On Saturday, the inevitable finally happened. The Ben Tate Era in Houston ended.
In one of the most easily forecasted transactions of the offseason, Tate finally agreed to become a Cleveland Brown.
And while this move finally gets Tate out from underneath Arian Foster's shadow, and it finally gives him a chance to be the default choice as lead running back for an NFL team, a team that he has been linked to since halfway through his final season as a Texan, ultimately I don't think his first journey into free agency ended even close to the way Ben Tate thought it would.
Well, because the two year contract he signed is worth "up to" $7 million. Total. That's it. Life changing money, yes, but hardly the generational wealth that free agent running backs got as recently as a couple seasons ago.
For a guy who has probably had free agency in 2014 circled on his calendar from about the time that Foster was getting selected for his first Pro Bowl, and for a guy who played through a rib injury for most of the second half of last season in the name of attaining the label of "tough" and "dependable," Tate had to have had more than "up to" $3.5 million per season in mind.
As a basis of comparison, in a free agency market where Tate was the consensus "best running back on the board," he actually got less than (or equal to, on an annualized basis in a best case scenario) Toby Gerhart and Donald Brown, who both signed three year, $10.5 million deals with Jacksonville and San Diego, respectively.
(NOTE: For anyone who watched the "Hey Rookie" series back in 2010, when Tate's draft weekend was chronicled extensively, and remembers Tate's disgust when Gerhart was taken ahead of him, I would imagine that we would see similar "Gerhart backlash" if they were following Tate for a series called "Hey Four Year, Part Time Running Back".)
So Tate would up being, at best, on par with an underwhelming backup in Minnesota and a guy who showed a few flashes after his team dealt for Trent Richardson midseason.
So, what went wrong?
Well, I'd like to think that Tate's negotiation reached a point where Browns' general manager Ray Farmer looked across the table at him, and the conversation went something like this:
FARMER: All right, Ben, it's time to nail down a base salary for you. Are you ready?
TATE: Hell, yeah, let's do this...
FARMER: Ok, here's what we're gonna do. We want to know how "all in" you are on being a Cleveland Brown. Our fans want to know how geeked up you are to be part of the DAWG POUND. So let's hear you bark like a DAWG...not just like a DOG, but like a DAWG, with a W, Ben!! And if you nail this thing, if you give us that BARK we're lookin' for, that bark the DAWG POUND is lookin' for, we will pay you MARQUEE TAILBACK MONEY...we are talkin' eight, nine million A YEAR....so let's hear it BEN...LET THE DAWG POUND HEAR YOUR BARK....GOOOOOO........
FARMER: Here...2 years....$7 million.....sign this....sheesh.....pathetic.....
Ok, it probably didn't go like that. So what did go wrong for Ben Tate?
Well, while certainly some of it had to do with Tate's newfound 2013 "dependability" and "toughness" flying in the face of his head coach's 2012 disgust with his undependability, Tate's relatively cheap deal he signed Saturday probably says more about the market for running backs in general. The same way baseball executives are much more savvy about pitch counts and the wear on a pitcher's arm, so too are football personnel guys on carry counts, age, and the wear on the running back's body.
In essence, the position is, for the most part, now occupied by guys who are viewed as disposable with very little difference between the good ones and the below average ones. In fact, at this moment, I think the league only has four running backs that teams would definitely pay marquee value for -- Adrian Peterson, LeSean McCoy, Jamaal Charles, and Marshawn Lynch.
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If the running back position were an episode of Seinfeld, those four would be your Jerry, Elaine, George, and Kramer. Memorable difference makers, all of them. Every other running back, you can take or leave. Sure there's the random Newman (Matt Forte?) or Puddy (healthy Arian Foster?) out there who can leave a mark, but other than that, there's a lot of Tim Watleys, Jackie Chiles, and Soup Nazis.
Which one is Ben Tate? I'd have to say that, given how blunt he was about leaving Houston, Tate is Elaine's boyfriend that was terrible at breaking up with women, the "bad breaker upper" guy.
So Ben Tate is now gone, and the Texans' running back depth chart consists of Arian Foster and....ok, this is getting depressing.