Top National Football League quarterbacks are superstars and celebrities. Defenses win Super Bowl championships, an opinion that was reinforced and in a big way last February. A strong running back can, to the credit of those athletes, be the backbone of an offense capable of winning a title.
Take last season’s Seattle Seahawks as an example. Yes, the Seattle defense was downright dominant during the team’s Super Bowl run, but make no mistake about the fact that the ‘Hawks would not have won it all without having their starting running back on the roster.
The NFL is certainly a passing league, but there is still a place in pro football for dynamic running backs. Here are the 10 highest-paid NFL RBs for the 2014 season.
Cap numbers via Spotrac
10. C.J. Spiller — Buffalo Bills: $5,916,666 cap hit
Spiller has been the subject of some trade rumors following what was, for him, somewhat of a down season. He averaged half of a yard less per carry (4.6) than his career average. Spiller rushed for only two touchdowns in 15 contests. He had zero receiving scores.
The Bills have thus far denied all reports that they are shopping Spiller. For Buffalo, seeing what Spiller can do in the team’s offense could be wise. Dynamic wide receiver Sammy Watkins was drafted by the club in May, and Buffalo having an improved passing attack could lead to Spiller having a bounce-back season.
9. DeAngelo Williams — Carolina Panthers: $6 million cap hit
Age is the great equalizer for all professional athletes, and the fleet-footed Williams is no exception. The veteran running back who turned 31 years old this past spring has seen his yard-per-carry average drop in each of his past three seasons. Williams found the end zone a total of four times in 2013. He hasn’t rushed for 1,000 yards since 2009.
Williams has a dead money value of $6.6 million for 2015. That figure drops down to under $2.3 million for 2016. Assuming that Williams has hit the figurative career wall, he could realistically be out of the league two years down the road.
8. Frank Gore — San Francisco 49ers: $6.45 million cap hit
Frank Gore is a force that keeps going strong despite the fact that he is set to begin his tenth season in the NFL. He has rushed for at least 1,000 yards in seven of the past eight years. Gore had nine rushing touchdowns, his biggest TD tally in four seasons, in 2013. He finished the past regular season with 292 total touches.
Gore seems to be ageless.
Running backs are traditionally supposed to “break down” following 30th birthdays. Gore does not subscribe to this theory. With rookie Carlos Hyde now on the roster of the Niners to lighten Gore’s load, the veteran could continue his sprint toward the Hall of Fame for several additional seasons.
7. Matt Forte — Chicago Bears: $7.9 million cap hit
One couldn’t have asked for much more from Matt Forte in 2013. He was second in the NFL in rushing yards with 1,339. Forte had a career-high nine rushing touchdowns. He also had 74 receptions and three receiving touchdowns.
The 28-year-old is physically in his prime. Opposing defenses are unable to fully focus on stopping Forte due to the receiving duo of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery being on the Bears. Forte could be a favorite to lead the NFL in rushing yards for the upcoming season.
All things considered, Forte is a bargain at his price.
6. Marshawn Lynch — Seattle Seahawks: $8 million cap hit
The man who is “about that action, boss” has had a tumultuous summer. He announced out of nowhere in July that he was going to hold out for a bigger contract, a work stoppage that was over in the blink of an eye. Lynch was then associated with an alleged assault in August, although he has had his name cleared regarding that incident.
On the field, Lynch remains one of the best running backs in the NFL. He has scored a total of 39 touchdowns over the past three years. He has rushed for over 1,200 yards in each of the past three seasons. He may be enigmatic at times, but Lynch is worth every penny he is paid.
5. Arian Foster — Houston Texans: $8.5 million cap hit
2014 could be a career-changing season for Arian Foster. After rushing for over 1,200 yards in three consecutive years, Foster suffered a back injury last fall. That problem cost him half of the 2013 campaign, and it also caused Foster to consider retiring as an active player.
Foster will turn 28 years old before the start of the upcoming season. He is coming off of a serious injury. The Texans are still lacking a top quarterback.
Foster has quite the uphill battle ahead of him.
4. Ray Rice — Baltimore Ravens: $8.75 million cap hit
There is no nice way to say it.
Rice has not had a good year.
He rushed for only 660 yards in 2013. His yards per carry average plummeted from 4.4 in 2012 to 3.1. Rice scored on just four occasions.
His offseason wasn’t any better.
Rice was involved in an ugly incident in which he knocked out his then-fiancee and current wife while in Atlantic City in February. That matter got Rice suspended for two games, a punishment far too light in the eyes of many who watch and cover sports. Some were, before NFL commissioner Roger Goodell handed down the suspension, calling for Rice to be banned for life.
3. Jamaal Charles — Kansas City Chiefs: $9,633,333 cap hit
Jamaal Charles is a proven elite running back so long as he is healthy. He has, outside of his rookie season, rushed for over 1,100 yards every year other than 2011 when he tore his ACL. The 27-year-old was third in the league in total rushing yards last season. Only Marshawn Lynch rushed for as many TDs as did Charles in 2013.
Charles’ 2014 season is off to a rough and awkward start. He injured his foot as he was moving his belongings outside of his training camp dorm room. KC fans and players will be hoping that was merely a freak accident, and that Charles will be ready to go come September.
2. LeSean McCoy — Philadelphia Eagles: $9.7 million cap hit
Nobody on this list or in the NFL rushed for more yards in 2013 than did McCoy. He was the only back in the league to average 100 rushing yards (100.4) per game. He averaged 5.1 yards per carry in the Chip Kelly offense, and McCoy scored on 11 occasions.
The NFL is a pass-first league, and that fact could result in McCoy’s personal stats dropping in 2014. Nick Foles was the hottest quarterback in the league for a time last fall, and he has emerged as the undisputed starter for the Eagles. McCoy getting 314 carries once again could now be out of the question.
1. Adrian Peterson — Minnesota Vikings: $14.4 million cap hit
The Vikes are hoping that they landed their to-be franchise quarterback in rookie Teddy Bridgewater. One thing they don’t have to worry about is the top of the depth chart at the running back position. Peterson is the best back of his generation and an all-time great, a player headed for Canton and the Hall of Fame soon after he hangs up his cleats.
Peterson, like the previously mentioned Frank Gore, is an ageless wonder. The 29-year-old defies logic with the numbers he produces at this stage of his career. One should only assume that Peterson is actually slowing down when they see evidence of it happening.