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Isaiah Crowell walking a fine line as he hopes his big pay day awaits

The Cleveland Browns and Isaiah Crowell both need each other in 2017, but will their relationship continue beyond? A lot of questions will be answered as the running back prepares for what most believe will be his breakout season.

San Diego Chargers v Cleveland Browns Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Isaiah Crowell is primed to explode in 2017, either to thunderous applause as a star NFL running back and face of his franchise, or perhaps somewhere in between. But conditions have aligned nicely for him to capitalize on his first big pay day in the NFL.

Although he made just peanuts for the first three years of his undrafted contract ($1.54 million), Crowell was tagged with a second-round tender in March after rushing for a career best 952 yards and seven touchdowns in 2016. In May, he inked a restricted free agent tender with the Browns worth $2.746 million. He’s now under contract for one more season as a result, and saying his future is murky isn’t doing the fogginess surrounding it any justice.

Crowell’s in a unique situation because of his draft status, his emergence as a potential top player at his position, and a declining demand for premium players at that position group. He was asked about that declining market on Friday by Daryl Ruiter of 92.3 The Fan.

“I don’t want to say downgraded, but, you know, I want to say a lot of teams don’t commit to the running back,” Crowell told the beat writer and audience. “We do a lot, we pass protect, catch the ball, run the ball, take a lot of hits and sacrifice a lot.

“I feel like when you do it a high level you deserve to get rewarded.”

And Crowell is definitely looking to be rewarded coming into the prime of his career. He’ll be 25 when the upcoming season ends, giving him a possibility for two big-time deals before he hits

Crowell recently hired super agent Drew Rosenhaus, chairman of Rosenhaus Sports Representation, to handle his on-going contract negotiations.

“Really, I just made that decision because I felt like that was the right move for me. I feel like it was just a good move,” said Crowell when asked about his decision to switch his representation. “I just feel like that is what I deserve, and I deserve to be with the top agent. That is what I felt.”

Rosenhaus was seen bumping elbows with Jimmy Haslam this week during the kickoff of training camp.

Remember, it was Rosenhaus Sports Representation that was handling quarterback-turned-receiver Terrelle Pryor’s negotiations with Cleveland’s front office last season. Pryor, of course, ended up signing with the Washington Redskins on a one-year “prove it” deal despite receiving other offers, including one from the Browns. Pryor’s betting on himself this season with hopes of securing an even more lucrative deal next offseason.

That same agency is now in “heavy communication” with the Browns in an attempt to agree on an extension for their new client, per Crowell. Does that mean they’ll get a deal done soon? No, it doesn’t. This could drag on until free agency next season. And if Crowell, like Pryor, is trying to maximize his value in a market that has devalued his position – Pryor’s position isn’t devalued, but he is because of lack of certainty of his acumen at receiver – he’s probably smart to take that approach.

A huge season for Crowell would mean a lucrative multi-year deal on the back end. He’s essentially betting on himself, like Pryor, but he’s not the only one with chips on the table. The Browns are heavily relying on him to have a big season to help propel their offense back to respectability this season. People are talking about Crowell’s potential while running behind the Browns’ revamped and healthy offensive line. Joel Bitonio is back, Kevin Zeitler and J.C. Tretter have arrived, and the Browns have young options that excite them at right tackle and as backups.

Crowell’s also gambling with his health. With so much riding on him staying healthy and playing well this year, every day he practices and every game he plays without a deal getting done is a risk taken.

Is it a fool’s errand to believe in and want the best for one’s self?

You won’t find many who’ll personally take issue with Crowell’s taking control of his future. At least not yet. But you’ll find plenty of sour grapes if he does explode this year, he doesn’t sign an extension, cashes in that lottery ticket he’s bought with a strong season, and then leaves his future up to the Rosenhaus team.