From my perspective as someone who, again, isn’t an agent yet, I find Richardson’s signing with the Raiders to be an interesting case study in some of the thoughts I have on different ways to look at player’s contract. Like with the Suh article I wrote yesterday, I don’t think I have all the answers from a contract perspective, but I want to raise questions that make us look at something differently.
The knock on Richardson is similar to what the knock on Matt Lienart was after USC, he played around super stars at Alabama, so maybe that’s why he was so good in college. During college, I used to run routes for Matt Simms during the summers. (Side bar, Phil Simms is one of the nicest people you could ever meet, seriously, stop ragging on him on Twitter for his announcing on CBS, all bias aside, I’ve always thought he was a great announcer and there’s a reason he and Jim Nance are CBS’ A-team.)
But, regarding Lienart, Mr. Simms said something along the lines of him being surrounded by so much talent in college that we were never able to really judge the guy and that may have led to him being a “bust.” That 2005 USC team had a first and second rounder at running back with Reggie Bush and LenDale White, then they had 2007 second rounders at receiver in Dwayne Jarrett and Giants Steve Smith. Tight end Dominique Byrd was a third rounder and his back-up, Fred Davis, was a second rounder in 2008.
On the offensive line, center Ryan Kalil was a 2007 second rounder who is still one of the premier players in the NFL for the Panthers. Left tackle Sam Baker was a First-team All-American for three seasons at USC, starting that sophomore year of his in 2005 and was drafted in the first round of 2008 to the Falcons. Both guards, Taitusi Lutui and Fred Matua were drafted in 2006, with Lutui going in the second round and Matua in the seventh; back-up guard Chilo Rachel was drafted in the second round of 2008. Right tackle Winston Justice was a second round pick for the Eagles in 2006.
With Richardson, it wasn’t as much that he was surrounded by immense offensive talent as Alabama is known more for their defense, but he did have a stellar offensive line during his 2011 Heisman Trophy winning season with his left guard, Chance Warmack, and his right tackle, DJ Fluker going back-to-back in the 2013 NFL Draft at numbers 10 and 11 to the Titans and Chargers respectively. His left tackle, Barrett Jones went in the fourth round to the Rams in that draft and Jones’ back-up Cyrus Kouandjio went in the second round this year to the Bills.
Alabama has built it’s dynasty on defense, a strong offensive line and a power running game. They’ve typically had one big-time playmaker at receiver with guys like Julio Jones and Amari Cooper, but during 2011, Marquis Maze was the leading receiver and while he’s not a world-beater, he did fine in the role that season. With Richardson and Eddie Lacy, future second round pick and Rookie of the Year with the Packers, they didn’t need much of a passing game in AJ McCarron’s first year as a starter.
What makes Saban such a fantastic coach is that he recruits players who fit his system. One example that I read in The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football, is that Saban follows what he called “the blueprint” for success. According to the book, Andy Staples in Sports Illustrated, stated that the “blueprint targeted high school athletes who fit certain character/attitude/intelligence criteria and position-specific height/weight/speed guidelines tailored to Alabama’s offensive and defensive schemes. Cornerbacks, for example, should ideally be between six feet and six feet two inches and about 190 pounds and run a sub-4.5 forty-yard dash; linemen should stand no less than six feet two because as ( Kirby) Smart (defensive coordinator) drily noted, ‘big people beat up little people.’”
They state that they might not be interested in guys who might be five-star players as seen by recruiting websites, if they don’t fit their parameters at Alabama. Smart states, “Sure there are exceptions to the rule, but we don’t want a team full of exceptions.”
If you look at the running back position for the past few years at Alabama, Mark Ingram was 5’ 10”, 215 pounds and ran a 4.53, Richardson was 5’9”, 228 and ran a 4.45 and Lacy was 5’11”, 231 pounds running a 4.44. This year, TJ Yeldon comes out at 6’2”, 221, and just improved his 40 at his Pro Day running in the low-4.5s. Outside of Yeldon’s height, they’re all almost identical backs in their size, speed and style, this is why Alabama is so successful and why these backs are so successful. Like my article about “The Patriot Way,” Alabama does the same thing, plug and play players who fit what they’re trying to do.
