best offensive weapons in the NFL. But after carrying this young K.C. squad to eight victories and a good shot at the playoffs, the Chiefs brass rewarded Charles on Saturday by making him one of the highest paid running backs in the NFL.

On Saturday afternoon before the team departed for San Diego, Kansas City Chiefs General Manager Scott Pioli signed Jamaal Charles to a 5-year contract worth $32.5 million dollars. In other words, the Chiefs just locked down one of their most prized offensive weapons. This makes him the fourth player to be re-signed by the Chiefs this season, alongside linebacker Derrick Johnson, linebacker Andy Studebaker and long snapper Thomas Gafford.

It was a shrewd move by the Chiefs since Charles was in the final year of his rookie contract, making just $450,000 this season. Considering what he's done over the past two seasons, he's never complained about playing time or the fact his back-up Thomas Jones was making more money. But he kept his head down and went about his business.

In fact, Tennessee Titans RB Chris Johnson had a similar beef this past offseason. He led the league in rushing a year ago, but was earning roughly the same as Charles. Johnson was a no show in all of the teams off-season workouts. And as things became heated, he drew a line in the sand when he said, "I can't play for $550,000. I am getting paid less than the starting 11 (on offense)."

Charles could have taken a similar stance, but opted to attend all offseason programs. His lunch pail approach eventually paid off. If Charles would have made a statement like Johnson's, judging by Pioli's track record to this point, I wonder if Charles would have received such a lucrative deal on Saturday.

The former Texas star is averaging 6.2 yards per rushing attempt. That's tops in the NFL by nearly half a yard. And despite having 64 less carries on the season than the NFL's rushing leader, Arian Foster, Charles trails the Houston Texans back by just 93 yards.

In his three-year career as a Chief, Charles has accumulated 2614 rushing yards. What makes that impressive is that he's tearing up the league by averaging just 15 carries per game. Based off of those numbers, it's scary to think what he would do if the Chiefs rode Charles the way they did Larry Johnson in 2006 when he accumulated 416 attempts.

GM Scott Pioli is being very proactive by signing his young core to long term contracts.
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If he didn't have the benefit of Jones sharing the carries this season, Charles might have rewritten all of the Chiefs rushing records.

Still this signing does have some risks.

For one, the vast majority of NFL running backs have a very short shelf life. Given that this contract will take Charles to the still young age of 30, Charles' most productive days still appear to be ahead of him. Still he's not the most physical of players so the Chiefs would be wise to give him a steady flow of the carries but not all of them.

And that was the initial reason the Chiefs signed Jones through 2011. The team wanted to keep Charles legs fresh in the early portions of the regular season. And now with the Chiefs fighting for an AFC West title, you can already see that his carries and production are on the rise.

There is no question that Charles is one of the unsung heroes of 2010. No player on this Chiefs roster is as deserving as Charles to get a new contract. But at some point in the near future, the Chiefs are going to have to make some tough decisions. Guys like Tamba Hali, Brandon Flowers, Brandon Carr, Dwayne Bowe and Barry Richardson are each in line for significant raises in the near future.

And the good news is that with the contracts that both Charles and Johnson signed this season, the team should be in good shape to keep their own young nucleolus intact. And by signing his players to hometown deals, Pioli should have some cash to add one or two key veterans in the offseason.

And one of them could be wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. Should Pioli be able to pry him away from the Arizona Cardinals he'd also likely have to pay him a whole bunch of money. And Fitz won't come cheap.

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