John Elway won two Super Bowls at the end of his career, but he might not have won either without Hall of Fame running back Terrell Davis.
Davis, a three-time All Pro, was Super Bowl MVP after the 1997 season and NFL MVP in 1998. He was, for a time, the best back in the game. Unfortunately, the position has become devalued over the last two decades.
Especially when it comes to contract negotiations.
“There’s always question marks about that second contract and whether [a running back] can sustain that level of success,” Davis told JR SportBrief. “There’s been too many examples of [it] not working out. You have someone like Todd Gurley and David Johnson and at this point probably Lev Bell – they get the big contract and the numbers or the production is not there. I certainly understand the angst of the front office because they have to look at it like, ‘Well, I’m paying you not for what you’ve done but what you’re going to do.’ And then you have an injury factor that affects the running back position probably more than any position. So there is a level of consternation. You don’t feel comfortable giving that money.
“That’s the crux of the problem,” Davis continued. “These backs are coming out early and they’re performing, but they’re not being compensated well for it. I’m always going to fight [for running backs]. Pay the running back the money. [Guys] like Derrick Henry, you got to pay him – and they did. Christian McCaffrey, you got to pay him and they paid him. Alvin Kamara is going through his contract issues. Dalvin Cook, he’s going through his contract issues. [The Jaguars] just released Leonard Fournette. For these backs, it’s an uphill battle.”
Davis, who was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2017, believes this problem needs to be addressed in the next CBA.
“They need to have a clause in the CBA that specifies that they need to have their contracts renewed earlier,” he said. “They can’t wait five years. They can’t go through the four-year process and the fifth-year option and then they hit the market. A team could literally keep you for six years if they draft you in the first round. They can get you for four years and then they can get a fifth-year option on you and then they can franchise tag you. So now you’re sitting there playing basically under a rookie deal making no money, relatively speaking. And then when your wheels are falling off, they can let you go. They have to find some way to change that for the running back position. I don’t think it happens, but that’s my proposal.”
There are, of course, several elite running backs in today’s NFL. But for Davis, one is a cut above the rest.
“It would be hard to pass up what Christian McCaffrey is doing,” Davis said. “I think it would be hard to pass up a guy who can do it all: Between the tackles, you can put him all over the field – he’s that guy that when you start to look at, ‘All right, we want a backfield that has backs that can do X/Y/Z,’ he has all those tools. He’s willing to stick his face in there to block. Obviously he’s an excellent route runner, and that ability to run great routes in the backfield – you can put him out wide. It’s hard to pass up [on him].”
Ezekiel Elliott and Saquon Barkley might have something to say about that.
“Look, it’s no knock on Zeke Elliott because he’s one of the best,” Davis said. “Saquon Barkley is phenomenal. It’s not an easy question, and there’s definitely not an easy answer. But I’m going to go with Christian McCaffrey just because I think he’s got the skills to do it all.”