What is fair value for Eddie Lacy?

ALLGBP.com All Green Bay Packers All the Time
Eddie Lacy Pro Bowl
How much would you pay this guy?

Packers fans have been quipping that the running back is the most fungible position in the NFL; I’ve said it, my colleagues here on the blog have said it and tons of you have said it in your comments (yes we do read your comments).  In truth, it’s an easy thing for Packers fans to say simply because the Packers aren’t the type of team that revolves around running the ball; with Mike McCarthy at the helm, Aaron Rodgers behind center and Ted Thompson on top of the front office, the Packer’s have been a pass-first, pass-second, run as an afterthought type of franchise.

On the flip side, ask any Minnesota Vikings fans what they think about the running game and I’m sure you’ll get a completely different response.  Outside of a miraculous 2009 season, there hasn’t been much for Vikings fans to hang their hat on; sure the defense has been occasionally good but their football identity is running the ball with Adrian Peterson.  However Peterson is a once in a generation type of player and the simple fact is that running backs are not very valuable in the NFL; they’re production has plateaued lower than their receiving counterparts, the massive toll playing the position takes on their body and future production and the shift from the workhorse back to the running back by committee approach means you don’t need to find a running back that can do it all.  As a result, less and less running backs are being drafted, especially in the first round.

Packer’s fans might just have to start rethinking about the value of the running back position as the Packers might have a real star on their roster with Eddie Lacy in green and gold.  While Lacy was a godsend for the Packers last year and was essentially the offense while Aaron Rodgers recovered from his broken clavicle, Lacy was paid a mere $405,000 for perhaps the best season a running back has had since Ahman Green in his heyday. Keep in mind this is after winning rookie of the year honors; when Charles Woodson won defensive player of the year honors in 2010, the Packers responded by giving him a huge increase in pay even though he still had plenty of years left on his contract.

The dichotomy is that running backs like Lacy are at they most productive essentially right out of the gate and yet their earning potential is also at it’s lowest; I’ve been quite vocal that I’m not convinced Eddie Lacy gets a second contract from the Packers simply due to his running style and the sheer amount of punishment his body has already taken.  Had Lacy been healthy his per game averages would have put him at 349 carries, which is getting dangerously close to the “curse of 370″ that football outsiders preaches .

Keep in mind news coming out of Green Bay sounds like Lacy will be given a bigger workload this year and that Lacy only needs about 1 extra attempt per game to hit this mark.  Simply put, Lacy should be paid at market value, meaning well now and not later when his effectiveness starts to wain; you only have to look at the situation with Marshawn Lynch and Seattle to see the inherent issue.  Lynch is the lynch pin of the Seattle offense and just won the Super Bowl and yet the Seahawks have been bullish in not giving into his contract demand because of his age (29) and the number of punishment.

Unfortunately, rookies were thrown under the bus by the NFLPA during their last round of negotiations during the lockout and now rookies are stuck making less money than before but are playing a more vital role in the NFL as it becomes an increasingly young man’s sport.  While this is essentially a problem for all rookies, its obviously compounded with running backs.  I’ve thought about possible solutions to the matter and frankly there isn’t an easy fix:

Provide shorter contracts for running backs – An opinion piece on NFPost essentially highlighted the same issues with running backs and proposed that running backs be allowed to sign shorter contracts or at least a specialized rookie contract since their shelf life is so short.  This is a slippery slope in my opinion since the shelf life of all NFL players is exceedingly short and its hard to rationalize why running backs should get preferential treatment when cornerbacks for instance (another position with a relatively short career life) do not.  Also I feel that this would actually hurt the earning potential of running backs on the whole, while the superstar running backs would indeed be able to cash in earlier while their production is at their peak, it also would likely shorten the already short careers of average running backs even further.  The NFL would like fight against this as well since they want to lock their young talent to team friendly contracts for as long as possible.

Allow 1st round rookies to void the 5th year option – While this doesn’t apply to Lacy specifically since as a 2nd round pick he doesn’t have a 5th year option, it does seem quite apparent that even the 5th year option does not make up for the huge discrepancy of pay in a rookies contract (Just look at JJ Watt).  This might be tied to performance clauses where if a player hit certain “superstar” metrics (20+ sacks, 2,000 yards rushing/receiving etc) the player can choose to void his 5th year option.  While this is likely a great idea for players there really is no reason why the NFL would agree to something like this.

