Knowing when to be quiet has never been Jim Irsay’s strong suit. Even so, it was pretty wild on Wednesday night when he lashed out as part of the debate over running back pay around the NFL.
NFL Running Back situation- We have negotiated a CBA,that took years of effort and hard work and compromise in good faith by both sides..to say now that a specific Player category wants another negotiation after the fact,is inappropriate. Some Agents are selling ‘bad faith’..
— Jim Irsay (@JimIrsay) July 26, 2023
Irsay is the first league owner to comment on the concerns of the NFL’s least-appreciated players, and his official stance is essentially “tough luck.” Now, it would be one thing if Irsay was an owner without any skin in the game when it comes to a premier running back on his roster, but lest we forget that Jonathan Taylor is one of the best backs in the league — and he’s up for a new contract next season.
Taylor was vocal about the collapse of RB pay as recently as 10 days ago, when he shared his feelings on boosting a franchise, raising its visibility, and then watching as his position gets forgotten. Essentially exactly what’s happening with the Colts.
1. If you’re good enough, they’ll find you.
2. If you work hard enough, you’ll succeed.
…If you succeed…
3. You boost the Organization
Doesn’t matter, you’re a RB https://t.co/mG6In1ATGg
— Jonathan Taylor (@JayT23) July 17, 2023
Fundamentally Irsay is telling the truth. The NFLPA and NFL agreed to terms in the last CBA, but it’s incredibly disingenuous to act like what’s happening with the RB position is normal. Two of the league’s best backs in Ezekiel Elliott and Dalvin Cook were cut not because of performance, but salary. Meanwhile Saquon Barkley threatened to hold out, before accepting a hilariously awful offer from the Giants.
The idea that any running back would get a lucrative long-term deal has evaporated at this point, with only five backs making over $10M in 2023. In turn this has destroyed the little incentive that existed for players under the franchise tag, which traditionally saw them be forced to sacrifice security for a massive payday, but with depressed RB pay it’s meant that players see less than they have in years for the tag.
This is horrific news for the likes of Austin Ekeler and Jonathan Taylor, both of whom are set to hit free agency next year — and in particular for Taylor, who as a former second round pick has only earned $6.3 million over the course of his CAREER, and may never see a payoff for his dominant performance over that time.
Irsay’s intentionally obtuse response does nothing to address the human element, one that an owner should care about when it comes to their players. Running backs take more physical abuse than any position in football. They have the shortest average career length. Most of their best years are spent in college, where they’re over-worked and see only moderate NIL money — and now there’s no safety net of making life-altering money in the NFL as there once was.
It’s pretty shameful to see what’s happening to the RB position and say it’s “inappropriate” to want solutions to a league-wide issue. Running backs aren’t asking for QB money, and they know what’s happening to the league — but there isn’t a planet where it’s okay to see later draftees from the same class get offered double, or triple the money at positions like linebacker, while RBs have to settle for a depressed market.
This is the time for owners like Irsay to listen, and try to find a solution that works for everyone. Not hang on a contract and say “tough luck.”