When to Cut an All-Pro Running Back

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When to cut an All-Pro running back

That is always a big question for an NFL team. If an NFL team has an perennial All-Pro running back, when is it time to cut ties?

This year the Minnesota Vikings cut the one of the best running backs of all time, Adrian Peterson.

Most career rushing yards according to the Football Database

*Important note: The list of All-Pro running backs came from the Football Database. Active players were discarded because they would skew the data. Their “0” Yard entries would unnecessarily lower the average.

A graph of the average yards of the top career rushers

Average Rushing Yards by an All-Pro Running Back
Average Rushing Yards by an All-Pro Running Back

There are some immediate conclusions made here. An All-Pro running back’s career plateaus over years 4-6. And declines to below second year level after year six.

However the next graph shows there are some spectacular years after year six for some All-Pro running backs.

Maximum yards gained compared to average yards for an All-Pro running back

Note: Injuries and other reasons caused the minimum yards to never exceed 361 yards. And was therefore, useless data.

Maximum yards by an All-Pro running back
Maximum yards by an All-Pro running back

There aren’t as many conclusions that can be made from this graph. Yes, Barry Sanders ran for 2053 yards in his ninth year in the league. But that is a fool’s bet to expect that to happen for your All-Pro running back in their ninth year.

But I put this graph in just for reference. The next Graph actually provides better reference.

Average yards of an All-Pro running back and the standard deviation

First of all, what is the standard deviation? Well, that simple.

Standard Deviation Formula
Standard Deviation Formula

The standard deviation is what an All-Pro running back can expect to miss the average by. Bracket the average and you have a decent range of what production you can expect out of your All-Pro running back.

*Note: the formula produces some negative numbers for the later years of the lower bracket which I replaced with zero.

All-Pro Running Back Production Range
All-Pro Running Back Production Range

The standard deviation chart confirms the initial conclusion. The maximum yards chart gave us a moment of pause thinking that we might have another Barry Sanders on our hands. But the standard deviation chart confirmed that we can’t expect an All-Pro season out of our running back after season six.

Never sign an All-Pro running back

Adrian Peterson All-Pro Running Back
Adrian Peterson All-Pro Running Back

The first conclusion here is that teams should never sign an All-Pro running back and expect All-Pro production. By the time an All-Pro Running back is out of his rookie contract, he isn’t likely to produce All-Pro numbers.

Of course the contract should be incentive laden. But don’t sign an All-Pro running back thinking he is the missing player. He can be a complementary player. But his years of providing a major threat are over.

Unless you get a chance at the running back after year three or four.

Rookie running back contracts from the NFL agent point of view

If the player wants to walk away from the game in one piece

The NFL agent needs to push for a contract that his client can opt out of after three years. Three years offers the team a taste of what the player can do. There are three prime years coming up. This is the contract of a lifetime for the running back.

Chris Borland
Chris Borland

In my honest opinion, after year three, the running back should shoot for an obscene three year contract. Play the three years, and then leave the game. The player, agent and team all know that the running back will tear up the league for the next three years. Contract should be record breaking. No options. That dilutes the base. And the player doesn’t want to play after year six if he wants to walk away with his head on straight.

Pay attention to the head injury developments. This is serious. Chris Borland is your new normal.

The point is, leave this game on two feet and with a solid mind. Plan for your next phase of life.

If the running back wants to keep playing after year six

Start off with a contract that runs four years. That gives the running back two more productive years to sell to his next team. Saddle the next team with a five year contract. And the running back has a nine year career.

After nine years, no one will expect much out of the back. The back can sign an incentive laden contract like Adrian Peterson.

Rookie running back contracts from the team’s point of view.

Teams should shoot for a four year contract with options for year five and six.

The team can wring out good production over the first four years and then be able to trade the player for a premium after year four. After year five, the player’s value diminishes significantly since the acquiring team can only expect one All-Pro season.

All-Pro running back production by player

 

