Photo Credit: Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports Images
The top 10 rushers in the league last year were paid wildly different amounts for their services. True, the specter of the rookie contract looms here as it does in all of our rankings, yet even between Frank Gore and Adrian Peterson there is tremendous variance.
Fewer than 200 yards separated the two in their rushing totals last season. However, as Gore was paid $6.4 million for his work in 2013 and Peterson $13.9 million, there’re a substantial difference between each player’s pay per regular-season rushing yard in 2013. Gore earned $2,748 per rushing yard in 2013, while AP raked in $10,979.
If you think this difference is substantial, it’s nothing compared to the disparity between the highest-paid backs and the likes of DeMarco Murray or Alfred Morris, both of whom are still in the midst of their rookie contracts.
All yards on the ground are not equally priced in the NFL. Let’s have a look at top rushers’ pay-per-yard values in 2013.
10. DeMarco Murray – Dallas Cowboys: 1,121 Rushing Yards, $723/yard
DeMarco Murray had a quality year in 2013. The running back played in 14 games, carrying the ball 217 times, rushing for 1,121 yards and scoring nine times on the ground. Additionally, he caught 53 passes for 350 yards. His 5.2 yards per carry mark was the best among the top 10 gainers last season.
Murray is in the midst of a four-year, $2.9 million deal with the Cowboys (rookie contract). In 2013, Murray earned a base salary of $620,313. With a disbursement of his signing bonus and other pay, his total salary for the year was $810,938. Thus, the Cowboys paid their star running back $723 per rushing yard and $551 per total yard.
9. Frank Gore – San Francisco 49ers: 1,128 Rushing Yards, $2,748/yard
Frank Gore, workhorse of the San Francisco 49ers, struggled toward the end of 2013, as his yards per carry dropped to 4.1, the lowest average of his career. Gore ran for a total of 1,128 yards and scored 10 touchdowns. The nine-year veteran suited up for all 16 of the 49ers’ regular season games.
In late 2011, Gore signed a three-year extension with the team worth $19.2 million. In 2013, the ‘Niners paid the Miami alum $6.4 million for his services. So, San Francisco effectively paid Gore $2,748 per rushing yard. Gore did not catch many balls out the backfield, totaling only 141 receiving yards and making his total pay-per-yard $2442.
8. Eddie Lacy – Green Bay Packers: 1,178 Rushing Yards, $523/yard
Suiting up 15 times for the Packers in 2013, rookie Eddie Lacy ran for 1,178 yards. In addition, the Alabama alum found the end zone 11 times. Lacey averaged nearly 19 carries per game as he carried the lion’s share of the running back duties for the team in his first year. Certainly, his efforts are more commendable given the absence of a legitimate passing game after quarterback Aaron Rodgers‘ injury. The power back also has soft hands: Lacy caught 35 passes for 257 yards in 2013.
As he was in the first year of his contract, Lacy obviously is subject to the rookie pay scale in 2014. The Packers paid their rookie running back $616,802 in 2013. Lacy racked up 1,178 yards on the ground last season, getting paid just $523 by Green Bay for each one. Factoring in the running back’s receiving yards, the Packers ended up paying him just $421 per yard gained in 2013: a bargain in anyone’s book.
7. Ryan Mathews – San Diego Chargers: 1,255 Rushing Yards, $2,231/yard
Ryan Matthews carried the ball 285 times for the Chargers last season for a total of 1,255 yards. His 4.4 yards per carry was his second best seasonal total in his four-year career. The running back suited up for all 16 of the Chargers’ games in 2013 as well.
Matthews’ salary for 2013 was $2.8 million. The running back is signed to a four-year, $18.9 million contract with the team. As he recorded 1,255 yards on the ground in 2013, the Chargers effectively paid Matthews $2,231 per rushing yard. The Fresno State alum tacked on 189 receiving yards, which bumped his pay-per-total-yard to $1,939.
6. Marshawn Lynch – Seattle Seahawks: 1,257 Rushing Yards, $6,762/yard
Beast Mode recorded 1,257 rushing yards during the regular season in 2013. His 301 carries were the second most in the league, and he averaged 4.2 yards per attempt. Additionally, Lynch found the end zone a total of 12 times during the regular season, which tied him for most in the league in that category.
