There are running backs angling for new contracts. Derrick Henry and Raheem Mostert have been in the news recently. And Dalvin Cook, Joe Mixon, Alvin Kamara, Aaron Jones and James Conner. But the big-picture odds are stacked against all of those guys.

Under the current labor deal (which will run through the upcoming decade) players are all assigned slotted contracts. The money you get for those first four years is pre-determined, and everybody gets an initial four-year contract. Those can’t be negiotated. For the first-round picks, the team also gets the ability to pick up a fifth-year option.

Only after four (sometimes five) years can a player reach true free agency, and for the rare cases, the team has the ability to kick the can down the road an additional year by using a franchise or transition tag.

It’s a system that works better for the other positions. With the running backs, the vast majority of careers are over before the player ever reaches the free market. And for the few elite running backs who become free agents, it’s fair to wonder if they’ve already played their best ball.

Kamara, Conner and Aaron Jones, for example – have those guys already played their best seasons? Probably (or at least maybe).

Consider the following chart, which shows the top 100 running backs of the last 20 years. For this one, I looked at the best career season of all running backs from the last 30 years. (I tossed out all other seasons). Then I skimmed off the top 100 seasons of the last 20 years.

Of this group, 63 of the seasons came in the first four years of a player’s career. So for almost two thirds of the players, that best season came before the player could have reached free agency. For just over a third of the players, the best came after those first four seasons. That includes LaDainian Tomlinson (pictured) who authored the best season of the last 20 years.

Only 11 of these 100 seasons were put together by running backs at least 30 years old.

It’s a young man’s position, and it’s hard for them to ever really hit the jackpot.

Note that for Cook, Mixon, Kamara, Jones and Conner, they’re all entering their fourth years. So if they sign extensions before the season begins, it’s with the team holding more of the cards. If any of those players wants to reach true free agency, they have to make it through the season without suffering some kind of career-altering injury (difficult at this punishing position). And they would have to then hope that the team simply didn’t push free agency back a year by using some kind of tag.

I wish the Player’s Association had done more to address the running back problem before agreeing to latest labor deal. It did not, so what we’ve had for the last decade is what we’ll continue to have for the foreseeable future.

On the chart below, players outside their first four years are tagged with dots. Players who were at least 30 at the end of the season are in bold.

