The rookie wage scale makes it incredibly easy for teams to get their draft picks signed with no worry of a holdout, and it saves teams from completely ruining their salary cap with massive contracts to unproven players. It's meant to pay players based on their draft position, rewarding them for being higher picks without crippling a team on the cap front.
But when you take the running back position, and say, rookie first-round pick Ezekiel Elliott, the wage scale isn't quite perfect. Elliott, the fourth overall pick by the Dallas Cowboys in the 2016 NFL Draft, is expected to make $24,965,720 over the course of his four-year deal, with $16,347,885 guaranteed, according to projections by Forbes.
That's a contract that the Cowboys can handle, but it's significant compared to other running back contracts in the league. It's north of the deal that the Cowboys were reportedly unwilling to give DeMarco Murray in 2015 when he hit the free agent market. That's why Murray, the NFL's leading rusher in 2014, wound up signing with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Keep in mind Murray was coming off a season where he put up a league-leading 1,845 yards on the ground while carrying the ball 392 times, the eighth-most ever for a running back. Murray's current deal with the Titans pays him an average of $6.25 million per season with a total value of $25 million.
Elliott's deal will pay him an average of $6,241,430 per season, using the projections from Forbes. That would make him the ninth-highest-paid running back in the league currently, just below Murray and just above C.J. Anderson in average per year. He's also making more than Mark Ingram, Ryan Mathews and Matt Forte, though he is well south of the biggest names, such as Jamaal Charles, Adrian Peterson and LeSean McCoy.
Peterson is the only running back earning more than $10 million per season, with a $42 million contract. Charles, McCoy, Jonathan Stewart and Doug Martin are all north of $7 million per season. By the time 2019 rolls around and the Cowboys will have a fifth-year option on Elliott's contract, it will be interesting to see what the landscape of NFL running backs is and what kind of deal he'd be getting, especially if he plays to his potential.