Running backs should renew push for their own bargaining unit
Four years ago, an effort was made to carve NFL running backs out of the NFL Players Association, in order to create their own union.
In August 2019, Veronica Patton filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board seeking clarification of the broader NFLPA bargaining unit, while explaining that the “rookie wage contract is economically harmful to workers in skill group (RB), but advantageous to players in skill group (QB),” and that the “current one-size fits all” approach to NFL players is “inappropriate.”
Nothing more was heard about the effort, which suggests it went nowhere. Regardless of where it went then, it should return now.
The current CBA screws running backs. They make low wages in the best years of their careers, thanks to the rookie wage scale. Thanks to the franchise tag, the best of the best running backs see their compensation dragged down by a market that doesn’t pay much for veterans.
This year, the franchise tag for running backs is $10.1 million. Two years ago, it was $11.1 million.
While the fundamental problem relates to supply and demand (frankly, the best athletes should just play other positions in high school and college), the system definitely treats running backs differently. Even as good receivers are becoming more plentiful via the draft, the average veteran wideout (Allen Lazard) will make the same $12 million this year that one of the best running backs (Christian McCaffrey) will be paid.
The inherent injury risk is another factor. Running backs get pounded around. They get hurt, at a higher rate than other skill positions. Is that really their fault? The game needs running backs. Currently, the game chews them up and spits them out and deprives them their fair share.
The easiest way to solve the problem would be for the running backs to have their own bargaining unit, and their own bargaining power. Maybe their own salary cap. We’ve consistently suggested in recent months a league-wide fund that would pay young running backs based on their production, ensuring that they receive proper compensation when their salaries are, relative to other star players, peanuts.
Steelers running back Najee Harris recently expressed support for a running-back-only bargaining unit. He should. Every running back should. They’re all getting screwed by the game -- a game that they help make great.
Even as pro football continues to skew toward the pass, great running backs are the straw that stirs the drink. The little engine that could, can, and does. The guy who softens up defenses, draws safeties to the line of scrimmage, and opens up the air attack.
Yes, they should try to have their own bargaining unit. I haven’t researched the specific rules and requirements (that’s lawyer talk for saying “I don’t know”), but someone should do it. And someone should pursue it.
Until then, it would be great to see all running backs make a collective stand. Flex their muscles. Use their voices. Speak out on their own behalf, in the hopes that others will notice the situation and join in the chorus.
Hell, why not even threaten a mass running back holdout from training camp? Or maybe a mass hold in? Even if it doesn’t happen, the threat of it will get some free publicity for the cause during the next few weeks, when little else is going on.