If one of the NFL's most marketable stars in Saquon Barkley can't get paid, then the league has a serious running back problem.
The New York Giants and their 26-year-old star running back were unable to agree to a long-term contract extension ahead of Monday's franchise tag deadline, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, Tom Pelissero, and Mike Garafolo. After signing quarterback Daniel Jones to a massive four-year, $160 million extension, the Giants opted instead to keep one of their top playmakers locked in for the 2023 season by giving Barkley the non-exclusive franchise tag.
The move left a sour taste in Saquon's mouth, with the star running back simply tweeting, "it is what it is" following the news.
It is what it is
— Saquon Barkley (@saquon) July 17, 2023
Barkley is coming off the most productive (and healthy) season of his career since his 2018 rookie campaign, playing in 16 games while rushing for 1,312 yards and 10 touchdowns on an offense that severely lacked offensive playmakers. The 26-year-old was also the team's most targeted pass-catching weapon, catching 57 of 76 targets for another 338 yards.
Despite all of his contributions to Brian Daboll's offense, the Giants have opted not to give Barkley the long-term financial security that he's seeking. The New York running back is far from the first running back in modern NFL history to have issues getting paid, with recent star playmakers including Alvin Kamara, Ezekiel Elliott, and Le'Veon Bell holding out in order to secure long-term deals.
Barkley is just the latest example of NFL running backs not being able to get paid, but his contributions to the franchise go well beyond what he's capable of on the football field. The Giants running back was named one of the NFL's most marketable stars back in 2019, and had New York's top-selling jersey heading into the 2022 season.
Despite all of this, the running back has become one of the least-valued positions in football, with teams opting to replace top-tier talent with cheaper, younger players on rookie deals. With an average annual contract value of $1.797 million heading into the 2023 season, running backs are now making less money annually than kickers with nearly identical money compared to the average NFL fullback.
Which NFL Running Back Could Get Paid What Saquon Barkley Can't?
It doesn't appear that Barkley will be resetting the running back market this offseason, but players at the position around the league are hoping someone can do so over the next year.
All eyes will be on the Indianapolis Colts and Jonathan Taylor as the two sides expect to enter negotiations soon. The sensational Colts running back will be a free agent after the 2023 season, but after a down year in 2022, it's unclear what kind of money the franchise will be willing to dish out. However, Taylor remains one of the biggest stars in Indianapolis, and showed his value to the Colts with nearly 2,200 scrimmage yards and 20 total touchdowns back in 2021. Colts owner Jim Irsay is also known to be a wildcard when it comes to major franchise decisions, so there's certainly a path to Taylor resetting the running back market.
While Taylor's contract negotiations could carry on into the 2024 offseason, Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler is hoping for a similar resolution with his team. After racking up 38 total touchdowns and nearly 3,200 total yards over the last two seasons, Ekeler requested a trade from Los Angeles in an attempt to hasten contract negotiations with the Chargers. While the 28-year-old was able to settle on a revised deal back in May, he's still hoping to secure long-term stability after spending years as a former undrafted free agent waiting for a true payday.
Even Derrick Henry, one of the most dominant running backs in the NFL over the last few seasons, is unsure what his future holds after this upcoming season. The 29-year-old will be an unrestricted free agent after this season, and despite racking up over nearly 4,000 rushing yards over the last three seasons, it's unclear what kind of market he'll have next offseason if the Tennessee Titans decide not to bring him back.
It's a bleak world right now for running backs, and players at the position are expressing their frustration. If a resolution doesn't happen soon, then the situation could become an NFLPA issue in the next CBA negotiations in 2030.
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