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Emmitt Smith is the NFL s all-time leading rusher, but this NFL offseason he s noticed a trend in how running backs are appreciated in today s NFL. Mostly that they re not.

On a phone call set up byTakeda Pharmaceuticals to raise awareness about gout, Smith discussed his own fight against the disease and the current state of the NFL.

Are NFL teams using this idea that RBs are valued less to save money?

Yeah, I think teams are trying to get discounts on running backs, by having the words they re not as valuable as they once were. But the reason they aren t as valuable as they once were is that the league itself has quickly shifted its focus from balanced attacks in most offenses to a more pass-happy type of offense. You see that straight across the board, so quite naturally you aren t going to use your running back as much as you did before.

Is that fair?

I think that it s incumbent upon the running backs to really showcase their talents on a much more consistent basis, and prove to the National Football Leaguethat they are valuable. I think if you start looking at some of the teams that have been very successful this past five or six years, most of those teams that have had great success were able to run the football. The passing game, the statistics, all those thingslook great, quarterbacks are the most marketable guys, they re perceived to be the franchiseplayers.

So when you have those guys doing their job and throwing the ball as much as they are, it quite naturally overshadows what the running back does, because the running back doesn t have as many opportunities.

Oh, without a doubt. Whenever you have a rule change that protects the wide receivers, and prohibits the defense from touching the wide receivers and doing certain things, and teams know that, Well, if we don t complete a pass, at least we know we can get pass interference, or if a safety hits illegally, we know we ll get an ejectionandthe extra yardage, it makes more sense to throw.

What do you think about the proposed 18-game schedule?

I look at like this: adding two more games is adding more problems to the things we know already. It s adding more contact. And knowing the things that older players have had, the issues they ve had to deal with, currently in the latter stages of their lives, it shows that football is a very physical sport that will take its toll on the human body. So when I think about adding more games, it s almost like, it s contradictory. You want to save and protect players, but you want to add more games?

In light of health concerns for retired NFL players, are you concerned about your own wellbeing?

I should be concerned. Because the evidence is overwhelming.

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