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Isaiah Crowell says he’s underrated as an all-around running back

There’s a reason Isaiah Crowell hasn’t yet signed a contract extension with the Cleveland Browns. He’s betting on himself to earn a bigger pay day next offseason.

NFL: Cleveland Browns-Minicamp Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Anything Isaiah Crowell says this year can quickly become noteworthy as he plays for a big contract before he hits the free agency market next offseason.

With Duke Johnson potentially shifting to the slot as a receiver on more plays, Crowell is presumably looking at a much larger role in both the running and passing games. And that larger role, assuming he excels in both facets, could mean a significant amount of money is coming his way on his next contract.

And for coach Hue Jackson’s dual-use stratagem of Johnson to work, Crowell’s going to have to be much more involved in the passing game, and effective in executing it.

“Catching the ball out of the backfield, I feel I’m getting more of an opportunity to do so,” Crowell said before Saturday’s practice.”

Crowell has 68 receptions in three seasons with the Browns. Though, 40 of those grabs came on 52 targets last season, the first year of Jackson’s tenure in Cleveland.

“Yes, I feel like I am [underrated]. It’s the more you can do. I feel I can catch the ball out of the backfield, I can pass protect, I feel I can run the ball, and I’ve just got the combination of all three,” Crowell responded when asked if he feels he’s underrated as a pass-catcher.

But just where does Crowell see his value when compared to the rest of the league’s running backs?

“I put myself up there at the top. I can get out there and get the job done in any way,” Crowell said.

If that’s the case, Crowell’s expecting to explode in 2017, and also expecting the large boost in salary that comes with being considered one of the best all-around backs in the NFL.

“To be one of the best, you’ve got to be able to do it all,” he added.

Devonta Freeman, one running back who recently signed a large contract with the Atlanta Falcons, can do it all, too.

The details of his deal with Atlanta may be surprising given the league-wide devaluation of the position in recent years. Freeman received a $15 million signing bonus on a deal worth $41.25 million over a five-year stretch. The contract’s $8.25 million average salary is the second highest at the position in the NFL.

While Crowell dreams of a big pay day, and has a high opinion of his skill level, he surely has to have noticed those astronomic numbers.

“You’re going to think about it, it’s obvious to think about.

“I feel like he changed the market,” Crowell said. “I feel like it is a great deal for him, and I feel like he is just a great deal for all the running backs that are out here right now that deserve to get paid. I am happy for him.”

There’s a reason he hasn’t signed a contract to this point. Crowell’s not considered in the same realm as guys like Freeman, Le’Veon Bell or David Johnson. He’ll try to change that perception this season by taking advantage of a presumably increased all-around workload.

“I know my time is coming. I am just being patient, stay working and keep working hard and just trying to be the best I can be.”

And if he becomes as good as he thinks he already is and can be, Crowell and newly-hired agent Drew Rosenhaus will likely be asking for Freeman-like money come negotiating time, if they aren’t already.