Allow rookies to renegotiate their contracts early – Another great idea for the players that the NFL would never agree upon.  It is however an interesting concept that it is quite standard for veterans to go to their GMs and ask for a pay raise after a good season (just as it’s common for GMs to go to players and ask for a pay cut for a bad season) and yet players on their rookie contracts are not given the same option.  Obviously NFL teams don’t want to set precedent essentially disregarding the rookie salary cap that they fought to implement so I highly doubt they would agree upon this possibility.

Allow market forces to correct for themselves – In a pseudo lassez faire market that is the NFL, sooner or later teams will figure out positional value and adjust accordingly.  One prime example is with safeties, who for the longest time were considered less important than cornerbacks and were often paid considerably less.  However as the NFL became more pass happy safeties became increasingly important to the point where Eric Berry because the highest paid safety simply by being drafted 5th overall by the Kansas City Chiefs.  The concept is that as the NFL continues to devalue the running back position and teams increasingly focus on defending against the pass, running backs will offer a more attractive value and thus will be selected higher, thus at least earning more.  However, it’s impossible to predict exactly what the NFL will look like in the future and it’s very possible that running backs could end up like fullbacks, morphing from focal point on the offense to the point that some NFL teams don’t even carry a single fullback on their roster.

Incentivize rookie contracts – This is a staple of veteran contracts, namely if a player hits a certain threshold of production, his base salary increases in lockstep with his performance.  Rookie contracts do have some incentives written in, David Bakhtiari for instance received nearly a quarter million dollars for starting at left tackle throughout last season.  This in my mind is the best solution, teams get their investments locked up for the long term but it allows players to at least get some more value out of performing early.  However, how incentives would factor into the rookie pay scale, how much total extra money players could gain with incentives and whether or not incentives would all be the same for rookie contracts are definitely hurdles.

In the end, the Packers are an organization that tries to keep it’s players happy; they know that happy players who are compensated appropriately are likely to display more team loyalty and thus will have more incentive to stay with the organization.  It doesn’t do Eddie Lacy or the Packers organization any good if Lacy continues to have a fantastic career at a cheap price, only to hit the market at demand the moon since Lacy knows he has to maximize his value on his second contract.  From the Packers perspective I think it would be easier to pay Lacy more now and even out the cap hit as opposed to paying him cheap and then have to fork over a ton of cash when Lacy demands top 5 running back money should they decide to resign him (again presuming his career mirrors his rookie season).  It is a tricky subject to answer and if anyone has any suggestions write them in the comments below.

 

 

——————

Thomas Hobbes is a staff writer for Jersey Al’s AllGreenBayPackers.com.

——————

  • http://aljersey duhawks

    I say NFL keep your nose out of it. Now as for the Pack. Sure, if Lacy has an other good year you pay him for it. Also we need to find a good #2 and #3 runner that can let Lacy rest at times. As far as pay for rookies, and this goes for vets too, pay for their service and how they do. Too many get big money and they lay down untill contracts are up again. This is a workplace. Like all workplaces you get pay fpr the work you do and this is how ALL sports should do it.

    • Stroh

      The Packers have one of the better #2 RB in the NFL! And Harris is a pretty damn good #2 RB as well. Where do you get this need a good #2 runner stuff?

      • sschind

        I’m not sure why this got so many down votes. Are people forgetting what Starks did last year.

        • Normthe1

          Stroh factor…

    • Thomas Hobbes

      the main problem is the Packers can’t pay Lacy more since it’s likely frowned upon by the new CBA as well as setting a precedent that no team wants to be held accountable for. I agree that players should be paid based on their performance, but on the flip side the NFL really has the leverage, just look at JJ Watt, whose made under $4 million a year over 5 years. The moment he hits free agency (assume he doesn’t get tagged) his salary will be well over $16 million a year.

      • Stroh

        Not just frowned on, but I don’t think its even allowed on rookie contracts.

  • Ed Schoenfeld

    They need to shorten the basic contract length for rookies. The ‘voidable’ option year should be the 4th year, not the 5th, and yes, the player should be able to void it equally with the team.