Again, the knock on Richardson in the pros has been his offensive line and heading to Oakland, he is going to be behind one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL. As Ian Rapoport tweeted after the signing, “I’m sure @PFF would back this up, but few RBs have been hit in the backfield as much as Darren McFadden over the years. But in Dallas…” Brandon George from the Dallas Morning News seconded that notion stating that “Darren McFadden like a pinball in Oakland’s backfield for 7 years, hit so many times behind line of scrimmage. Don’t expect that in Dallas.”
Personally, I thought that was a fantastic move by McFadden to go to maybe the best offensive line in the NFL and I would have liked to see Richardson try to find himself a similar situation. As his agent, it would be hard to turn down a two year deal worth $3.9 million that could earn him $4 million per season based on incentives, but it’s going to be tough to earn that when most of your offensive line had a negative run blocking rating according to PFF. According to Football Outsiders, Oakland had the 28th line in “adjusted line yards” at 3.57. Adjusted line yards is a regression analysis formula that takes all running back carries and assigns responsibility to the offensive line based on percentages according to the result of the run. You can go here for the information and graphs.
On top of the line being bad, while Marcel Reece has been a good player, he’s number 21 of 23 fullbacks rated on PFF with a -5.3 blocking rating.
If I’m his agent, with Oakland’s recent history of being one of the worst organizations in football, I’m really nervous about him not getting a chance to perform well and then being written off completely by the NFL as a bust.
Looking at that same list of adjusted line yards, I see a couple teams who could be interested in a player like Richardson at the right price. Same as with the Suh deal, I’ve never been in his position, nor do I think I know more than him or his agent or even know the options they had because I’m not in their position, but follow my logic.
When I look at that same table from Football Outsiders, I see teams that could still potentially use running backs (or could have used running backs coming into free agency) near the top of the list in Dallas, Baltimore, Seattle, New England, Pittsburgh, Green Bay, Miami, Atlanta and Chicago. Another team I would throw in there that I think improved their offensive line would be the Jets who need someone behind Chris Ivory.
At first glance, seemingly all of the NFL Insiders and writers that I follow on Twitter think that Richardson is slated to be a back-up behind Latavius Murray who averaged 5.2 per carry last year and showed a lot of explosion. On top of that obstacle, the Raiders signed Roy Helu yesterday to a two year deal that has him making $2.1 million this season and $2 million next year (but with no dead money in 2016).
Richardson is coming off a year where he averaged 3.3 yards per carry and was essentially benched going down the stretch. Now, not only has he entered a situation where he could very well be the backup behind a young, explosive runner, but there’s also one of the best pass-catching running backs in the league on the roster making $2.1 million AND they’re behind one of the worst offensive lines in football. I know that Richardson and the people around him still believe in him, I do too, I like the guy a lot, but what role do you see for him here?
Sometimes it feels like the Raiders are just spending money because they have it. Last year, they signed 16 free agents with an average age of 30.2 years old at the start of the season. Charles Woodson had a cap hit of $3.5 million last year at the age of 37. Carlos Rogers had a $3.5 million cap hit at 33. Another 33 year old, which obviously matters less for a quarterback, Matt Schaub had an $8 million cap hit after they got him from Houston for a sixth round pick after he had the worst season of his career. Trading draft picks for guys who are on their last leg is not what a team that’s rebuilding should do. Maurice Jones-Drew came into the season at 29 years old and averaged a measly 3.4 yards per carry the year before as it looked like injuries had caught up to him and he had a $2.5 million cap hit. It just doesn’t feel like they understand the rebuilding process.
I think it’s gotten to the point where they have become one of the least desired destinations in the NFL for a free agent and that’s why guys who are younger, don’t sign with them, they have other options. The kind of free agents they tend to get are getting overpaid and don’t have many more options. Oakland seems to kind of be the last stop for guys on the way out to finish their career with one more big contract.
First off, the state income tax in California gets up to 12.3%, while it’s zero in wonderful places like Florida and Texas, where you can keep over 10% more of your income, which on a $2 million deal is over $200,000. So if you’re a younger player deciding between a contract in Oakland or the same contract in Miami or Houston where you don’t have a state income tax and you seem to have more of an opportunity to win, you’re probably going to go there. Not to mention the insane cost of living in California.
