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Football Daily Dose

Do Running Backs Matter?

by Ryan McDowell
Updated On: September 2, 2020, 10:18 am ET

Remember the “running backs don’t matter” argument from a couple of years ago? The NFL showed us their own version of that on Tuesday, with the Bengals on one end, the Jaguars on the other, and the Saints stuck somewhere in the middle.

After RB Joe Mixon missed multiple practices with what was reported as “migraines,” the Bengals cleared up their own headache by agreeing to a four-year, $48 million extension with their starting back. Mixon was set to enter the final season of his rookie deal and while he was not officially holding out, he also wasn’t taking part in practice. In recent years, teams locking up their star runners with contract extensions have not always worked out, but at least Mixon is still young, entering the season at just 24 years old and has not had the workload of some of the other backs from the impressive class of 2017.

This deal means that the quartet of Mixon, WR Tyler Boyd, and rookies QB Joe Burrow and WR Tee Higgins are now under contract in Cincinnati at least through the 2024 season. After years of frustration, the Bengals suddenly have the looks of one of the league’s most exciting offenses.

While the Bengals showed a commitment to paying their back, it was obvious that was not the plan in Jacksonville. RB Leonard Fournette’s days in town were numbered when the team refused to pick up his fifth-year option. Instead of letting him play out the final year of his deal, Fournette was sent packing on Monday after the team was unable to find any takers in trade talks. Fournette’s value was further displayed on Tuesday when Fournette cleared waivers, unclaimed. While there were multiple teams reportedly interested in the former top-five pick, none were willing to assume Fournette’s contract, which called for him to earn over $4 million in base salary.

This is not the end of the road for Fournette. After clearing waivers, he is now an unrestricted free agent, and, still drawing a salary from the Jags, he could be willing to take a minimum deal from a team of his choice. The Rams, Chiefs, and Bears have all been mentioned as possible landing spots.

From Jacksonville’s point of view, they were clearly just done with Fournette and if his absence also helps to push forward their #TankforTrevor season (targeting Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence in the 2021 NFL Draft), all the better. The Jaguars are left with what is sure to be an ugly committee attack, including veteran pass-catcher Chris Thompson, undrafted rookie James Robinson, Rotoworld favorite Devine Ozigbo and last year’s backup, Ryquell Armstead.

Finally, the New Orleans Saints are stuck in the middle as another class of 2017 back Alvin Kamara is in search of a new long-term deal. While Kamara’s camp claims they have not demanded a trade or initiated a holdout, a shocking report surfaced late Tuesday afternoon that the team would be willing to deal their playmaking back in exchange for a first-round pick.

Before we consider Kamara’s situation further, remember, this is the same team that quickly dealt stars TE Jimmy Graham and WR Brandin Cooks at the first moment they began making waves. That fact alone makes a Kamara trade a real possibility.

The Saints are reportedly willing to pay Kamara a deal in the $12 million per year range, similar to the deal Mixon just finalized, but the back has his sights on Christian McCaffrey money. That’s a frightening gap of around $4 million per year. If the two sides cannot come to terms on a deal and Kamara is ultimately traded, veteran backup RB Latavius Murray would instantly become one of the hottest names in the fantasy football landscape. Most would agree that Kamara is a special talent, but anyone lining up in the Saints backfield is worthy of our attention.

It does seem as if cooler heads prevailed by the end of the day. Kamara is reportedly set to practice on Wednesday and the two sides will continue to work on a contract extension.

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Injury Camp Notes

With just over a week until the season begins, injuries continue to be a major storyline around the league. Here are some quick updates.

Bengals veteran WR A.J. Green, who missed the entire 2019 season, remains limited to individual drills in practice with a hamstring injury. Green was reportedly cleared to practice a week ago but remains outside of team drills. This is starting to feel like 2019 all over again.

Panthers TE Ian Thomas, set to take over as the starter for departed veteran TE Greg Olsen, has missed practice time with a toe injury. Panthers HC Matt Rhule reported that Thomas would return soon, but this is another mark against Thomas, who is having a quiet camp prior to the injury.

The Raiders placed veteran WR Tyrell Williams on the injured reserve list, ending his season. Williams suffered a torn labrum last week. While initial reports suggested Williams would try to play through the injury, that was never realistic. Williams’ loss opens the opportunity for rookie WRs Henry Ruggs and Bryan Edwards to be the top wide receivers for QB Derek Carr.

Seahawks RB Chris Carson, who missed the end of the 2019 season with a fractured hip, declared himself fully healthy. He enters the season as the clear starter and workhorse back for Seattle.

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The Jets continue to deal with multiple injuries which could leave an already thin roster in a terrible situation as the season nears. Rookie RB Lamical Perine suffered a sprained ankle and TE Chris Herndon was forced from practice with a chest injury. Things are even worse at the receiver position where WR Breshad Perriman (knee) and rookie WR Denzel Mims (hamstring) have missed extensive practice time. The Jets recently signed veteran WRs Chris Hogan and Donte Moncrief and we may actually see them suit up in Week One.