|Should Rice and Forte blame Chris Johnson? (US PRESSWIRE)|
Posted by Ryan Wilson
Ray Rice and Matt Forte are two of the best running backs in the league. They also play a position that is among the easiest to replace in terms of productivity and that, along with Chris Johnson's no-show performance with the Titans this season after signing a four-year, $53 contract, means that neither should expect a new long-term deal this season. In fact, their respective teams, the Ravens and Bears, plan to slap them with franchise tag this offseason, ESPN's Adam Schefter tweeted Sunday morning.
"I think the Ravens are going to do the right thing … with the contract situation, I'll leave it in their hands," Rice told CBSSports.com earlier this month.
Rice's notion of the "right thing" might differ from that of the organization's.
Both Rice and Forte are in the last year of their rookie deals and both have been an integral part of their offense's success. But the reality is that running backs are, in general, fungible (we've been beating this drum for some time). Look no further than DeMarco Murray, the Cowboys' rookie third-round pick who treaded the Rams for 253 (!) rushing yards last week in place of an injured Felix Jones.
Also not helping: Chris Johnson going from one of the league's most explosive backs to its least effective, a transformation that unofficially took place the moment he signed the shiny new deal he had been demanding (Johnson held out for most of training camp before the Titans relented, giving him $30 million guaranteed).
The Ravens and Bears have even more incentive to wait on giving Rice and Forte long-term deals: according to Schefter, franchise numbers for running backs drops next season from $9.45 million to $7.71 million.
It's not a bad consolation prize, but it also offers no security over the long haul. And while we think that it doesn't require much effort to find a replacement-level back, Rice and Forte are exceptions because their offenses go through them. If Ravens fans are frustrated with Joe Flacco now, what state of mind would they be in if Rice wasn't touching the ball 30 times a game? (for a glimpse of what that looks like, just rewatch the Jags debacle from Monday night.) And Forte, perhaps more than the o-line, is responsible for keeping Jay Cutler upright.
But that might not be enough to keep either from getting franchised. It's easy to point fingers at the front office, but Johnson is also responsible, too.
CBS Sports' James Brown, Dan Marino, Bill Cowher, Shannon Sharpe, and Boomer Esiason break down the Monday night matchup at Arrowhead Stadium between the San Diego Chargers and the Kansas City Chiefs.
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