Once-prized RB position now more of an NFL afterthought

When the NFL changed all the rules to help the passing game in recent years, there was a law of unintended consequences for running backs.

They have been devalued in this era of the passing game but for exceptions like Derrick Henry and Christian McCaffrey. Most have short careers and are easily replaced. They aren’t happy about it, but the NFL no longer wants offenses to be built around the running game. No more three yards and a cloud of dust.

For example, the Vikings cut Dalvin Cook after four straight Pro Bowl seasons, and he is looking for a job.

Saquon Barkley and Josh Jacobs are refusing to sign their franchise tags. But what choice do they have but to play for the tag?

Then there is Jonathan Taylor of the Colts, who says he wants to be properly valued as he enters his fourth season. But he didn’t help his negotiating leverage last year. After leading the league in rushing in 2021, he missed six games last year and then underwent ankle surgery.

Even if he rebounds with a big season, the Colts can tag him next year.

His injury shows why running backs often have short careers. They take a pounding and often get injured. And he carried 926 times in three years at Wisconsin, so he arrived with wear on his tires. Former Packers general manager Andrew Brandt suggested running backs shouldn’t have to spend three years in college before entering the draft, but the NFL is not likely to make that exception.

The Colts are counting on him to help spark their offense by complementing rookie Anthony Richardson.

But no matter how well he plays, Taylor is likely to be tagged next year. It is the life of a running back these days.

Araiza case another example of an NFL double standard

There is a difference on how the NFL treats quarterbacks and punters if they face sexual assault allegations.

Even if neither one faces criminal charges.

You are aware that Deshaun Watson signed a full guaranteed $230 million deal with the Browns despite all the allegations he faced.

You may not have heard of punter Matt Araiza, who was cut by the Bills in his first season last August after a woman accused him of being part of a gang rape in San Diego. He said he wasn’t involved and only admitted he had consensual sex after she suggested a hookup.

After spending months determining what happened that night, investigators said he wasn’t involved and had left the party before it happened and declined to file charges. 

Still she filed a civil suit against Araiza, and he countersued for defamation. Meanwhile, no team has been willing to sign him because, after all, he is a punter and they don’t want to deal with any baggage just to sign a punter. He had a workout with the Jets but wasn’t signed. The XFL is willing to sign him and HBO’s Real Sports did a segment on him and said his only NFL hope may be to get a team to sign him to their practice squad this year.

If he were a quarterback, he likely would have signed by now. But he is a punter, so has to play the waiting game while his career remains in limbo.

Jaguars’ costly stadium plan likely faces a long road

The price cities are paying to build stadiums for NFL teams keeps going up and up and up.

With the help of state funds, New York kicked in $850 million for the Bills’ new stadium and Tennessee put up $1.2 billion for the Titans’ new stadium, although one candidate is running for mayor in August on a platform of trying to scale down the project.

Now it is Jacksonville’s turn. Since they entered the league in 1995, every other team has either built a new stadium or had a major renovation. Naturally, the Jaguars want to join the parade.

Since Jacksonville is one of three teams in the state of Florida – the Bills and Titans are the only teams in their states – they can’t get state funding.

Still, the Jaguars’ proposed stadium renovation will cost in the $1.3 billion to $1.4 billion range, with the city paying 67 percent. The development around it will cost between $550 million and $680 million, with the city paying 14 percent. It adds up to a $2 billion project with Jacksonville paying half. At least that is the Jaguars’ proposal.

The Jaguars also want to keep playing a game in London every year, although having a new stadium means they would no longer get extra revenue from playing a home game in London every year. Whether the Jaguars would give up the London game will be part of the negotiations.

The Jaguars also want to play in a different stadium for two years while the new stadium is being renovated. They could do it in four offseasons and keep playing in their stadium but that would raise costs. Orlando, Gainesville or the Daytona International Speedway are alternatives. Or they could add seats either to the Jumbo Shrimp baseball stadium or the University of North Florida Stadium.

The Jaguars call it the Stadium of the Future, and the renderings are impressive with a high-tech covering to protect fans from the blistering heat in September.

But is is always about the money, and the cost will be the big problem.

Jacksonville is a small market with the lowest property tax in the state, and the question is whether they can afford it.

