Green Bay Packers

The Packers Will Need To Buck Historic Trends To Win With Josh Jacobs' Contract

Photo Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Green Bay Packers made a splash at the beginning of free agency, not only parting with Aaron Jones but replacing him with a younger, more expensive running back in Josh Jacobs. As excited as some Packers fans may be at the prospect of having the 2022 NFL rushing yards leader in the backfield, there’s no correlation in recent league history between highly paid running backs and Super Bowl success.

Jacobs’s four-year, $48 million contract with Green Bay looks flashy on paper. But the Packers are only really on the hook for one season at $14.8 million. While that total cash in 2024 is the highest of any running back to date, his cap hit is technically only $5.3 million for the upcoming season. Either way, the amount of salary cap Green Bay has allocated to an RB1 far outpaces any recent Super Bowl champion.

The main question here is whether there is causation or correlation. Are teams not winning the Super Bowl because they allocate too much to running backs, sacrificing potential talent at other positions? Or are teams still able to win the Super Bowl despite having lower-paid running backs?

It’s tough to say precisely, but looking at recent Super Bowl champions would lead someone to believe that winning teams aren’t overspending on running backs. Take Isiah Pacheco in the past two seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs, for example. They’re not winning the Super Bowl without Patrick Mahomes and his $45 million per year. But Pacheco was more than serviceable as a seventh-round pick, making $705,000 and $870,000, respectively, in the past two Chiefs title runs. Since the Packers won the Super Bowl in 2011 with James Starks and his $320,000 salary as the lead back, Marshawn Lynch stands out as the lone outlier from the running back position with a $7 million salary in 2013, balanced out by the $526,217 that Seattle paid to Russell Wilson that season for his quarterback play.

But flipping over to the loser’s column from recent Super Bowls, there’s more spent on running backs, starting with Christian McCaffrey‘s $12 million dead cap hit for the San Francisco 49ers this past season. Joe Mixon pulled in $5 million for the Cincinnati Bengals in 2021, and Todd Gurley netted a $21 million signing bonus that the Los Angeles Rams had to contend with in the 2018 season. Add in a $4.25 million salary for Jonathan Stewart in the Carolina Panthers’ run to an NFC crown in 2015, and it’s not impossible to at least make the Super Bowl without a dirt-cheap running back.

It’s been well-documented that running backs are struggling to find big-money contracts, with five slated to make more than $10 million, compared to 21 quarterbacks and 29 wide receivers who will exceed that number. The current average salary of the top 32 running backs in the league is approximately $5.7 million. It’s been over a decade since the lead back for a Super Bowl champion has made a salary above the average for the league’s starters. Going by this stat alone, Packers fans shouldn’t feel great that Jacobs currently has the highest total cash hit on the books for the upcoming season.

But like the Seahawks in 2013, there are ways to still be successful, and that’s by saving money at other positions. The adage goes that the most valuable thing in football is a quarterback on a rookie contract. However, Green Bay won’t have that either, with Jordan Love set to cash in. Russ Ball and Green Bay’s front office will work their magic to align Love’s contract with the team’s current trajectory. Still, the thing currently buoying their success is the incredible draft classes Brian Gutekunst put together over the past two seasons.

Can the Packers field an entire wide receiving corps, their two top tight ends, key linemen like Zach Tom, Sean Rhyan, and Rasheed Walker, plus get defensive breakouts from Quay Walker, Devonte Wyatt, Carrington Valentine, Karl Brooks, and Lukas Van Ness all on rookie contracts? Well, that’s one way to absorb a premium contract at a decreasingly not-so-premium position.

Green Bay still has as good a shot as anyone within the NFC to get to the Super Bowl, with the fifth-best betting odds in the conference to win the whole thing. With Jacobs’ deal essentially a big one-year payday and then options to be determined, this is the season within the Packers’ roadmap that they could absorb such a contract. History isn’t necessarily on Green Bay’s side with their decision to sign Jacobs to big money, but the rest of the puzzle pieces just may be in the right order for the Packers to buck the recent statistical trends.

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