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Austin Ekeler Is Back With The Chargers Which Raises The Question: What Is A Running Back Actually Worth?

One of the biggest off-season questions for the Chargers was Austin Ekeler's contract situation. He's in the last year of his deal (4-years, $24.5 Million) and understandably wanted an extension. He's been in the top-10 for yards-from-scrimmage 3 of the last 4 years and lead the entire league in total touchdowns the last two in a row. Seems like a no-brainer, right? So when the Chargers refused to meet his numbers and granted him the right to seek a trade, why were there no takers? It comes down to a simple question: What is a RB actually worth in 2023. 

The five highest paid RBs going into this season are Zeke Elliot, Derrick Henry, Nick Chubb, Dalvin Cook and Joe Mixon. The #1 guy on the list, Zeke, was released and no team will touch him. Derrick Henry is on a team that is dead in the water as is Nick Chubb. The Vikings can't seem to put a legitimate, playoff-winning roster together and Joe Mixon might not be a Bengal by the time the season starts. In fact, Mixon is the only player in the top-18 RB contracts for 2023 that has ever been on a super bowl roster. Here is a look at the last 5 years of super bowl contenders:

2022

Super Bowl teams: 
Chiefs (Ronald Jones II, Jerick McKinnon, Isiah Pacheco): Combined RB cap hit of $3.27 Million 
Eagles (Boston Scott, Miles Sanders, Kenneth Gainwell, Trey Sermon): Combined RB cap hit of $5.24 Million 

Team that spent the most on RBs: Cowboys, $19.8 Million (lost in divisional round after beating the corpse of the Bucs)

2021

Super Bowl teams:
Rams (Sony Michel, Cam Akers, Buddy Howell, Jake Funk): Combined RB cap hit of $4.37 Million 
Bengals (Joe Mixon, Samaje Perine, Chris Evans, Trayveon Williams): Combined RB cap hit of $10.56 Million 

Team that spent the most on RBs: Titans $16.1 Million (Got first round bye and lost to the Bengals in the divisional round)

2020

Super Bowl teams:
Bucs (Leonard Fournette, Ronald Jones II, Ke'Shawn Vaughn, LeSean McCoy) Combined RB cap hit $6.04 Million
Chiefs (Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Darrel Williams, Darwin Thompson, Le'Veon Bell) Combined RB cap hit of $4.14 Million

Team that spent the most on RBs: Texans, $16.1 Million (4-12)

2019

Super Bowl teams:
Chiefs (LeSean McCoy, Damien Williams, Darwin Thompson) Combined RB cap hit of $5.26 Million 
49ers (Tevin Coleman, Raheem Mostert, Matt Breida, Jeff Wilson) Combined RB cap hit of $6.74 Million

Team that spent the most on RBs: Texans, $12.74 Million (10-4, got a 50 burger dropped on them in the divisional round)

2018

Super Bowl teams:
Patriots (James White, Rex Burkhead, Sony Michel) Combined RB cap hit of $7 Million 
Rams (Todd Gurley, Justin Davis, John Kelly, C.J. Anderson) Combined RB cap hit of $8.41 Million 

Team that spent the most on RBs: Bills, $12.7 million (6-10)

The team that spent less on RBs won 4/5 last Super Bowls. The highest combined cap hit of any of these 10 teams is about as much as the Giants will spend on Saquon Barkley alone this year. Those 10 Super Bowl teams spent an average of $6.1 Million dollars on the entire position group, which would be the 13th highest cap hit this year (Ekeler is 12th) if it applied to a single player. The 5 teams that spent the most on RBs during this span have a combined 2 playoff wins, both in the wildcard. 

The whole point of this is to say the obvious: Winning teams don't break the bank on running backs. That isn't to say that winning teams don't have good running backs or rushing attacks. Just that the teams that make it don't spend on the position to get there. Those days are over, for better or worse. So, how much is an RB worth? If you ask me, your money is better spent building out the rest of your offense, especially the offensive line, so that you can insert a grinder into it. A great RB has less of a chance of running behind a sub-par line than a sup-par RB does running behind a great line.