    The owners should be willing to agree to that in exchange for an 18 game regular season, after some more of the player safety issues are resolved.

    • Stroh

      Why do you think the Packers were forced to pay Morgan Burnett before he had a breakout season? Pretty sure the Packers had to pay Burnett before he had proven to be a playmaker.

      I don’t see that rookies were thrown under the bus. They have to now earn their pay, particularly early/high draft picks. The rookie wages were out of control before they had even accomplished anything. Now they at least have to earn a contract extension to some degree.

      • Thomas Hobbes

        I agree that rookie wages are now way more realistic than they were with the old CBA but the first thing that both sides agreed upon was that rookie contracts had to be capped, so in essence both the players and the teams threw the rookies under the bus. I can’t think of any situation where the rookies are better off in the new CBA compared to the old CBA.

        • Stroh

          They get to FA and a 2nd contract sooner. Only 1st rd picks have an optional 5th year. IIRC all picks used to go 5yrs before getting the 2nd contract. And now the 5th yr for 1dt rd pick is pretty high.

          Burnett got his deal after 4yrs didn’t he. That never used to happen.

          • Oppy

            The players DID throw rookies under the bus, to ensure that veterans got a bigger chunk of the salary cap pie, and I can’t say I blame them.

            Keep two things in mind:

            1) There’s not just a salary cap, but there’s also a salary floor. Teams MUST spend a certain amount on player payroll.

            2) The -AVERAGE- NFL career is just over 3 years long(3.3 years). It’s great Burnett got his extension at 4 years, but the “average” player never sees that extension because they’re already selling home insurance.

            The insane contracts for NFL unproven 1st to early 2nd round rookies had to stop considering the number of players that either fail to live up to their contracts or flat-out bust, and you can bet the veteran players- many of which aren’t superstars but guys who are sound NFL players that have done the grind for 7-10 years as depth guys or role players- pressured the NFLPA to back the rookie wage limits.

            I do think the contract lengths before free agency are a little longer than is truly fair, especially for the top 1st round talent, considering how low they’ve set the salaries. I understand teams want to keep their investments on their team; however, with the ever-looming threat of a career ending injury just a play away, it seems unfair for the kids who DO pan out and play at a top level to be stuck in a (relatively) low paying rookie contract that long before finding true free agency.

            • Stroh

              But like I said, they get the 2nd contract a year earlier. That’s the trade off in the negotiations. Really the only insane contracts were for the top 1/2 of the 1st rd, otherwise I think the contracts for bottom 1st and later rd picks stayed fairly stable. Just the really high 1st round picks lost a lot of money. And they still have the 5th yr team option. 2nd and later got a benefit w/o lost income.

              The rookie contract lengths protect the teams and can be beneficial for the player IMO. If the player doesn’t live up to expectations and start the team doesn’t have to pay the extra year. But if the player does start he gets his 2nd contract a year earlier.

              Like Burnett’s case it can make for some tough decisions. Tho I don’t think the Packers ever considered not signing him.

            • Sven

              I wonder how much effect the new CBA had on “average” players with careers of 3.3years. I bet it affected them less than first rounders and stand outs like Lacy.

    • Thomas Hobbes

      Unfortunately I don’t think veterans are going to vote to help out rookies because the issue isn’t important to them. Even if they are on their rookie contracts, changing the structure of rookie contracts would only apply to future contracts and not the ones already signed. Basically the only people who would fight for this issue are those that don’t have a voice since they aren’t part of the NFL or NFLPA yet.

  • packett

    “…., the massive toll playing the position takes on their body and future production and the….”

    I’d like more thoughts on this. Is this true? Does RB get more punishment, and is reason they don’t last?

    Consider WR getting hit at full speeds, often times, from behind when they aren’t expecting the hit. On the other hand, certainly in terms of plays; RB might have 20 vs 1/4-1/2 that of WR. But RBs are hit at line and seem at less violent collision. WR seem to me to get the worse bruisings. Any thoughts particularly from former RBs out there?

    • Jay Hodgson

      You bring up a good point.

      I do believe RBs get more punishment than WRs. First, consider how many catches a good receiver gets per game, which is 8-10. Some of those tackles will be simple pushes out of bounds.