The annual city budget is about $1.5 billion, and about half goes to the police department. Raising the property tax to help fund the project probably isn’t feasible. And a new mayor, Donna Deegan, takes over July 1 and said she will hire negotiators to try to hammer out a deal with the Jaguars.

Mike Clark, who used to be an editorial writer for the Times-Union, wrote on Jaxtoday.com that the city probably only has the revenue to bond about $500 million. And he noted that according to Forbes, the Jaguars were the eighth-most profitable team even though they are a low-revenue team.

All this sets the stage for what should be tough negotiations on both sides. They likely will take months if not longer, although the Jaguars want a deal by next March to present to the NFL.

The Jaguars claim they have to start putting up a million a month starting in October to keep on the current schedule. They say they have already paid $2.5 million since starting the plans back in 2015.

So that is where things stand now. The Jaguars and city officials may have to fasten their seatbelts.

It could be a rocky ride.

NFL quick takes

–The NFL likes to take the money and run without thinking of the consequences. Now that gambling on games is legal, the NFL has embraced the cash it brings in. But they obviously haven’t done enough to educate the players what their rules are and now they are suspending players for gambling. They need to spend more time telling the players what they are allowed and not allowed to do.

–Will teams try more squib kicks now that the kickoff rules have changed? ESPN has reported the Patriots are having kickers Nick Folk and Chad Ryland working on squib kicks. It will be interesting to see if the Patriots and other teams try this tactic.

–According to Forbes.com, the XFL lost $60 million last year but still plans to return next year and hope to have a positive cash flow by 2027. Will the owners be patient enough to keep taking the losses and keep the spring league alive? We’ll see.

–The Texans aren’t wasting any time putting J.J. Watt into their ring of honor. He will be inducted on Oct. 1 when they play the Steelers so his brother T.J. Watt will be able to attend. J.J. played his first 10 years with the Texans before spending the last two years with the Cardinals. He had 20.5 sacks his second and fourth years and won three defensive player of the year awards but was slowed by injuries in his later years. He and Andre Johnson are the only two players inducted, which explains why he never made the Super Bowl. The Texans never got a good cast around him.

–Saquon Barkley is unhappy the Giants put the $10.1 million franchise tag on him and wants a new contract. But he will have to play for the tag if he doesn’t get a new deal by July 17 or holdout. “It is all about respect,” he told the New York Daily News. It is more likely all about the money. The running back position isn’t as valuable as it once was.

Flexing NFL Thursday night games a bad idea that’s all about the money

Fans who like to travel to games have to be leery about buying tickets or making travel arrangements for games played in weeks 13 to 17 on Thursday nights.

During that five-week period, the NFL will be allowed to flex two games to Thursday nights. They will be streamed on Amazon. It is another example that greed is good in the NFL these days.

At the recent owners meeting, commissioner Roger Goodell needed 24 votes to pass the measure and he got exactly that number. He was two votes shy in the March meetings. To get it passed, the league agreed to notify teams 28 days in advance instead of 15 that a game may be flexed.

If no games are flexed to Thursday night this year, the league will try it again next year. If they are, Goodell will need 24 votes to pass it again next year.

It is interesting the “no” votes were the Raiders, Lions, Bengals, Steelers, Giants, Bears, Jets and Packers.

The Packers are a community-owned team and except for the Jets, the rest of the teams are family-owned and date their ownership at least back to 1963. And Giants co-owner John Mara was very vocal in his opposition. Those owners didn’t pay billions for the team the way many of the more recent owner have, so they may be more attuned to what is best for the game and the fans rather than how much revenue the games bring in.

Flexing Thursday night games shows how desperate the league is to improve the Prime ratings since they are getting a billion dollars a year for 11 years for the package.

Last year the ratings averaged only 9.6 million viewers on Thursday nights, a drop of over 40 percent from the previous year when the games weren’t streamed.

The streaming, though, may be more of a problem than the matchups. The technology has to improve because the picture sometimes freezes and it is a hassle to go back and forth between network program and streaming.

The league did seem to make an effort to give Prime better late season games this year. The Cowboys-Seahawks and Steelers-Patriots in weeks 13-14 don’t figure to be flexed. The final three are Chargers-Raiders, Saints-Rams and Jets-Browns. It remains to be seen if those are attractive matches late in the season.

Meanwhile, the NFL may find out that streaming games simply isn’t ready for prime time and that it has to accept fewer viewers in exchange for the big payday..