If you have some free time — of course you do, you’re reading this article right now — I have an assignment for you. Go look back at the 2013 season and try to find a running back who (literally and figuratively) carried his team further than Jamaal Charles.
I’ll wait….still waiting….tick tock….
Give up? Don’t feel discouraged. It was a trick question, because there is no back who carried his team further than Charles, the Kansas City Chiefs’ All-Pro dynamo.
Let’s take a look at the stats (numbers never lie, after all): 1,287 rushing yards and a career-high 12 rushing touchdowns. Through the air, he totaled 70 receptions for 693 yards and seven scores — all of which were career highs.
The most damning stat of all, though, is that Charles was drastically underpaid, set to earn just $3.9 million in 2014. The salary was the 15th-highest among NFL running backs, and, as you now know, there weren’t 14 others who had a greater individual impact.
Thankfully, I say “was” underpaid because that’s no longer the case. The Chiefs last week — narrowly eschewing a training camp holdout — rewarded Charles with a two-year, $18.1 million contract extension through 2017. He’ll now pull in $8.3 million this season, making him the league’s second-highest paid running back behind Adrian Peterson (whom, by the way, he statistically trumped in 2013).
After the dust settled on the deal, Chiefs general manager John Dorsey released a statement, confirming the obvious.
“Jamaal is an elite player in the National Football League,” Dorsey said. “It was important for us to keep him here in Kansas City long-term.”
Charles, in a pair of tweets, handled the extension with class — and a good sense of humor.
Even if he had went through with the holdout, which is arguably the most selfish tactic in sports, it’d be hard to necessarily blame Charles. He wasn’t signed beyond 2015 and felt no security in an organization he single-handily led to an 11-5 record and trip to the playoffs.
If you’ve read on this far (and I know you have), you might be wanting to ask, “What about LeSean McCoy? Didn’t he do more than Charles last season?” It’s good question and the answer comes in two parts: Yes and no.
McCoy did lead the league in rushing with 1,607 yards, and it wasn’t close. The Chicago Bears’ Matt Forte finished second with 1,339, followed by Charles’ aforementioned 1,287. No one’s taking Shady’s title away from him; he’s an excellent player and incredibly exciting to watch.
However, McCoy was surrounded by superior talent in first year head coach Chip Kelly’s up-tempo, quick-hitting offense. Quarterback Nick Foles’ MVP-caliber season opened up gigantic running lanes for McCoy, who took advantage of opposing defenses’ vulnerabilities.
The same can be said for Forte, the workhorse in a Bears offense that’s predicated around its huge receiving threats, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. Forte, like McCoy, is an outstanding player, one whose offensive mates helped his success.
Now compare that to the Chiefs’ offense. Yes, quarterback Alex Smith experienced a career resurgence under coach Andy Reid, but they were without a veritable tight end and No. 2 receiver opposite boom-or-bust wideout Dwayne Bowe. With Smith hesitant to do anything other than dink-and dunk his way down the field, defenses stacked the box, selling out with eight or sometimes nine men to stop the run.
And yet, Charles still did Jamaal Charles-type things. He scored more rushing touchdowns and finished with a higher yards-per-carry average than Forte. He also found the endzone more than McCoy despite getting 53 less carries.
As for that Peterson guy? Charles had him beat in all three categories — yards, YPC, and TDs. AD started 14 games for the Vikings, recording 279 carries. Charles started 15 games for K.C., notching 259 carries. Peterson earned $11.25 million in 2013. Charles earned $3 million.
See where I’m going with this?
This isn’t the first time Charles got paid; he signed a five-year, $57.5 million contract with $35 million guaranteed in 2011. To be clear, I’m not knocking the Chiefs for going that long without re-upping him, nor am I throwing shade on the many other great running backs around the league, nor am I functioning as a wide-eyed, rosy-cheeked Charles fanboy.
What I’m saying is Kansas City made a fiscally smart decision before the start of year two of the Reid era. More importantly, however, it was a morally fair decision in regards to Charles, one of the softest-spoken superstars the NFL has seen in some time.
The NFL, first and foremost, is a business. In the business world, you’re paid relative to your talent, effort, and, ultimately, the results that come from it. In 2013, Charles’ results were unmatched. It’s only right the money followed.