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Does Le’Veon Bell’s situation prove NFL running backs are a dime a dozen? — The Undefeated

Does Le’Veon Bell’s situation prove NFL running backs are a dime a dozen? — The Undefeated

Final week, New York Giants head coach Pat Shurmur challenged rookie running again Saquon Barkley to stay his nostril within the scrum a bit extra. The shifty Barkley has confirmed to be nice at bouncing to the surface, making house run-type runs, however the Giants need Barkley to make extra of these robust, Four- to 6-yard features, what Shurmur referred to as “dirty” yards.” Barkley might take a bit extra punishment, however he’ll assist the staff.

Barkley filtered Shurmur’s problem by means of the prism of a rookie running again who needs to enhance and assist the group.

I filtered Shurmur’s problem by way of the prism of Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell. Bell is the gifted running again who determined final week to take a seat out the remainder of the season somewhat than danger damage and jeopardize cashing in on free company. The foundation of Bell’s argument is that in an NFL the place passing is king, running backs are perceived to return a dime a dozen.

“At the end of the day, it’s just a business and your body is your briefcase,” Jonathan Stewart stated. “If your body is banged up, if something happens to your body, then your briefcase isn’t really worth anything.”

As soon as the league’s glamour place, running backs have grow to be the NFL’s most expendable and exploited class of gamers. The development started in 1978 when the NFL made vital rule modifications to speed up the passing recreation. If soccer is a 100 % damage recreation, the running again is a 110 % damage place. The query isn’t if you’ll be injured, however when and the way severely.

“When it comes to the pounding we take, we get into more car accidents than anyone,” veteran Giants running again Jonathan Stewart advised me just lately. “There’s definitely a high-risk, high-reward situation.”

One flawed minimize, one awkward hit, and the flash and sprint that made a running again unstoppable is gone and his worth plummets.

That’s what impressed Bell to conclude that for his short- and long-term pursuits, it’s higher to take a seat out the remainder of the season somewhat than danger virtually sure damage.

Bell was a extremely productive runner for Pittsburgh for 5 seasons. He has made the All-Professional group in two of his 5 seasons and performed in 12 or extra video games in all however a type of seasons. The group showered Bell with reward — till he demanded the franchise pay him what he felt he was value. The workforce needed to provide him the franchise tag and pay him the typical wage for the highest gamers at his place. Drawback is, Bell is light-years higher than the typical running again and he is aware of it.

What initially stunned me about Bell’s situation was the shortage of common help from his teammates. Slightly then seeing their fates as being intertwined, Bell’s teammates grumbled that their former bell cow was lower than loyal. In a single information convention earlier this month, head coach Mike Tomlin, requested about Bell’s holdout, repeated the corporate line about being targeted on the gamers within the locker room. “We need volunteers, not hostages,” he stated.

When Bell introduced final week that he wouldn’t return for the season, a few of his teammates turned vultures and ransacked his locker.

Distinction that with the response of Emmitt Smith’s Dallas Cowboys teammates to his holdout in 1993 when the Cowboys acquired off to an Zero-2 begin. After the second loss, defensive finish Charles Haley famously smashed his fist into a locker and yelled, “We can’t win with this rookie running back!” He was referring to Derrick Lassic. Haley provided to pay Smith out of his personal pocket. The Cowboys ultimately relented and made Smith the NFL’s most extremely paid running again.

In contrast to these Cowboys, these Steelers are profitable and touting the rise of younger James Conner as proof that the group doesn’t want Bell — certainly, that runners are a dime a dozen. Conner is cheaper and youthful.

Stewart empathizes with Bell as a fellow running again and as a fellow NFL participant. “I definitely see where he’s coming from,” Stewart advised me. “He’s banking on himself, which a player should always do.”

Stewart was a first-round draft decide of the Carolina Panthers in 2008. He performed 10 seasons with Carolina and signed in March with the Giants as a free agent.

“At the end of the day, it’s just a business and your body is your briefcase,” Stewart stated. “If your body is banged up, if something happens to your body, then your briefcase isn’t really worth anything.”

The Steelers have gotten their pound of flesh out of Bell. Final season, Bell gained 1,944 all-purpose yards and broke Pittsburgh’s single-season report for catches by a running again — a document he had beforehand set. Bell broke Jerome Bettis’ membership document for many yards from scrimmage throughout a participant’s first 60 video games with the staff. In Bell’s absence, the workforce is getting mileage out of his alternative, Conner, the 23-year-old former third-round choice.

