The game of football is all about two things: the quarterback and stopping the quarterback.
It’s that simple.
That is why when it comes to the National Football League there are four very coveted positions.
First and foremost, it’s all about the quarterback. If you don’t have one you are pretty much doomed to mediocrity at best. Teams spend years, money and high draft picks trying to find that franchise quarterback.
Just look at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They are closing in on four decades and have never had a sustained franchise quarterback even though they have spent No. 1 picks on signal callers like Doug Williams, Vinny Testaverde, Trent Dilfer and Josh Freeman. Do people even remember that they had Steve Young before trading him away to San Francisco?
There have been 37 different starting quarterbacks in Tampa since 1976. Perhaps on April 30 the Bucs will finally get their guy as they pick first and will likely select Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota.
There are exceptions to the rule, as teams have won a Super Bowl without having an elite quarterback. Two championship teams come to mind in the 2001 Ravens and 2003 Bucs, who won it all with quarterbacks Dilfer and Brad Johnson respectively.
Once teams get a franchise quarterback they had better protect him. That’s why the offensive tackle position, notably the left side, has become so important.
Of course it’s also about getting after the quarterback and stopping the passing game. Teams must have a passer rusher or two. Being dominant up front and applying pressure off the edge are paramount in the NFL.
Then you have players on the back end, in particular the cornerback position. You hear the word often as teams are always trying to locate a “shutdown” corner. That’s the defensive back that can blanket the opposition’s top wide receiver and effectively negate one side of the field.
That’s why the NFL is so willing to pay top dollar for these four coveted positions.
17 starting quarterbacks in the NFL make at least $11 million dollars per year. How wrong is it that four-time Super Bowl champ Tom Brady is on the low end of that scale at $11.4 million per season? Aaron Rogers ($22 million), Matt Ryan ($20.75 million), Joe Flacco ($20.1 million), Drew Brees ($20 million), Peyton Manning ($19.2 million) and Colin Kaepernick ($19 million) lead the way.
While quarterback has always been the sport’s most important position, other positions, like running back, are becoming devalued. Not many are high draft picks these days, though two may fall into the first round this year in Melvin Gordon (Wisconsin) and Todd Gurley (Georgia).
Do you want to know where the big money is going in the NFL? Just look at free agency this past week and start with the 2014 offensive MVP, running back DeMarco Murray. It’s been reported that the Dallas Cowboys offered him a four-year deal worth $24 million ($12 million guaranteed). He eventually signed with the Philadelphia Eagles for five years at $42 million ($21 million guaranteed).
Compare Murray’s money to other players that moved via free agency this week (below). Keep in mind the 1,800-yards rushing MVP season Murray is coming off of this past year. Also keep in mind that Dallas re-signed right tackle Doug Free to a new three-year deal worth $15 million. Those numbers were not too far away from what Dallas offered Murray.
The point here with all these new contracts given out this week is this: don’t let your sons play running back.
I think we would all agree that Adrian Peterson is the game’s top back even though he played one game last season in Minnesota. Peterson’s contract sits at six years, worth $86 million ($36 million guaranteed).
Numbers would suggest Murray is next. He won MVP honors and the rushing championship in 2014. Murray rushed the ball 392 times last season and the “touches” sit well over 400 when you factor in receptions. History says he won’t duplicate his MVP season, but who’s to say history will be right in 2015 and beyond for the former Cowboy?
The running back that Murray is replacing in Philadelphia is LeSean McCoy. Ironically, it was Chip Kelly and the Eagles who dealt him to the Bills to create cap room. Meanwhile, McCoy just signed a new deal with his new team at five years, $40 million ($26.5 million guaranteed).
In reality though it’s Peterson and everyone else. It’s a copy-cat league and somewhere of late teams went to a committee of running backs. There are very few true franchise backs that get the ball 20-30 times a game.
No one is crying for Murray and the other running backs in the NFL. Who wouldn’t want to make the kind of coin these guys are making?
Murray is from Las Vegas Bishop Gorman and was one of the top prospects in the class of 2006. He was a five-star recruit and the nation’s No. 3-ranked running back. Pete Carroll and USC really wanted Murray, but they wanted him to play in the secondary for the Trojans. He opted for the Sooners and the rest is history.
The irony here is this: what kind of contract would Murray have commanded if he had an MVP defensive season as a cornerback had he ultimately played that position?Related stories: NFL Rosters Breakdown Series
Part 1 - Daddy, where are NFL players from?
Part 2- Where do student-athletes major in the NFL?
Part 3 - Drafted vs Undrafted Players
Part 4 – Positional Breakdowns of the NFL: Where are they from?
Part 5 - NFL Veterans: Where are they from?
Part 6 – Top NFL Producing High Schools