NFL teams live in fear of the inevitable decline. The moment a starting running back who seemed indomitable and revolutionary and worth millions starts looking…human. Then average. Then old. Because whenever a superstar back so much as hints at reaching this tipping point, there's no turning back.
At least that's the premise by which so many teams appear to be operating.
Todd Gurley was cut loose at 25 years old. Melvin Gordon's power play backfired (a year after Le'Veon Bell's did). Devonta Freeman, once the richest back in the game, was let go with three years left on his deal. The Cardinals dumped David Johnson's contract a few years after he was getting picked No. 1 overall in fantasy drafts, and they were treated like they committed larceny by doing so. Derrick Henry carried the Titans to the AFC Championship Game—blasting away for 159 yards per game over an eight-game span—but could only watch on as he was franchise-tagged and his quarterback raked in the $118 million contract.
The ones who can serve as the lifeblood of an offense still are devalued. The ones who run and block and catch and have the ability to influence the game more than any other player on the field still see their stock plummet.