RBs, TEs, And The Modern NFL

A number of writers have taken a recent look at the evolution of the NFL and how that evolution affects certain positions. It is not news, of course, that as the league has become increasingly conducive to the passing game, teams are throwing the ball more than ever before. As a result, certain positions–most notably, the “classic” tight end, the fullback, and the running back–are becoming devalued.

Here at PFR, we focus primarily upon news related to player and personnel movement: free agency, the draft, hirings/firings, etc. Sometimes, then, it is nice to step back and take a look at the dynamics underlying that movement. For instance, one of the primary reasons the Lions wanted to keep Brandon Pettigrew was that he is one of the very few active tight ends who have value as both a receiver and blocker. And has anyone heard from Vonta Leach since he was released by the Ravens? He has long been one of the best fullbacks in the league, and surely has another year or two left in the tank, but there does not seem to be much room for him in today’s NFL. And after Knowshon Moreno‘s strong season in 2013, would the Broncos have been so willing to cast him aside even five years ago? Would the Dolphins have been able to land him with such a small contract? The answer to both questions is probably a resounding “no.”

Through the eyes of former “classic” tight end Ben Coates, who currently serves as the offensive coordinator for St. Augustine’s University, Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel examines the dearth of tight ends like Coates and Pettigrew, players just as capable of throwing a block as running a route. Coates believes that the reason for the absence of such players is twofold. First, teams are simply looking to capitalize on the nightmarish mismatches that players like Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski can offer. Second, the supply of “two-way” tight ends has been greatly reduced by the proliferation of spread offenses in college football, offenses that demand players built like traditional tight ends to run down seams and out-muscle smaller corners and less athletic linebackers.

As for running backs, Mike Klis of the Denver Post and OverTheCap.com take an in-depth look at the devaluation of the position, which is even more dramatic than one might think. In fact, contracts for running backs are most comparable to those being given out to kickers.

Of course, the contextual backdrop for all of this is the new CBA, which, as Adam H. Beasley of the Miami Herald points out, continues to squeeze the “middle class” of free agents. Tight ends who offer more as blockers than as receivers have probably been in that middle class–or lower–for some time, but running backs, even the good ones, are increasingly finding themselves in that caste. These days, when we hit what Beasley calls the “value spending” stage of free agency–that period of time after the most desirable players are signed and the league’s collective attention is turned towards the draft–teams can fill whatever holes they have at those positions on the cheap, or they can simply wait until the later rounds of the draft or for an undrafted free agent to fall into their laps.

All of the articles referenced above are worth a read, and they give you some useful context as you take a look at our posts, check for updates on your favorite team, and as you wonder why certain players remain unemployed.

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