Conner, like Barkley, is a younger participant profiting from a chance and looking for his method within the league. Conner and Barkley are doing what younger individuals in all professions are anticipated to do: work lengthy hours, run via brick partitions — and make soiled soccer yards.

On Sunday, eight of Barkley’s 27 carries have been inside the Four- to 6-yard vary of Shurmur’s “dirty” yards problem, together with a 5-yard landing.

“When he said run tougher, I don’t think he was criticizing my effort, and I didn’t take it personally,” Barkley stated after Sunday’s recreation. “I run how I always run. I’m not going to change that, but I took it as just being more aware. I was able to change the pace of how I hit the hole and try something different.”

Stewart remembered how as a younger participant he would battle, scratch and claw for each yard, typically struggling accidents within the course of. Then certainly one of his coaches informed him he needed to discover ways to hand over, the right way to go down, so he might reside to play one other down.

“The older you get, the wiser you become,” he stated. “I think running backs nowadays are a lot smarter, a lot more educated about their bodies.”

How Conner will do within the playoffs is but to be decided, however that’s not Bell’s concern, neither is Bell’s long-term safety Pittsburgh’s concern.

“Nobody’s going to care about your body the way you do. No one’s going to care about what plans you have in the future the way you do,” stated Stewart.

Stewart stated that when he entered the NFL in 2008, common managers and head coaches have been in search of a particular sort of running again. “Twenty to 25 carries per game, a bruiser who could block and catch a little out of the backfield,” Stewart stated.

There was the period of running again by committee when nobody again might do every thing, so the workload was divided. “That was when the value of the position diminished,” Stewart stated.

At present, a running again who needs to be on the sector on a regular basis has to discover ways to do a little of every thing. Bell is a part of that period.

“You’ve got guys coming up now who have learned the position a whole different way. Backs like Barkley, Bell, Todd Gurley can literally line up anywhere on the field and be on the field every play.”

In July, the Los Angeles Rams rewarded Gurley with a four-year, $60 million contract that included $45 million of assured cash.

“They went about their business the right way,” Stewart stated, referring to the Rams’ cope with Gurley. “They’re trying to win games today. Sometimes you’ve got to bank on guys you believe in.”

What’s unknown is the extent to which NFL groups will put Bell within the deep freeze and unofficially collude to maintain him from cashing in on the free-agent market. House owners have a penchant for sending messages to defiant gamers as a method of displaying them who’s in cost, as Houston Texans proprietor Bob McNair indelicately stated, displaying gamers that inmates don’t run the jail.

Bell in some methods is as a lot of a menace to house owners inside the sport as Colin Kaepernick is to them outdoors of the sport. Think about star gamers, particularly running backs, being so sure of their worth that they refuse to play fairly than volunteer themselves to be chewed up and spit out.

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“I’m not really sure what’s going on in Pittsburgh, but I think Le’Veon’s situation will definitely shape the worth of the running back position in a positive way,” Stewart stated.

In 1969, running again was the sport’s glamour place. O.J. Simpson was the primary participant taken in that yr’s draft. Leroy Keyes and Ron Johnson have been big-name school running backs additionally taken within the first spherical. Yale’s Calvin Hill was taken within the first spherical by the Dallas Cowboys.

“They’ve changed the game to emphasize passing; in that sense, that position has been diminished and marginalized,” Hill advised me final week.

Hill, who works with the Cowboys as a advisor, has seen the place lose its luster — and worth. “It’s amazing to me, only because you get the crap beat out of you. I think it’s the most dangerous position in the game when you look at life expectancy. Usually when there’s a lot of danger associated with something, it means higher pay.”

He added that he’s unsure he would play running again in right now’s NFL.

“If I were coming in the league now and they wanted me to play running back, I might tell them I want to play tight end,” he stated.

After Sunday’s recreation, I requested Shurmur how a younger running again like Barkley balances enjoying within the second and serving to the staff win with staying wholesome sufficient in order that he can money in when his rookie contract ends in 4 years. Shurmur paused, smiled and eventually stated, “Two or three years from now, we’ll revisit that.”


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Stewart, who has survived 11 NFL seasons, provided a extra expansive view of balancing staff with self.

“The way you balance that is understanding your value and understanding your worth and understanding what you put out on the field,” Stewart stated. “You have to be secure in yourself and be willing to bet on yourself.”

Bell is a runner prepared to stroll away.

William C. Rhoden, the previous award-winning sports activities columnist for The New York Occasions and writer of “Forty Million Dollar Slaves,” is a writer-at-large for The Undefeated. Contact him at william.rhoden@espn.com.