In 2012, Silicon Valley, which is where Oakland is located, had the highest average annual wage for a metro area in the country at $92,556, but adjusted for cost of living, real income was only $61,581. Meanwhile, Houston had an average annual wage of $59,838, which was the eight highest in America, but because of the areas low cost of living, the average real income was $66,933, which was number one in the country. So the contract you’d get in Oakland would end up being worth MUCH less than that same contract in Houston in terms of real income.
Second, the Raiders don’t take great care of their players. There have been grumblings about their facilities for years, a friend of mine played for them and during training camp, they would, allegedly, have food catered in and sometimes they would run out of food. So if you wanted more food…during training camp…you were out of luck. And third, it seems like the Raiders have no idea what they’re doing, so as a player, it becomes a place where you feel like you’re likely going to have very little chance to win football games and believe me, football is a tough game to play when you’re losing.
It’s great that Richardson just got a contract worth $3.9 million, but is this his best opportunity? As an agent, one of the questions I’m asking is, which team gives him the best chance to do the most with his opportunity? Which team best fits his running style? Which team has the best offensive line?
Richardson signed a four-year, fully guaranteed $20.5 million contract with the Browns in 2012, with a signing bonus of $13.3 million. Granted, the Colts suspended him and are trying not to pay him his $3.1 million salary for next season because he missed a walk-through due to being with his wife while she was in the hospital with serious pregnancy complications. (If all that is true, then that’s disgusting and the Colts should be held accountable for this.)
Say that Richardson was willing to take a one-year, bet on yourself, minimum contract. He would have had a cap hit of $745,000. Looking at the list of teams I mentions before, is it far-fetched to think that a team like the Packers, Patriots, Ravens, Dolphins, Falcons, Bears, Jets or the Seahawks even wouldn’t take a flier on a once “can’t miss” tailback prospect who would take up a mere 0.52% of their salary cap?
The Packers would allow him to team up with Eddie Lacy and be the back-up to a player who has a very similar running style. Lacy always seems to be banged up at least once during the season, so maybe he’d have one full game to show what he can do. I know they have James Starks as the change of pace back, but that’s what he is, he’s not a true back-up to Lacy. If Lacy goes down, they’re in bad shape.
New England is no stranger to reclamation projects, it’s part of what’s made them so dominant, their ability to find low-cost players who’s careers they revitalize. Sometimes, being in a winning atmosphere, which Richardson certainly had in Indianapolis, can change a players outlook, maybe playing under the leadership of guys like Brady and Belichick could help give him the boost he needed.
In Atlanta, he’d give the team a power back to pair with Devonta Freeman and whoever they resigned out of Antone Smith or Jacquizz Rodgers. Considering that, if they let Rodgers go, they’d need a pass blocker to replace him, Richardson would fill that role well as he was the sixth best pass blocking RB in the NFL according to PFF. Rodgers was number one and Steven Jackson was number three.
With the Dolphins, they have nothing behind Lamar Miller, so he’d have a real opportunity to get a workload behind him. With the Jets, he’d get an opportunity that would expand off of pass blocking because Chris Ivory was the second worst pass blocker in the NFL according to PFF last year.
I do believe he’ll come into the season prepared to be the player he was in 2011 and weigh in closer to 220 rather than the 230-235 he looks and seems to be running at now. In college he was listed at 224 and now he’s listed at 228, but just looking at him last season, he didn’t look the same and looked much slower than the guy we saw at Alabama. It’s also written that he was apparently fined multiple times throughout the season for being over the target weight the Colts wanted him at, 227, although he says only by three pounds.
I know that a two-year deal that averages $1.95 million over two-years sounds better than one year at $745,000, but, again, don’t you get the feeling he’ll never be able to showcase what he thinks he can do in Oakland anyway? And if he fails in Oakland, then this will surely be the last we’ll see of him.
If so, it’s too bad, he had the opportunity to be great and we’ll miss out on a player who was a joy to watch in college. Think about this before the 2012 draft, how excited would you have been to see a backfield of Andrew Luck and Trent Richardson? Well we had that and the only part that was exciting was Luck. Hopefully better days are ahead for the Bama back.
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