      Running backs will take more than 8-10 tackles per game, and they are often the punishing, head-on types that WRs don’t typically take. WRs are sometiems dragged down rather than getting blown up in the hole. WRs also go down a little easier than RBs, who will break several tackles and have several defenders land on them once tackled.

      Imagine taking 15 good shots from Brian Urlacher a game vs. taking 6 take downs from Sam Shields. Nothing against Sam, of course.

      Also consider that RBs pass protect and take those body shots as well.

    • Thomas Hobbes

      That’s a pretty tricky question to answer, while WRs might end up in a couple massive collisions as opposed to multiple smaller ones for running backs, WRs often have a lot more protection built into the game; WR have the option of running out of bounds while RBs don’t usually have that option. WRs are considered defenseless in certain situations but RBs often are not (case in point look at the Merriweather hit). Finally, research is suggesting that multiple hits does increase the risk of mental issues down the line, hence why getting a concussion increases the risk of getting another concussion, which ultimately can lead to mental issues.

    • Nopainnogain

      the force of an impact has two components; velocity and mass. even if you assume wr is being hit at higher velocity, they are being hit by guys that are 185-200 lbs vs. the rb getting hit by 250-300 lbs. A DT at 65% speed generates the same force as a DB at 100% speed.

      in addition, getting tackled from behind is less force than getting tackled head-on since you subtract the velocities instead of adding them. would you rather be driving 30 mph & be hit from behind by a car going 40mph, or be driving 20 mph head-on into another car going 20 mph? net velocity is 10 mph vs. 40 mph. now replace the latter car with an 18-wheeler.

      from ’07-’09 there was about twice as many rb’s that landed on IR compared to any other position when you factor in the number of starters per position that typically see the field.

    • Stroh

      RB’s take Far more punishment than WR. That has always been the case. Its even more pronounced now w/ the new rules preventing hits on “unprotected/vulnerable” receivers.

  • Archie

    Eddie Lacy is nowhere near the class and/or calibre of Adrian Peterson or Marshawn Lynch. He’s a solid back with size running for a pass first offense.

    • Thomas Hobbes

      Did anyone actually say Lacy was near the class and/or calibre of Peterson or Lynch? I didn’t and it looks like you are arguing with no one.

      • Archie

        Well the premise of the article was that GB has to think about re-negotiating Lacy’s contract because “the Packers might have a real star on their roster with Eddie Lacy in green and gold.”

        I am a major Eddie Lacy fan but I don’t think his performance warrants concerns over renegotiating his contract. Heck, while he may be a big deal for GB given what TT has given us over the last decade but truth be told, he is a middle of the road RB. There are at least 15 better RBs than EL in the league right now. Don’t get me wrong, having an EL in the backfield with AR is what I have been begging for for years. It’s just that he’s not HOF quality. If he was, then I’d say yeah, get out the checkbook.

    • marpag

      LOL. After all those unfortunate “ass-clown posts” my man Archie (finally?) says something that is undeniably, 100% reasonable… and his post immediately gets hidden? What, do you guys really think that Lacy is in a class with Adrian Peterson??

      To the author: 1) Thanks for the post, and 2) the Packers have virtually no incentive whatsoever to redo Lacy’s contract after just one year. Why would they?

    • Oppy

      1) there was no comparison of class/caliber between Lacy and the others in the article

      2) There’s no active RBs in Peterson’s class, but Eddy Lacy might be comparable to Lynch in the talent department. He’s got the tools, we’ll just have to see. He hasn’t proven anything yet, I agree. But that doesn’t mean he’s not capable.

  • http://WWW.HAGENSONSTV.COM HawgNSonsTV

    If you do not realize how much better the Packers run game will be with this years O-line … you’re sleeping!

    • David

      and with Rodgers…

    • Thomas Hobbes

      The Packers run game is going to be as good as they care to make it be. If they decide to pass all the time the running game will be terrible again.

  • James David Marsh

    It is still to early to say if Eddie Lacy is near the top of the class of running backs. Rogers needs a good running game and a good defense. He does not need a great running game or a great defense although both would be nice to have.

  • David

    News out of Green Bay is that Lacy will have a bigger workload this year, where did you hear this?