2006• LaDainian Tomlinson, S.D.6271,81550831483.3
2019Christian McCaffrey, Car.3231,3871,00519471.2
2000• Marshall Faulk, St.L.7271,35983026459.9
2003• Priest Holmes, K.C.7301,42069027447.0
2006Steven Jackson, St.L.3231,52880616419.4
2016David Johnson, Ariz.2251,23987920413.8
2000Edgerrin James, Ind.2221,70959418403.3
2009Chris Johnson, Ten.2242,00650316398.9
2010Arian Foster, Hou.2241,61660418396.0
2003• Ahman Green, G.B.6261,88336720395.0
2017Todd Gurley, LAR3231,30578819387.3
2018Saquon Barkley, NYG1211,30772115385.8
2013• Jamaal Charles, K.C.6271,28769319382.0
2005• Shaun Alexander, Sea.6281,8807828378.8
2011Ray Rice, Balt.4241,36470415376.9
2006Larry Johnson, K.C.4271,78941019374.9
2007• Brian Westbrook, Phil.6281,33377112372.4
2002Ricky Williams, Mia.4251,85336317370.6
2014LeVeon Bell, Pitt.2221,36185411370.5
2014DeMarco Murray, Dall.4261,84541613361.1
2005• Tiki Barber, NYG9301,86053011361.0
2018Alvin Kamara, N.O.22388370918354.2
2012• Adrian Peterson, Min.6272,09721713351.4
2014• Matt Forte, Chi.7291,03880810350.6
2002• Charlie Garner, Oak.93096294111347.3
2000• Eddie George, Ten.5271,50945316342.2
2003Jamal Lewis, Balt.4242,06620514337.1
2006Frank Gore, S.F.2231,6954859333.0
2003Deuce McAllister, N.O.3251,6415168332.7
2013• LeSean McCoy, Phil.5251,60753911332.6
2018Ezekiel Elliott, Dall.3231,4345679331.1
2004Domanick Williams, Hou.2241,18858814329.6
2009Maurice Jones-Drew, Jac.4241,39137416325.5
2002Clinton Portis, Den.1211,50836417322.2
2015Devonta Freeman, Atl.2231,05657814320.4
2004• Curtis Martin, NYJ10311,69724514319.2
2019Aaron Jones, G.B.3251,08447419318.8
2012Doug Martin, T.B.1231,45447212313.6
2019Austin Ekeler, LAC32455799311313.0
2008DeAngelo Williams, Car.3251,51512120307.6
2014• Marshawn Lynch, Sea.8281,30636717306.3
2010Peyton Hillis, Cle.3241,17747713305.1
2002Travis Henry, Buff.2241,43830914301.7
2019Derrick Henry, Ten.4251,54020618300.6
2006Willie Parker, Pitt.3261,49422216298.6
2017Kareem Hunt, K.C.1221,32745511297.2
2005• LaMont Jordan, Oak.5271,02556311296.8
2013• Knowshon Moreno, Den.5261,03854813296.6
2019Dalvin Cook, Min.3241,13551913296.4
2017Melvin Gordon, LAC3241,10547612288.1
2017• Mark Ingram, N.O.7281,12441612284.0
2018James Conner, Pitt.22397349713284.0
2000• Robert Smith, Min.8281,52134810282.9
2008• Michael Turner, Atl.5261,6994117282.0
2000Mike Anderson, Den.1271,48716915280.6
2008• Thomas Jones, NYJ9301,31220715277.9
2011• Darren Sproles, N.O.72860371010277.3
2018• James White, N.E.52642575112276.6
2014Eddie Lacy, G.B.2241,13942713276.6
2007Joseph Addai, Ind.2241,07236415276.6
2008Steve Slaton, Hou.1221,28237710275.9
2010Darren McFadden, Oak.3231,15750710273.4
2006Reggie Bush, N.O.1215657429272.7
2004• Corey Dillon, N.E.8301,63510313268.8
2019Leonard Fournette, Jac.3241,1525223261.4
2012C.J. Spiller, Buff.3251,2444598261.3
2019Nick Chubb, Cle.2241,4942788261.2
2000• Lamar Smith, Mia.7301,13920116261.0
2002• Duce Staley, Phil.6271,0295418258.0
2012Alfred Morris, Was.1241,6137713258.0
2012Trent Richardson, Cle.12295036712254.7
2000Warrick Dunn, T.B.4251,1334229253.5
2003• Moe Williams, Min.8297456448251.9
2010Ahmad Bradshaw, NYG4241,2353148251.9
2005Rudi Johnson, Cin.4261,4589012249.8
2000• James Stewart, Det.6291,18428711249.1
2014• Justin Forsett, Balt.7291,2662638246.9
2010Rashard Mendenhall, Pitt.3231,27316713245.0
2018Joe Mixon, Cin.2221,1682969243.4
2015• Danny Woodhead, S.D.7303367559243.1
2006• Ladell Betts, Was.5271,1544455242.9
2007Marion Barber, Dall.32497528212241.7
2019Chris Carson, Sea.3251,2302669240.6
2011Ryan Mathews, S.D.2241,0914556240.6
2018Tarik Cohen, Chi.2234447258240.0
2000Michael Pittman, Ariz.3257195796238.8
2002Michael Bennett, Min.2241,2963516237.7
2009Ryan Grant, G.B.4271,25319711236.0
2017Carlos Hyde, S.F.4279383508235.8
2016• LeGarrette Blount, N.E.7301,1613818234.9
2007• Willis McGahee, Balt.5261,2072318234.8
2013• Fred Jackson, Buff.83289038710234.7
2015Lamar Miller, Mia.42487239710233.9
2016Jordan Howard, Chi.1221,3132987232.1
2001• Antowain Smith, N.E.5291,15719213231.9
2007• Earnest Graham, T.B.52789832410231.2
2006Kevin Jones, Det.3246895208229.9
2006• Chester Taylor, Min.5271,2162886228.4
2004Reuben Droughns, Den.4261,2402418228.1
2001Dominic Rhodes, Ind.1221,10422410226.8

—Ian Allan