Greetings, gentlemen. With this season getting ready to finish up, it's time to answer the following question:
First up, our biggest Ryan Mathews hater, Nick Shepherd...
I don't think I'm going to shock anyone with this answer, but it's an easy one. Donald Butler. Running backs, as we've seen with Danny Woodhead and even Mike Tolbert, are basically dime-a-dozen. Yes, Ryan has been very good this year, but his production can be replaced. On the other side of the ball, Butler is the difference between this being one of the worst defenses ever assembled in the NFL (FOA says we're the worst ever! History!) and being like 29th in the league. He's fast, he tackles well, and he has terrific instincts. After a slow start this year, he's playing exactly the type of football we expected from him, making plays all over the field.
If that doesn't do it for you, let's look at their backups. Danny Woodhead backs up Ryan Mathews. Manti Te'o, Bront Bird and Reggie Walker back up Butler. That makes this a slam dunk. As to contract length / price, I'd look somewhere in the vicinity of 4-5 years at about 6.5 million per. Somewhere under the top paid guys but not cheap. Yes, Butler's been terrific, but he's shown he has injury concerns - I'd look to give him longer security at a lower expense. Given inside linebackers general ability to stick around forever (since The Land Before Time, in Takeo Spikes case) I think this deal works out well for both sides.
Thinking about Butler's backups makes me want to side with Nick here. However, there's more to Mathews than Danny Woodhead can supply as a runner. I am a big fan of the Butler though... what do you think, Sir Posey?
I'd re-sign Butler. Telesco looks like a genius now for not having signed Butler to whatever he was asking early in the season. Butler missing three games has driven what he's requesting down considerably. However, it's clear when he plays that he's leaps and bounds better than anyone else at LB. He's aggressive, smart, and at 25, hard to imagine he won't continue to grow as a player.
The staff already had trust issues with Mathews, but now it seems like he's leaving every game with an injury. I hate to see that, because the kid doesn't deserve this. Every game he leaves, the Chargers have to rely on Ronnie Brown closing out games. This isn't a good thing. As well as he's played it's just hard to imagine them moving forward with Mathews. "You best ability is your availability."
There is truth in all of that. But the case of Mathews' health can also apply to Butler. He's on lots of injury reports as well. He even missed his rookie season! But there has to be more insight to help us decide. With that, we ask the wise and ageless wonder, Bob:
I would bring back both. RM24 has proven to be a team asset for this year, and as he continues to instill confidence in his heath and ball security, he has the potential to be thought as a top tier back in the league. He is signed through 2015 and is currently getting $4.7 Million and year with 1 Million guaranteed, which makes him pretty cheap. I would extend him to 2017 and not a minute past that. He turns 30 in October 2017, and history demonstrates that spending any money on a back over 30 years old is a bad, bad thing to do. See if he will take an extension for 2014 - 2017 for $30 Million, with 10 guaranteed. That puts him a shade under Matt Forte money and I believe that is fair.
Butler, I would absolutely bring back. Here is a fun fact: Manti Te'o is making more money than Butler right now ($1.3 Million vs. $835,000). I would offer him Stephen Tulloch money; $5 Million a year, for 5 years with $10 Million of it guaranteed. Alternatively, offer him Derrick Johnson money, 5 years at $5.5 Million, with $8 Million guaranteed. As mentioned, ILB's can be effective usually longer than backs, so I would be quicker to extend Butler in 2016 to later in his career.
Derrick Johnson money!? He's one of the top 5 ILB's in the game! I think that's too much. If the Chargers overpay for Butler that will make them regret it in two or three years, IMO.
If I could only pick one, it would be Butler...BUT, since I'm armchair GM, and I'm not writing the checks, I'm going to say both.
I feel like the reasons for Butler are going to be covered well by my esteemed colleagues here, so I'll just say this...he's good, and the other options at ILB are not. Can you imagine if Te'o were the best ILB on the team? That's a terrifying thought. Moving on...
When Mathews is used properly, this offense is dominant. It is extremely rare when he does not get 4 yards on a carry. There are backs in the league that average more YPC than him, but it would be interesting to see the standard deviation on those backs compared to 24. For example, they may get stuffed for a loss a couple times, but make up for that with some long runs later in the game to bring that average up. That's not Mathews, he breaks very few long runs, but he has very few runs for a loss or less than 2 yards, and its almost money in the bank that he will get 4 yards when he touches the ball. The team/coaches are just now starting to realize how effective he is in the red zone, and that's invaluable in this league. Teams need to do whatever they can do to get 7 points instead of 3 (especially when you are facing Peyton at least twice each season). He won't be cheap, but he really won't be getting top 10 RB money either. He hasn't proven he can stay healthy, which should drive the price down, but Telesco should cover his rear by drafting a reliable, low risk RB in the later rounds. This team needs to keep the options Rivers already has at the least, and preferably get him a few more.
