Which Positions Are Worth Paying Big Money For In The NFL

Featured, Sports and Bets — November 5, 2013 at 3:29 pm by

It’s a gloomy time around Baltimore these days. The Ravens are 3-5 and reeling.  Our boys seem desperate to record a win, just nine short months removed from bringing home their second Super Bowl title. Despite quite a bit of roster turnover, optimism for this team was still high behind the strength of our franchise quarterback Joe Flacco. Not to only blame Flacco, but it just hasn’t worked out so far.

Everyone has bad seasons, we’re just not all that used to it here.  We Raven fans have been truly blessed in Charm City; our Ravens have been incredibly consistent over the past five years. Five straight playoff appearances, three AFC Championship games, and a Super Bowl win, all since 2008, that shouldn’t be taken for granted folks.  But the NFL is a what have you done for me lately business, and a 3-5 record isn’t good business.  But one bad season isn’t going to kill the Babes, I can handle that, it’s the financial future, a.k.a. salary cap, that has me alarmed.  As pointed out in an article by Tony Lombardi on Russell Street Report, the Ravens have 35% of next years’ cap tied up in four players. And those four players don’t include Suggs or Flacco, their cap numbers for next year push the Ravens over 50% of their total cap. Of course most teams have similar situations, as every team feels the squeeze of the cap sooner or later. It’s who and what position you spend your money on that matters, the majority of your cap space should be made up of a core nucleus of players that are game changers. But I think some teams are ahead of the curve in some of their roster building strategies.

The game is constantly changing and evolving, and with it teams need to adapt. First and foremost,  good teams start with good quarterbacks and you simply can’t win without one. It’s arguably the most important position in sports, and it should be paid like one. We are lucky enough to have a franchise quarterback in Joe Flacco. The guy gives us a great chance to win every time we take the field. The Ravens paid market value for their quarterback, it’s what had to be done. If you think Flacco is overpaid you’re an uneducated football fan, period.

After quarterback, the hierarchy of position value can be easily determined by looking at the top of any draft. In order it’s left tackle, pass rusher, inside pass rusher/run stopper, corner, wide receiver, and then down the line with linebackers etc. The biggest and most important investment is at quarterback, then you protect that investment with a left tackle. Then comes the guy who can rush the passer, defend against the passer, and catch passes from the passer. It all trickles down from the QB, that is what our game has evolved into.

The Ravens follow these principals very well for the most part. But looking at next year’s roster makeup, The Ravens are gonna have to pay for the straying they did from those principals in the form of Ray Rice’s and Marshall Yanda’s salaries. As a guard and a running back, they don’t fit into the top of the positional hierarchy. And therefore, their two big salaries are hurting the chances of the Ravens either retaining or acquiring a top left tackle. Judging by the health of our running game, neither Rice or Yanda are performing at the level that their salaries would indicate. But I’m sure you would be hard pressed to find one Ravens fan who didn’t want those two players resigned a few years ago. It’s a slippery slope that teams have to navigate. Being stern with what you are willing to pay a player, or risk being ostracized by your fan base for not bringing back a popular player.

When it comes to running back, I look to the New England Patriots and envy what they have been able to do. They don’t pay any of their running backs dick, and they use two to four backs in a constant rotation. That means not any one back will get dollar signs in their eyes, and if they do the Pats  let them walk. Running back is rapidly becoming the most devalued position in football for multiple reasons. First there are only a handful of elite ones, a category Ray Rice definitely belonged in before this year. Second the shelf life for a running back is so short,  their injury risk is the highest in the game. Very few backs see thirty while still in the league, and even fewer are productive past that age. Lastly there are probably fifty backs that could come in and run adequately for an NFL team at any time. The Houston Texans plucked Dennis Johnson off Cleveland’s practice squad last week, and he came in and looked explosive and ran hard. How many Dennis Johnson’s are there out there?  Definitely enough that I would never pay eight million a year to a running back ever again.

Here is who I would pay in this day and age. Offensive playmakers like Gronk, Jimmy Graham, Calvin Johnson, and Dez Bryant. Guys that other teams have to base their game plan around, and require the other team’s top cover man. The same goes for the defensive side of the ball. I pay the guys that get sacks, force fumbles, and create turnovers. Those are the players that command top dollar, game changers. JJ Watt, Justin Houston, Terrell Suggs, and even the elderly Robert Mathis all fit into this category.  These players can do what they do longer and often are highly productive, even sometimes into their mid thirties. Suggs is 31 and still playing at an elite level, so his 13million dollar plus cap number doesn’t bother me next year.

Haloti Ngata’s cap number is gonna bother me next year because he is not the same player now as the one who signed that huge deal a few years ago. His position is much more conducive to injury, and like running back, I feel his position is getting devalued, albeit at a slower rate than running back. It’s interesting that defensive tackle is such a highly touted draft position, but it doesn’t command the big bucks come free agency time. That’s probably because of the injury risk. These guys get hurt, and there are a plethora of guys who can do a comparable job for cheap. Ever since the Albert Haynesworth debacle, clubs have been much stingier when it comes to paying defensive tackles. Their importance is huge when it comes to stopping the run game, but their value in dollars is dropping. Everyone says it’s a passing league and they’re right, so run stoppers aren’t as valuable as they once were.

Going forward for the Ravens, I hope they turn their attention to the primary positions of value. We will be overpaying Rice, Yanda, Ngata, and even Lardarius Webb next year. That was one move that I thought Ozzie jumped the gun on. He signed Webb to a huge extension when I’m not sure it was completely necessary. The league was beginning to find out how good Webb was, but he wasn’t a household name yet, but still he got paid like one. It’s just bad luck that he would then go down with a second knee injury, one which he is still recovering from this year. But I’m not sure Webb was ever worth ten million a year.

Luckily for us Ravens fans, Ozzie and company are the best in the business at finding cheap talent through the draft and free agency. So while we’re going to need to employ quite a bit of cheap talent in the next few years, we should be still in solid shape. The Marlon Browns of the world will still be out there dying for a chance to earn an NFL paycheck, and maybe that’s exactly what the Ravens need.

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