Saying there’s no value in running backs was always nonsense, but because bad teams think a ground game is going to make their garbage quarterback and shoddy offensive line redeemable, the stereotype gets furthered. So this offseason when some NFC South team signs Derrick Henry or Josh Jacobs or Saquon Barkley, I don’t want to hear about it being a waste of club resources.

So with big names like Henry, Barkley, Jacobs and Austin Ekeler set to hit the open market, there’s an opportunity for a few brave franchises to — wait for it — pay a running back. That’s not an invitation for Jerry Jones to make a gross overture at his favorite indulgence, but for teams with the know-how and players to really take advantage of a star ball carrier, they shouldn’t be afraid of the risk.

Look at what David Montgomery and Jaymyr Gibbs did for the Lions this season after people gave up on the former Bear and said they reached on the Alabama product in the first round. Had Robinson gone to the Dolphins or Bills, his entire rookie campaign would have been different.

Jacobs, Barkley and Henry were asked to carry their respective offenses, which as McCaffrey will probably tell you, is really hard to do and even harder to sustain. Isaiah Pacheco would snap his spine in two if he was asked to carry the ball 30 times per game, but let him compliment Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce, and suddenly Kansas City is a multi-dimensional monster capable of winning in the cold and on the road.

While Shanahan and Mike McDaniel can make any waiver wire pickup look like an All-Pro, there’s still a difference between Raheem Mostert and McCaffrey. Think about how good the Bengals could be if they knew how to coach an offensive line and upgraded from Joe Mixon.

Baltimore tried to put a purebred behind Lamar Jackon with JK Dobbins, it just didn’t work out due to injury, but that doesn’t mean never try again. The Ravens have so much speed all over that a great back could go ham every freaking week.

The Chargers plan to let Ekeler test free agency despite new OC Greg Roman saying the way they’re going to help Justin Herbert is by running the ball. Assuming that Jim Harbaugh can exorcise Dean Spanos from the locker room, they might want to retain Ekeler, or replace him with whichever running back free agent gets most desperate.

However, the caveat to my point is there aren’t a lot of teams with the infrastructure to maximize all-world talents. It’s a little like how the Raiders routinely ruin the primes of receivers because they think a deep threat is going to make up for QB deficiencies and franchise mismanagement. That doesn’t mean Randy Moss sucks or doesn’t have any value. The Cowboys overpay Ezekiel Elliott one time and now no franchise should pay a running back ever again?

If your thought process is that myopic, you shouldn’t be running an NFL franchise. An organization needs so many things before they should even think about shopping for a high-end running back. A $1,500 purse isn’t going to save a $2 outfit, and no one wants a cherry on top of a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Used in the right place, at the right time though? That can be a huge difference maker.


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