Okay, we get a good argument for Ryan Mathews here. I think you're right. Running backs may be all over the place, but not all of them are equal, is what your point is. A point we seemingly overlook. Care to add something to that, Andrew?
I've always been a Ryan Mathews fan (apologist?), however I would re-sign Donald Butler if I could only pick one. I have to agree with Nick that the reality is, today's NFL places a higher importance on a starting inside linebacker than a committee running back. The fact that the Chargers currently run a 3-4 defense further compounds this issue, as you can't have too many linebackers for a 3-4. Additionally, Butler's injury issues could allow the Chargers to lock him to a long-term deal at a salary cap hit that's way below his potential upside. I'd like to add that as a fan, I want to see both re-signed.
We'd all like to see them both re-signed. It seems the majority can't get over the importance of 3-4 linebackers though. Will someone add some bacon to Mathews' plate? David loves bacon...
There's a huge difference between what I'd personally do and what I'm realistically expecting from Tom Telesco. Because if the Chargers don't re-sign Ryan Mathews, there's a good chance that Telesco burns a high draft pick on a running back. As director of player personnel in Indianapolis, Telesco selected a running back in the first round twice - Joseph Addai was actually his first pick as director - and just three times in all other rounds combined. That should scare the hell out of anyone saying the Chargers shouldn't bring back Mathews, as should every replay of a Ronnie Brown touch.
Realistically, then, the choice with Mathews is: potentially overpay for Ryan Mathews or burn a high round pick on a running back. With that in mind, I'm ignoring Mathews' injury history and offering him the chance to be the bell cow for the foreseeable future. It's not like he's lost a step (like LT) or has a body type that won't age well (like Turner). He's still in peak physical shape and, arguably, still improving.
Donald Butler is a no-brainer, though. We have absolutely no ILB depth and I shutter at the thought of giving Manti Te'o additional responsibilities.
I assume you went with Mathews... But your draft perspective is welcome. I'd hate to think a first or second round pick was used on a RB with so many other needs. *sniff* You smell that? Moar Bacon!
To answer the question, I'd go Ryan Mathews.
To most Chargers fans, Butler is this outstanding LB. In my opinion, Butler isn't even close to elite. He is only a good-average LB & there are a plethora of these in the NFL. He's an athlete on an unathletic unit, thus elevating and overrating his value. He is only "irreplaceable" because of the talent level on this team. His "talent" though is replaceable one.
I mean, Whose play does he elevate? When he's rolling how good is this defense? Still not good right?
Is he good player? Absolutely. Do you select him over Mathews and allow what drives the new strength of this team to walk? Nah. Mathews is only 26 and is steadily improving. (And I won't mention that he has 20 more yards than last year on 20 less carries through 9 games started.)
His ceiling, believe it or not, is higher than Butler's at the moment. In this scheme, 24 has a chance of becoming one of the elite backs. The offense with him (And Woodhead who's only 28) is far more valuable to this club than Butler is to the defense.
I'll admit. As much of a Donald Butler fan as I am, I am aware he's just average. When he's good, he's great, and if he was consistent with that he would easily be a top 10 linebacker. The reality is he's not though. Thanks for pointing that out.
In my opinion, Butler is a no-brainer to renew. There is no doubt that his contract value is less than it was at the beginning of the season. Injuries and a bit of a downturn in play have put his value into a very affordable range, and the Chargers could get him for several more years at a reasonable price.
Mathews is a more interesting question. I really like Mathews, and wouldn't mind him seeing a modest extension, so long as the price is right. Running backs aren't worth a whole lot, and shouldn't be overpaid. I think Tom Telesco realizes this, as Woodhead's very reasonable contract showed. The Chargers should not wait until his contract ends to give him a contract extension if they are going to do it at all. Some team would give him a better offer. Extend him soon if a reasonable price can be reached.
Another one for Butler. Let's close out this roundtable with a few words from our Fearless leader.
I think I would have to weigh the contracts. Do I have to choose to pay either player as if they're elite? What's the length of the contract? You get the idea, there are other factors.
I think, over the next 3 years, Mathews is probably going to be the better player. However, I think Butler will be the better player over the next 5 years.
All things considered, my answer is probably closer to Nick's than Jerome's. If there's one thing Tom Telesco's Colts taught us, it's that running backs are a dime a dozen and that spending a large amount of money on any of them is rather foolish. It'd be harder to replace Butler through the draft with a player that could give you 80% of his production than it would be to replace Mathews.
If the goal is to win-now, you probably go Mathews (and try to win a championship on the back of your offense). If the goal is to build a long-term contender, you probably go Butler and start looking for a Mathews replacement in this upcoming draft. I believe Telesco will do the latter.
And there you have it, BFTB. It seems the staff finds Donald Butler just a bit more important to the team than Ryan Mathews. What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments and be sure to follow everyone on twitter for a chance to win a lifetime membership to BFTB if you follow this guy: Follow @poyzinous.