The Seattle Seahawks paid their star running back $8.5 million for his work in 2013. This works out to $6,762 per rushing yard during the 2013 regular season. Additionally, Lynch totaled 316 receiving yards for the year, making his payment amount $5,372 per yard.
5. Adrian Peterson – Minnesota Vikings: 1,266 Rushing Yards, $10,979/yard
The 2012 season’s leading rusher, Adrian Peterson, only saw action 14 times in a disappointing Minnesota Vikings season. Additionally, the running back played through injuries for much of the campaign. All Day totaled 1,266 rushing yards in 2013, averaging 4.5 yards per attempt. He was well off his 2013 pace. However, playing for a team with a quarterback carousel while injured can’t inspire one to try to get to the second level.
Peterson racks up a lot of yardage, yes, but the Minnesota Vikings pay a premium price for those yards. AP earned $13.9 million in 2013. Thus, Minnesota effectively paid the back $10,979 per rushing yard during the season. Factoring his receiving yards into the equation, the back earned $9,672 per yard in 2013
4. Alfred Morris – Washington Redskins: 1,275 Rushing Yards, $471/yard
It’s safe to say Washington Redskins’ 2012 sixth-round pick Alfred Morris has exceeded expectations. Morris was the NFL’s fourth leading rusher in 2013, totaling 1,275 yards on the ground. He averaged 4.6 yards per carry. The strong performance comes on the heels of a 1,613 yard season in 2012 when the running back averaged 4.8 yards per attempt. Not bad for a guy few expected to make the team’s roster last season.
Players who excel during the tenure of their rookie contracts deliver unparalleled value to their teams. There are few better examples of this than Alfred Morris. Morris, who earned just $510,775 in 2013, ran for more than 1,200 yards. As such, the ‘Skins paid him only $471 per rushing yard in 2013, the lowest amount of anyone on this list.
3. Jamaal Charles – Kansas City Chiefs: 1,287 Rushing Yards, $3,341/yard
Jamaal Charles recorded the third-highest rushing total of his career in 2013. The Kansas City Chiefs back scampered for 1,287 yards on the ground, in addition to finding the endzone a league-leading 12 times. He averaged an impressive 5.0 yards per carry for the regular season.
Charles inked a six-year, $27.9 million contract with the club in 2010. As such, he earned $2.5 million for his football carrying services in 2013. Thus, the Chiefs paid Charles $3,341 per rushing yard during the regular season. However, as he added 693 receiving yards, his pay per total yard gained was $2,171.
2. Matt Forte – Chicago Bears: 1,339 Rushing Yards, $5,377/yard
The Chicago Bears’ veteran running back recorded career-high totals in both rushing and receiving yards during the 2013 season. Matt Forte rushed for 1,339 yards and added 594 receiving yards. He scored a combined 12 touchdowns for the club and suited up for all 16 regular season games.
Matt Forte re-signed with the Chicago Bears in 2012, agreeing to a four-year, $30.4 million deal with the team, which paid him $7.2 million in 2013. Assuming he hit all his incentive benchmarks for the season, Forte earned $5,377 for each of his 1,330 rushing yards. Factoring in the back’s 594 receiving yards, Forte earned $3,724 per yard from scrimmage.
1. LeSean McCoy – Philadelphia Eagles: 1,607 Rushing Yards, $3,049/yard
The NFL’s leading rusher and leader in rushing attempts, LeSean McCoy ran for nearly 300 more yards than the second leading rusher in 2013. The Pitt alum avoided tacklers for a total of 1,607 rushing yards during the 2013 season, averaging 5.1 yards per carry. In addition, McCoy scored nine touchdowns, which tied him for sixth-most in the league.
McCoy is in the midst of a five-year, $45 million deal with the Eagles. For the 2013 season, Philadelphia paid their star back $4.9 million for his work. During the regular season, then, McCoy earned $3,049 per rushing yard. Adding on the league leader’s 539 receiving yards, and his pay-per-all-purpose yard becomes $2,283
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