As football fans, we like the familiar names who have a track record of success. It's much easier for us to advocate for our favorite team to sign someone we're familiar with, especially if it's someone we've seen play and play well many times over the years.
The problem with that outlook is that signing a veteran isn't a slam dunk. Changing teams and landing on a lesser offense or defense can mean lesser performance, or a player can simply be past their peak by the team you land them. That's doubly true at running back, where shelf lives are short and reputation typically outlasts production by a few years. If the early questions I'm getting about the running back position are any indication, there are plenty of folks advocating for Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson.
Rather than ridicule those two candidates—though I'm happy to do that upon request—I'd like to give you all three reasons why the Falcons do not need to be pursuing veteran backs, and should consider pairing
- Declining performance. If a running back clocks 300-plus carries in a season, they're approaching 30 or they've just had a heavy workload easy in their career, chances are good you're going to see injuries or a decline in performance following. Steven Jackson is the epitome of that if you're a Falcons fan, as he went from two years of mild decline and good health in St. Louis to injury-plagued, ineffective campaigns, albeit ones that were partially caused by poor line play. If you're buying on a player like Johnson or Peterson, you can rest assured you've already seen their best years. Heck, that's probably true with Demarco Murray, too.
- Cost. The beauty of drafting a running back beyond the first couple of rounds is that they're incredibly cheap and under team control for at least a few of their prime years. Even though the cost of running backs has dropped in recent years, you're going to pay real cash over multiple years to get your hands on that player. Since running back is devalued, you're better off avoiding that potentially sunk cost.
- The Falcons shouldn't be in the market for a feature back. None of us are sure that Devonta Freeman is the answer at running back, but the Falcons need to make sure he's given the chance to be part of the solution. He's a quality pass catcher and has the potential to be a nice fit for Kyle Shanahan's zone blocking scheme, and the Falcons should be pairing him with someone with great wheels (maybe Antone Smith) and someone who can be a battering ram in short yardage. I'm not opposed to spending money on offense, but a feature back is the least of this team's concerns at the moment.
In summary: Don't spend a lot of money on a running back. Especially not Chris Johnson.