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Matt Forte, Arian Foster, Peyton Hillis: Of Interventions and the Law of Diminishing Returns

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I’m working on a post about the fabulous running back play across the league this year. That’s coming up soon. But in the midst of it, I gave a little thought to the guys like Matt Forte, Arian Foster, and even Peyton Hillis who are all battling issues with their contracts. Last year Hillis’ breakout performance spurred the viewing public to vote for him to be on the Madden cover. Matt Forte is currently 45% (maybe more) of the Bears offense, and Foster is getting the ball so much it’s a wonder his notorious hamstring is holding up at all.

Hillis is by far having the worst season having been injured for much of it amid accusations that his injuries aren’t even real and that he’s sitting out cause his discontent with his contract. Last week, Hillis’ teammates staged a sort of “intervention” to let him know that they need him to be a part of the team and that his attitude needs improvement.

Easy for them to say.

By Wednesday, a group of about eight Browns veterans had summoned Hillis into a meeting room for an intervention-style, air-clearing session designed to restore his focus. After a breakout season in 2010 that vaulted him to national prominence, including a spot on the “Madden NFL ’12” cover, the 25-year-old back’s consuming desire for a new contract has become a locker room distraction that numerous teammates regard as an impediment to cohesion and collective success.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” says one Browns veteran. “Last year, Peyton was such a positive, inspirational force on our team – but now he’s like a different guy. It’s like he’s in a funk that he can’t get out of, and it’s killing us, because we really need him. And we’ve told him that. But we’re at the point where we just don’t know what to do.”

During an interview session with reporters in the locker room of the Browns’ training facility Thursday, Hillis conceded that his dissatisfaction with his contract and the accompanying controversies – including his decision to miss a late-September game against the Miami Dolphins while suffering from strep throat – have made it difficult to get his “mind right.”

And with good reason. Some guys handle stuff like this better than others. Some guys have more concerns about money than others as well. One of the most striking things about athletes is how often they don’t really believe in the fleeting nature of their careers. I don’t know Hillis, but I do know that guys who understand how short the ride is going to be typically struggle harder to reconcile the situation mentally.

With the new rookie wage scale, RBs might be the most negatively impacted by having lower pay from the jump. And with teams wanted to see more than one breakout season before renegotiating (which is a very good explanation for why Hillis hasn’t received a raise) there are going to be more ugly situations with RBs going forward.

So as bad as things are for Hillis right now I wonder how much worse off he is than Forte or Foster. Playing well and playing hard is WONDERFUL…but playing too well and too hard activates the law of diminishing returns when you’re a running back. Can anyone seriously say that Forte being 45% or more of his team’s offense for half the season already makes them feel good about how his body will hold up in a year? And Foster has averaged 25 carries a game since returning from injury, will he be alive at week 13??

Look at the way the Washington Redskins’ over reliance on Clinton Portis both in the ground game AND blocking cut his career off at the age of 28. Though he remained in the league the following season and was sideline due to injuries that just wouldn’t heal but let’s be honest, his career was done the year before. Forte is on the cusp of 27 which I suppose accounts for him wanting more guaranteed money than was originally alleged to be put on the table.

Both Forte and Foster need to be carrying the ball a lot less or the return on the investment THEY provide the team is going to be lower than it would be otherwise. The problem is how to hit just the right stride, and I don’t have the answer for how to do it. In fact, it may be impossible.

This is not to say that I don’t understand the team perspective and the hesitation to pay. Running back is a position that wears players down super fast, and strong resurgences after injury (like, for example, Atlanta Falcons Michael Turner) are pretty rare at this point. In particular, on teams like the Texans, Browns, and Bears where the offense is so horribly out of balance that the running back isn’t just a critical piece of the offense-he IS the offense.

It’s great to see Forte get such support from his teammates though. At least they realize that without Forte their team would be unwatchable this season. And if no one else has Foster’s back publicly at least Jason LaCanfora does. He stuck up for Foster when some dimwitted fans insisted that Foster was one credit union savings account from Michael Jordan money.

As for Hillis, even if you think he’s a whiny faker the Browns couldn’t be handling this any worse. And that includes the players. Hearing Scott Fujita WHINE about being asked about Hillis by beat reporters was completely over the top. I’m not in the locker room with these guys and there’s certainly a lot going on that I don’t know about that could provoke Hillis’ teammates’ anger toward him. For all I know, Hillis is a complete jerk and/or mental case. But what we CAN see from the outside is that the Browns have an injury depleted offense and a struggling 2nd year QB and it’s very easy to direct all the frustration at Hillis rather than looking at the total picture.

Unlike his teammates, obviously Browns management doesn’t think Hillis not playing is the reason the Browns are losing games. If they did they’d pay him and fix the problem…right?

Oh and can we stop blaming Chris Johnson for teams’ hesitation to pay RBs? This issue existed long before Chris Johnson came along. In fact, he was originally impacted by these issues. How in the fuck did people forget the things that happened during the pre-season already? Johnson didn’t invent underperforming after a raise just like he didn’t invent out playing a contract.


And while we’re here, Arian Foster is fascinating. Love it.


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