    I understand it would be advantageous to be able to use him as a three down back (as any team could benefit from keeping talent on the field for the greatest number of plays), but do you claim that his number of carries will actually increase? Having him in as a threat would be wonderful, but that must always be balanced by the wear we are put on him.

    With Rodgers back, and the amount of threats the packers will field, seeing Lacy receive an increased number of carries would leave me sore, not to mention him!

    • Thomas Hobbes

      http://www.rotoworld.com/recent/nfl/8382/eddie-lacy

      I guess the caveat is its news out of green bay news outlets, but it does seem like McCarthy is going to implement him as a 3-down back, which means he’ll be on the field more at least. Personally I think his production will decrease with Rodgers return but I think I’m alone on that matter.

      • http://www.lyrictrumpet.com Bearmeat

        No. I’m with you. I’d bet Lacy gets less touches and is no more effective. That means less yards.

        Rodgers passing for 4k/40 TD’s and Starks and Harris will more than make up for it though. :)

        • Stroh

          I think Lacy is going to be more effective/efficient. Without Rodgers he faced a lot of stacked box’s last year, that won’t happen w/ Rodgers healthy.

          I think Lacy’s touches will remain about the same as last year per game, but he’ll get a couple more receptions in space.

          I think he might be on the field more often than last year, since he’ll be more trusted in pass protection.

          More snaps, same touches and more efficient w/ his touches, is what I’m thinking.

  • Mike

    Reworking a contract for Lacy is a good idea for the Pack, but load it with incentives with a smaller guarantee. That way he is sure to be productive if he wants the money. He’s a real old style bruising running back that gives defenses fits with schemes. So taking pressure of Aaron Rodgers by options is a good thing. Letting Lacy know he’s appreciated is also a good thing. Win,win…

    • Thomas Hobbes

      I’m not sure the Packers are allowed to rework a rookie contract one year nor would they want to because it sets a dangerous precedent for future draft picks, hence the problem of paying Lacy fair market value while keeping the current system in place.

  • mike

    just a thought should we not wait til year 3 to wonder this. hopefully not to jinx us but we did just lose 1 rb and who is to say lacy does not go out this year and either gets injured or slows down to a point where we are searching for another rb next year in the draft . we all can agree he had a great rookie season but we should see how year 2 goes for him and year 3 as well then we can wonder what his ceiling is

  • since ’61

    There is no reason to renegotiate Lacy’s contract until after his 3rd year. Anything can happen between now and then. Besides that runnings backs are being devalued by the league because the league is becoming more and more pass happy. Most fans want to see high scoring games these days. They no longer want the plodding ball control offenses of the 60s and 70s. Big plays and scoring puts fans in the stadium seats and in front of their TVs/monitors. It’s about generating revenues for the teams and the leagues. Who gets paid the big bucks? QBs like Rodgers, Brady, Brees, Manning, and now Kaepernick. Who gets second highest pay days, receivers like Nelson and Cobb and even a washed up Greg Jennings by the Viqueens. Next in line are the pass rushers and DBs. Why? Because fans also like sacks and picks. In the Lombardi days fans wanted to see Jim Brown, Gale Sayers, and Paul Hornung on offense. They wanted to see big hits by Nitschke, Butkus and Sam Huff. Gone. Big plays, sacks and picks in today’s game. Even the rules have made the game pass friendly. Also, all of the new safety rules work against running backs. Too much potential for head on head hits. Hopefully when Lacy’s contract time comes he will still be healthy and still be a major force for the Packers and hopefully they will resign him. But management’s thinking is we can find somebody to move the chains we can’t find another Rodgers. And for GB Rodgers is where the $ is. I’m not saying it’s good or bad, it’s just where the NFL is at for now. Go Pack Go! Thanks, Since ’61

    • Jay Hodgson

      As usual, Since ’61 has a post with sound thoughts and presented in a very professional and polite manner. Things get a little testy at times around here.

      • http://www.lyrictrumpet.com Bearmeat

        It’s the usual suspects Jay. Ignore them and you’ll feel much better! :D

      • Since ’61

        Thanks Jay, I appreciate your comments. As a long distance Packer fan I appreciate the opportunity to interact with the writers and share thoughts with fellow Packer fans and bloggers. Go Pack! Since ’61