Sunday will be the sixth game this season that DeAngelo Williams will be the Steelers’ featured back. He might just be, at the moment, the Steelers’ most indispensable player: With him staying healthy and productive, they can harbor hopes of being a darkhorse AFC title contender. Without him… well… no offense to Jordan Todman or Fitzgerald Toussaint, but how do you feel about them getting 30 touches a game?
Williams signed with the Steelers this spring for two-years and $4 million (with the compensation split evenly between both seasons once the signing bonus is factored in), tied for the ninth-biggest contract (in terms of total value) given to a running back during the free agent period. He’s mostly exceeded expectations, and he’s been well worth the investment – even before Le’Veon Bell’s season-ending injury pressed him into full-time featured back duty.
Comparing how Williams has fared compared to the other running backs available this past offseason is far from a cut-and-dried exercise. There are way too many variables: A team’s offensive line and its other weapons, to name just two.
Most important, though, is opportunity. Is it fair to judge C.J. Spiller’s dearth of production when he’s only been given 56 touches this season? Is it fair to Roy Helu (12 carries, 31 yards this season) to note that the Raiders gave him virtually the same exact contract that the Steelers gave Williams three days later – when Helu has had injuries and when the Raiders aren’t even bothering to activate him anymore? Is it fair to any of the players who signed for more than Williams was only expected have to be used extensively for 2-3 games only to be relied on much more because of the injury to Bell?
In short, the below chart is an oversimplification of the situation. Still, it’s difficult to argue that, for the money they paid, the Steelers did as well as could have possibly been reasonably expected in acquiring a No. 2 running back this past offseason.
FREE AGENT RUNNING BACKS SIGNING THE MOST-LUCRATIVE CONTRACTS IN 2015
Running back age* team contract starts touches yds/scrimmage
DeMarco Murray 27 PHI 5 yrs/$42M 8 194 840
Mark Ingram 25 NO 4yrs/$16M 8 185 998
C.J. Spiller 27 NO 4 yrs/$16M 2 56 318
Shane Vereen 26 NYG 3 yrs/$12.4M 0 81 509
Frank Gore 32 IND 3 yrs/$12M 10 187 814
Ryan Mathews 27 PHI 3 yrs/$11.5M 2 89 546
Justin Forsett 29 BAL 3 yrs/$9M 10 182 794
Darren McFadden 27 DAL 2 yrs/$5.9M 5 200 891
Roy Helu 26 OAK 2 yrs/$4M 0 18 68
DeAngelo Williams 31 PIT 2 yrs/$4 M 4 120 671
*-at time of signing
There aren’t many names listed above Williams that you’d rather have, straight up – let alone when the respective cap hits are factored in.
Enjoy the rest of your holiday weekend.
If you have a chance, listen to the most recent Steelers Roundtable Show Podcast, in which Mark Kaboly, Ralph Paulk and I preview the Seahawks game and talk all other things Steelers on TribLive Radio. Click on this paragraph to listen.