NFL Running backs

What’s Next for These Three Franchise Running Backs?

18 July, 2023

Saquon Barkley, Josh Jacobs, and Tony Pollard were the three running backs that were franchise-tagged, but none of them were able to reach an agreement with their teams on a multi-year contract by the time the deadline for signing a long-term contract prior to the 2023 season passed. Only Pollard has accepted the $10.09 million tender out of the three, and at this time, only he is anticipated to be at training camp on schedule.

Let’s examine what this implies for the Cowboys, Giants, and Raiders, as well as for the running back position as a whole.

Saquon Barkley

Barkley won’t arrive at training camp on schedule, according to reports. He might not miss the rest of camp, but at least a sizable chunk of it. His representatives suggested he might even wait until the season started earlier this offseason.

Without Barkley, New York’s backup running backs are Matt Breida, Gary Brightwell, a 2021 sixth-round pick, and Eric Gray, a 2023 fifth-round pick. Despite having by far the most experience of the group, Breida has never even come close to becoming a full-time back in his six NFL seasons. His snap rate has never exceeded 39%.

By trading for Darren Waller, signing Parris Campbell, and selecting Jalin Hyatt, New York added a number of playmakers to its offense this summer, but Barkley remains the Giants’ most explosive player at the skill positions. The opportunities for the Giants to recruit elite playmakers in the future are set to become more limited now that Daniel Jones is a highly compensated quarterback.

Barkley and the Giants might have to go through the entire ordeal again if he eventually signs the tender and plays on it this season. It’s important to remember that a second tag would cost 120% of the first one, which would entitle Barkley to almost $12.1 million for the 2024 campaign. He would probably become unrestricted free agent after that because a third tag is very expensive for organizations.

Barkley is not the only noteworthy Giant who will become a free agent in the upcoming offseason, of course. If a long-term contract is not negotiated between now and then, starting safety Xavier McKinney (who is now extension-eligible) and defensive lineman Leonard Williams (whose contract expires after the 2023 season) will both be free agents. The franchise tag can only be applied to one player per team, so it’s probable that New York will have to make a decision.

Josh Jacobs

The Raiders would not be in this predicament if they had exercised the fifth-year option on Jacobs’ contract last summer. However, given that he had only played in three NFL seasons prior, it did not seem appropriate at the time. Unfortunately, Jacobs had by far his greatest year yet and was chosen to the first team of All-Pros. He is not anticipated to be at camp on time, like Barkley, and it has been suggested that he might not even show up until the very end of the preseason.

Vegas is left with Zamir White and Ameer Abdullah in the backfield without Jacobs. Throughout his career, Abdullah has primarily served as a third-down back, while White, at 6 feet and 215 pounds, is a three-down back with size. After being chosen out of Georgia in the fourth round, he only played 40 snaps in his rookie season and ran the ball 17 times for 70 yards without being targeted or collecting a pass.

The Raiders are already making changes to their offense after sending Waller to New York, drafting Michael Mayer to replace him, and signing former Patriots wide receiver Jakobi Meyers. They also released Derek Carr and signed Jimmy Garoppolo. Last year, Jacobs led the NFL in touches, so the offense would have to adapt significantly if he were to sit out, but that is already going to happen.

If Jacobs performs well in 2023 and the parties are unable to come to terms on a long-term contract by following March, he may receive a second tag from the Raiders. However, there aren’t many apparent non-Jacobs tag possibilities for the Raiders in the upcoming offseason.

After playing second fiddle to Ezekiel Elliott for four years but outperforming him in terms of touches per carry, Pollard is now the main back for the Cowboys. He took part in both OTAs and minicamp after signing the franchise tender back in March, and it’s anticipated that he will also attend training camp. He is anticipated to be ready for Day 1 of camp as his recuperation from a fractured leg sustained in Dallas’ playoff loss to the 49ers is apparently progressing swimmingly.

Tony Pollard

Unlike Barkley (1,201 touches) and Jacobs (1,232 touches), Pollard (26 years old) has comparatively little tread left on his tires (631). He recently recorded career highs in receptions (39), receiving yards (371), and receiving touchdowns (three), as well as rushing attempts (193), yards (1,007), and touchdowns (nine). Despite the fact that he is still a tackle-breaking dynamo and an explosive play waiting to happen, the Cowboys’ hesitation to reward his former backup with a large sum of money over a long period of time is understandable in light of the disastrous Elliott contract.

Nevertheless, given that Pollard was selected in the fourth round as opposed to Barkley and Jacobs, who were selected in the first round, the $10.09 million price tag marks a hefty pay raise, nearly tripling Pollard’s previous career earnings. That is therefore a rather nice payout.

Dallas might find itself in a bind if Pollard and the Cowboys are still without a long-term contract next season and if Terence Steele and Trevon Diggs haven’t also been extended. One player only can be franchise-tagged at a time. (CeeDee Lamb’s contract will be subject to the fifth-year option in 2024, giving the Cowboys a little more time to finalize his extension.) Next offseason, Micah Parsons will also become eligible for extensions, and we already know he’s headed for a huge contract.

Other RB’s

Given that Jonathan Taylor will be a free agent in the following summer, the lack of contract extensions here seems to be a terrible break for him.

The running back tag value is the only one that has actually decreased in recent years because the franchise tag value is determined by the value of contracts for players at that position. Future tags would become more valuable if any or all of the three tagged backs had signed long-term contracts this offseason, giving backs who are about to enter free agency a better place to start. But it didn’t go like that.

Not only did that not occur, but because it didn’t, Taylor will enter a competitive free-agent market at the position if he and the Colts are unable to reach a long-term deal by next March. This is because it’s entirely possible that one or more of Barkley, Jacobs, or Pollard will also be available. It only serves to further depress market value when teams already feel there is an overabundance of backs available and suddenly more of them become available for the signing in free agency.

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