Name 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16
Emmitt Smith 937 1563 1713 1486 1484 1773 1204 1074 1332 1397 1203 1021 975 256 937 0 18355
Walter Payton 679 1390 1852 1395 1610 1460 1222 596 1421 1684 1551 1333 533 0 0 0 16726
Barry Sanders 1470 1304 1548 1352 1115 1883 1500 1553 2053 1491 0 0 0 0 0 0 15269
Curtis Martin 1467 1152 1160 1287 1464 1204 1513 1094 1308 1697 735 0 0 0 0 0 14081
LaDainian Tomlinson 1236 1683 1645 1335 1462 1815 1474 1110 730 914 280 0 0 0 0 0 13684
Jerome Bettis 1429 1025 637 1431 1665 1185 1091 1341 1072 666 611 941 368 0 0 0 13462
Eric Dickerson 1801 2105 1234 1821 1288 1659 1311 677 536 729 91 0 0 0 0 0 13252
Tony Dorsett 1007 1325 1107 1185 1646 745 1321 1189 1307 748 456 703 0 0 0 0 12739
Jim Brown 942 1527 1329 1257 1408 996 1863 1446 1544 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 12312
Marshall Faulk 1282 1078 587 1054 1319 1381 1359 1382 953 818 774 292 0 0 0 0 12279
Edgerrin James 1553 1709 662 989 1259 1548 1506 1159 1222 514 125 0 0 0 0 0 12246
Marcus Allen 697 1014 1168 1759 759 154 831 293 682 287 301 764 709 890 830 505 11643
Franco Harris 1055 698 1006 1246 1128 1162 1082 1186 789 987 604 1007 170 0 0 0 12120
Thurman Thomas 881 1244 1297 1407 1487 1315 1093 1005 1033 643 381 152 136 0 0 0 12074
Fred Taylor 1223 732 1339 116 1314 1572 1224 787 1146 1202 556 269 155 0 0 0 11635
Steven Jackson 673 1046 1528 1002 1042 1416 1241 1145 1045 543 707 50 0 0 0 0 11438
John Riggins 769 944 482 680 1005 572 203 1014 1153 714 553 1347 1239 677 0 0 11352
Cory Dillon 1129 1130 1200 1435 1315 1311 541 1635 733 812 0 0 0 0 0 0 11241
OJ Simpson 697 488 742 1351 2003 1125 1817 1503 557 593 460 0 0 0 0 0 11336
Warrick Dunn 978 1026 616 1133 447 927 672 1106 1416 1140 720 786 0 0 0 0 10967
Ricky Watters 1013 950 877 1273 1411 1110 1239 1210 1242 318 0 0 0 0 0 0 10643
Jamal Lewis 1364 0 1327 2066 1006 906 1132 1304 1002 500 0 0 0 0 0 0 10607
Thomas Jones 373 380 511 627 948 1335 1210 1119 1312 1402 896 478 0 0 0 0 10591
Tiki Barber 511 166 258 1006 865 1387 1216 1518 1860 1662 0 0 0 0 0 0 10449
Eddie George 1368 1399 1294 1304 1509 939 1165 1031 432 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 10441
Otis Anderson 1605 1352 1376 587 1270 1174 479 237 6 208 1023 784 141 31 0 0 10273
Ricky Williams 884 1000 1245 1853 1372 743 15 659 1121 673 444 0 0 0 0 0 10009
Clinton Portis 1508 1591 1315 1516 523 1262 1487 494 227 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 9923
Chris Johnson 1228 2006 1364 1047 1243 1077 663 814 95 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 9537
Shaun Alexander 313 1318 1175 1435 1696 1880 896 716 24 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 9453
Earl Campbell 1450 1697 1934 1376 538 1301 468 643 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 9407
Ahman Green 209 120 1175 1387 1240 1883 1163 255 1059 260 294 160 0 0 0 0 9205
Terry Allen 563 1201 1031 1309 1353 724 700 896 179 658 0 0 0 0 0 0 8614
Jim Taylor 247 452 1101 1307 1474 1018 1169 734 705 390 0 0 0 0 0 0 8597
Willis McGahee 1128 1247 990 1207 671 544 380 1199 731 377 0 0 0 0 0 0 8474
Joe Perry 562 783 647 677 725 1018 1049 701 520 454 758 602 95 675 359 98 9723
Earnest Byner 426 1002 277 432 576 580 1219 1048 998 105 219 432 634 313 0 0 8261
Herschel Walker 737 891 1514 915 770 825 1070 746 528 126 83 20 0 0 0 0 8225
Roger Craig 725 649 1050 830 815 1502 1054 439 590 416 119 0 0 0 0 0 8189
Gerald Riggs 299 437 1486 1719 1327 875 488 834 475 248 0 0 0 0 0 0 8188
Priest Holmes 0 1008 506 588 1555 1615 1420 892 451 137 0 0 0 0 0 0 8172
Maurice Jones-Drew 941 768 824 1391 1324 1606 414 803 96 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 8167
DeAngelo Williams 501 717 1515 1117 361 836 737 843 219 907 343 0 0 0 0 0 8096
Larry Csonka 540 566 874 1051 1117 1003 749 569 464 311 837 0 0 0 0 0 8081
Freeman McNeil 623 786 654 1070 1331 856 530 944 352 458 300 170 0 0 0 0 8074
Average 912 1037 1093 1196 1183 1182 1026 954 816 604 343 251 115 63 47 13
Standard Deviation 435 476 411 388 375 401 419 349 502 495 385 399 275 196 190 76

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