We’ve heard for the last several years that running back doesn’t matter.
Mike Shanahan basically made the need to draft, develop and re-sign backs something of an anomaly because of his ability to pull 1,000 yard seasons out of bodies in the late round and undrafted free agents.
His son continues in his ways with a trio of unheralded running backs all producing at a high rate.
The Arizona Cardinals under Steve Keim looked to be following that method.
In 2013 they signed Rashard Mendenhall to be the lead back at the cost of pennies and drafted Andre Ellington and Stepfan Taylor.
2014 it was the #FreeEllington movement and that showed that maybe running backs don’t matter was a bit extreme, as Ellington squandered his lead back opportunity and showed that you needed some size and durability.
The Cardinals in 2015 signed veteran Chris Johnson to a cheap deal, drafted David Johnson and were back on the train of having talent at a cheap rate.
Then 2016 happened and the Cardinals and their fans felt like they had something special.
They bought into David Johnson’s phenomenal season and decided he was one to break the mold.
Despite getting hurt and missing all of 2017, Keim felt like David Johnson was a must have for newly hired Steve Wilks and Mike McCoy. He would be the lynchpin to the Cardinals offense.
We all know the story from there, but the question becomes why try and do it again?
While I advocate signing known commodities like D.J. Humphries, Zach Kerr and Rodney Gunter to not create holes where there are none (left tackle and depth along the defensive line) it’s been proven that running back is a reasonably easy position to fill.
Why pay Drake $6.5 million (let’s split the difference in what the Cardinals allegedly offered and what Drake allegedly wants) when you can get a player like Nick Kwiatkowski at a position of need for the same if not less?
What about Jordan Phillips or Danny Shelton? They both would likely cost the same as Drake.
This isn’t about Drake not being worth the money, it’s about the fact that there are players in free agency and the draft who can replicate Drake’s success at a fraction of the cost.
It’s actually been one of the biggest strengths of the Keim regime, finding running backs who can work in the system.
Ellington, Chris and David Johnson, Adrian Peterson and Kenyan Drake all proved to be nice finds for a year or so.
Paying Drake (anything over $5 million a year) after paying Johnson would just be another misfire, even if it works out.
It’s not that running backs don’t matter, it’s that you have to limit how much their worth is to what you are doing.