Jamaal Charles was one of the main reasons the Kansas City Chiefs rebounded from a terrible 2012 campaign to rebound and make the playoffs in 2013. Charles rushed for nearly 1300 yards and 12 touchdowns to go along with 70 catches and 7 touchdowns through the air. The 27-year-old University of Texas product received First-Team All-Pro honors, but heading into the 2014 season, he was mulling a holdout. The reason? He was the 15th-highest paid running back in the league despite consistently being in the conversation for the top back in the NFL. Last week, Charles signed a four-year extension worth up to $27.5 million, keeping him with the team that drafted him for a little longer, but also showing how the running back contract landscape has changed recently.
Charles entered the league as a third-round pick in 2008, spending his first year behind former 2000-yard rusher Larry Johnson. In 2009, Charles broke out, rushing for over 1000 yards despite only starting 10 games. He also broke the Chiefs single-game rushing record by tallying 259 yards in a Week 17 win over Denver. The former collegiate sprinter has always been known for his speed, but there were worries about his slight frame and whether it could hold up against the every down pounding running backs receive. In 2010, Charles continued to silence his critics, going to his first Pro Bowl and rushing for the second-most yards per carry of all-time with 6.38. In 2011, Charles suffered a torn ACL in the second week, but burst back onto the scene in 2012 with 1509 yards on the ground. In 2013, under a new head coach, Charles continued to develop as an all-around back and caught a league-high 70 balls out of the backfield and rushed for the second-most yards in the NFL.
So what does Charles extension mean for the Chiefs? Charles was a big reason why the Chiefs were so successful in 2013. Quarterback Alex Smith was limited in his down-field throwing, often dumping it off to Charles who finished with the second-most all-purpose yards in the NFL last season. The Chiefs snuck up on the league last season due to having the league’s worst record in 2012. With a favorable schedule, they started the season 9-0 and snagged one of the AFC’s wildcard spots. This season, the schedule will be a lot tougher due to their strong performance in 2013. Charles is the most important player on the offensive side of the ball and despite having a solid option in backup Knile Davis, the Chiefs will ride their top option Charles for as long as possible.
Charles’ extension also represents a changing in the landscape of running back contracts. He is now the second-highest paid running back in the league, but compared to salaries of the league’s quarterbacks, it pales in comparison. Quarterbacks that aren’t proven commodities are signing $100 million-plus contracts while Charles, one of the league’s top offensive options, signed for about $7 million per year. Less than five years ago, running backs were a hot commodity and signing big deals such as DeAngelo Williams five-year, $43 million deal. Now, as the league moves more to a passing-oriented league and more running back by committee approaches, they are signing for much less. Despite a down market, Charles deserves to be paid among the highest running backs in the league and should continue to thrive for the Chiefs in the 2014 season.
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