David Johnson and Le’Veon Bell are part of an exclusive fraternity as NFL running backs. Not only that, the two are among the best at the position heading into the 2017 season. Expectations are high for both to continue performing that bell cow role in their respective teams’ backfields.
In Bell’s case, he ideally wants to be contributing to the Pittsburgh Steelers backfield under a new contract. The team slapped the franchise tag on him this off-season, and the clock is ticking to get a long-term deal finalized. Next Monday, July 17th, is the deadline for teams to ink franchise tagged players to extensions.
If Bell plays under the tag next season, he’ll make $12.12 million which would make him the highest paid back in the league. But the hope among Steelers fans is that him and the team can iron out the details associated with him staying in Pittsburgh long-term. And don’t discount the fact that other young running backs around the league are eyeing developments intently, including Johnson.
David Johnson Hoping Le’Veon Bell Gets Big Payday
The 25-year-old Arizona Cardinals speedster emerged as a potent weapon in the team’s run game last year. In his second year with the team, Johnson finished as one of seven NFL running backs with over 1,200 yards rushing. And only the New England Patriots LaGarrette Blount managed more touchdown runs than his 16 on the year.
With two years remaining on his rookie deal, Johnson is close to hitting the open market as an unrestricted free agent himself. That’s why the precedent set by an impending deal between Bell and the Steelers is so important. And Johnson is well-aware of the implications as it relates to his own future.
With that in mind, he’s hoping his fellow NFL running back cashes in.
“I hope he gets the deal he deserves,” Johnson told MMQB’s Andy Benoit. “I hope it’s going to be the type of deal that cornerbacks get and quarterbacks get.”
Johnson is undoubtedly hinting at the massive paydays certain players received during free agency this year. Cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and A.J. Bouye signed huge contracts with the Patriots and Jacksonville Jaguars respectively. And of course, there’s the five-year, $125 million mega-deal the Oakland Raiders gave to quarterback Derek Carr.
Regardless of what happens with Bell, Johnson himself is in line for a significant bump in pay when the time comes. The Cardinals picked him in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft, taking him 86th overall. He’s scheduled to make a mere $2.28 million in base salary over the course of his four-year rookie deal.
This season, his cap hit is slightly under $800,000, per OverTheCap.com. That’s over $100,000 less than teammate Andre Ellington who contributed a mere 96 rushing yards last year. The annual value of his rookie deal over the contract’s lifetime is $748,218 which ranks him 83rd among running backs.
Those numbers alone underscore how much value the Cardinals are getting with Johnson. Though that will ostensibly change when he finalizes his first free agent deal, questions still remain. How will Bell’s looming extension affect those for other young running backs moving forward? Is there a newfound appreciation for the running back position and will the financials associated with future deals affirm that? Will Johnson’s age when he becomes an unrestricted free agent (he’ll be 27) impact how much he gets from his second contract?
With the deadline to lock Bell up long-term approaching, the answers to some of those questions will have their answers soon enough. Whether or not it becomes a watershed moment in the compensation of running backs is uncertain at the moment. But it’s hard to argue that both Bell and Johnson are in elite territory at the position in today’s NFL and their pay needs to eventually reflect that sentiment.