This new weekly series is going to take a look at the 2012 contracts for the top players from each of the four AFC West teams at different positions. For the first installment of this series we're going to look at the running back position. For the Kansas City Chiefs we're going to look at Jamaal Charles, and for the Oakland Raiders' Darren McFadden, talking Ryan Matthews for the San Diego Chargers, and then finally Willis McGahee for the Denver Broncos.
Obviously these teams have more than one back that's going to be carrying the ball in 2012, but it's safe to say that as of today these are the top guys at running back for each of these teams. We're going to strictly go off their 2012 salary to determine which team should get the best return on investment for this next season specifically. We'll talk base salary, bonuses and the cap hits for each of these guys according to spotrac.com.
Coming off an ACL injury that cost him the 2011 season it would make sense that Charles, if he regains his record-breaking form of 2010, would be great value with his $3.25 million base salary and just $1 million in bonuses for 2012. That's a cap hit of $4.25 million which would put Charles 11th on the Chiefs as far as cap hits go for 2012. He's obviously a more important piece of the Chiefs puzzle that 11th puts him at great value in comparison to the rest of the team. That's a much better number than the $12.35 million cap hit Charles cost the Chiefs in 2011 when he was sitting on IR. Charles has cap hits of $2.75 million in 2013, $3.25 million in 2014 and finally $5.75 million in 2015.
The former first-round pick had a bounce-back season last year after a rough rookie season that saw him injured throughout much of the year. Matthews has a $712k base salary for 2012 with bonuses hovering around $2 million, which puts his cap hit in 2012 a shade over $2.7 million. Matthews rushed for over 1,000 yards last season with six touchdowns and a 4.9 yards per carry average. With Mike Tolbert leaving for the Carolina Panthers you would think that the load that Matthews must carry for the Chargers ground game in 2012 got that much heavier. But $2.7 million is right in the middle of the pack for running backs in the AFC West.
The 2011 Pro Bowl running back for the Denver Broncos had a comeback Player of the Year type-season as he ran for just under 1,200 yards with a 4.8 yards per carry average for the Broncos in 2011. He's scheduled to make a base salary of just $1 million in 2012 and bonuses of just $500k. With a cap hit of just $1.5 million scheduled for 2012, if McGahee can replicate his 2011 season then he's an extremely good value for the Broncos for 2012. McGahee will turn 31 this season and it's fair to say that it would be very surprising if he had similar numbers in 2012, especially after they signed that Manning guy and drafted Ronnie Hillman out of San Diego State in the third round this year.
McFadden had a breakout year in 2010 for the Raiders when he ran for 1,157 yards on a 5.2 yards per carry average with seven touchdowns. That was on 223 carries in just 13 games. The problem is that McFadden hasn't had a season in which he played more than 13 games and in the last two seasons combined he's only ran the ball 217 times for 856 yards. The other problem is that McFadden is due a base salary of $5.65 million in 2012 with bonuses of $1.06 million. That's a cap hit of $6.76 million dollars for a guy who can't stay healthy. That's not great value.
While I think that Jamaal Charles is the best running back in the division, Willis McGahee brings the best value for the production that you're getting. He's 1/3 of the price of Charles and is coming off a Pro Bowl season. It's very possible that McGahee regresses as he approaches 31 years old, but $1.5 million isn't much of a price tag for what they could be getting out of him compared to the $4.25 million for Charles. Darren McFadden will cost the Raiders more in 2012 ($6.76 million) than Charles will cost the Chiefs in 2013 ($2.75 million) and 2014 ($3.25 million) combined.
McFadden brings the least value of the AFC West running backs because of what he's going to cost the Raiders in 2012, regardless of his production it will be hard to justify that much money from a value standpoint. Matthews could be great value for the Chargers if he can stay healthy and produce at the level he did last year, and even more now that Tolbert is gone.