With neither first-team All-Pro Josh Jacobs of the Las Vegas Raiders nor two-time Pro Bowler Saquon Barkley of the New York Giants agreeing to long-term deals by Monday's deadline for franchise-tagged players, there is a foreboding sense of familiarity to the proceedings.
Both running backs, obviously, would prefer long-term contracts to the one-year, $10.091 million paycheck that comes with signing the tag, though now neither can negotiate a long-term deal with their teams until after the season due to missing Monday's deadline. And both, it seems, would have benefited from the other signing such a deal to reset the running back market after it tanked this offseason.
Jacobs led the NFL in rushing yards (1,653) and yards from scrimmage (2,053) while scoring 12 touchdowns on the ground and catching 53 passes last season. Barkley rushed for a career-high 1,312 yards while scoring 10 rushing TDs and also catching 57 passes for 338 yards. He finished third in comeback player of the year voting.
Both seem primed for a payday, but the running back position has been devalued in recent years. So where do they, as well as the Raiders and Giants, go from here? You've got questions, we've got answers, with New York Giants reporter Jordan Raanan, Las Vegas Raiders reporter Paul Gutierrez and senior NFL national reporter Jeremy Fowler breaking things down.
Barkley: It's all about guaranteed money. The Giants offered Barkley several deals and packages that got up to what could've been close to $14 million per season, including incentives and all different types of bonuses. But the sticking points were guaranteed money and structure.
The magic number was $22.2 million. That is the amount of the franchise tag this year ($10.1 million) and the potential for it again next year at $12.1 million. It is generally what a player needs to even consider a deal on the tag. It does not appear the Giants ever got there.
"Read between the lines," Barkley kept saying last month when explaining his thoughts on how the contract situation was being presented publicly.
He was referring to the guaranteed money that prevented both sides from agreeing to a long-term deal after nine months of haggling. -- Jordan Raanan
Jacobs: Aside from a few cryptic tweets, Jacobs was relatively mum on the situation throughout the offseason -- though he did give a sneak peek of his feelings the day after the Raiders' season ended, acknowledging he wanted to return to Las Vegasalbeit on a longer-term deal and with the security and, well, respect, it provides.
"For me," he said at the time, "it's got to make sense." As in, dollars and cents, right? "But this is obviously where I want to be." In June, Jacobs took to Twitter and outlined his mindset.
Jacobs, a first-round draft pick of the Raiders' previous coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock, did not have his fifth-year option picked up last offseason by the then-incoming staff of coach Josh McDaniels and GM Dave Ziegler. Jacobs gave the impression he wanted to affect change to a system that financially undervalues his position group. But at what cost? -- Paul Gutierrez
Barkley: The Giants have to sit back and hope Barkley signs the franchise tag at some point and plays this season. They are banking on it. Their backfield without him is headlined by Matt Breida and Gary Brightwell, with fifth-round rookie Eric Gray also in the mix. That is not what they envisioned when putting together this roster.
General manager Joe Schoen said early in the offseason that using the franchise tag on Barkley was always one of the potential options. The Giants are perfectly fine going that route, and there never seemed to be much urgency to sign Barkley once quarterback Daniel Jones finalized his deal before the March deadline. That subsequently left the tag for the star running back.
What the Giants are betting on now is that playing hardball with the face of their franchise won't splinter their locker room. Barkley is one of the most respected players on the roster. They are crossing their fingers that this doesn't create a distraction big enough to derail their season. -- Raanan
Jacobs: Jacobs' productivity surprised McDaniels -- the coach admitted he was used to utilizing a running back by committee approach, rather than leaning on an every down back. But even though the coach insisted he was looking forward to Jacobs' return, there's a reason the Raiders made literally no moves in their RB room this offseason. No additions. No losses. All while retaining seven backs -- Zamir White, Brandon Bolden, Ameer Abdullah, Jakob Johnson, Brittain Brown, Sincere McCormick and Austin Walter.
Whistling by the graveyard? Maybe, but if Jacobs holds out and misses significant time or even sits out the season, the Raiders feel like they can lean on the continuity at the position and can at least attempt to plug and play and go running back by committee. But ... the returning production leaves much to be desired. A lot to be desired.
Consider: White, Bolden and Abdullah combined for 156 rushing yards and no TDs on 38 carries last season, averaging 4.1 yards per carry. Jacobs averaged 4.9 yards per carry on 340 rushing attempts. Yikes. -- Gutierrez
Barkley: It came out last week that Week 1 against the Dallas Cowboys would be in jeopardy if there wasn't a long-term deal by the deadline. Well, there is no deal at the deadline, which means we're unlikely to see Barkley until at least September.
The opener against Dallas is Sept. 10. The bigger question now is if he's fully available for the regular-season opener or misses games to make a point that the offense desperately needs him.
It's clear that Barkley isn't thrilled with how this whole negotiation played out, especially with numbers being leaked throughout. He thought many of them were deceiving and painted him as "greedy." There is no way that Barkley shows up for training camp and risks injury, considering the team never came to the table with enough guaranteed money to make him a Giant for life. It will be interesting to see how long this lasts with it being contradictory to Barkley's usual team-first rhetoric. -- Raanan
Jacobs: No doubt Jacobs would sit out. Look, he refused to sign the tag and kept to his word by staying away this offseason ... even as the Raiders did him a "solid" by changing his uniform number back to his college No. 8 (he wore No. 28 his first four NFL seasons).
How long he stays out would, again, depend upon how serious he is about proving his point while leaving money on the table. Pulling a page from the Le'Veon Bell playbook would obviously be the nuclear option, but it might also be the only leverage the two-time Pro Bowler has going forward. -- Gutierrez
Barkley: It doesn't really matter at this point. The time for a deal to get done has passed. Now it's time to sit back and see what happens this season before the two sides can even talk about a new deal. To make matters worse for Barkley, the team has another franchise tag to use on him again next year, if they so desire.
It seems the only path for a new deal for Barkley is if he plays so extraordinarily well this season that the Giants feel they absolutely can't afford to lose him under any circumstance. So far that hasn't been the case. He probably would have to top last season's 1,300-plus yards and be an MVP candidate. Otherwise, it appears the ship has already sailed on Barkley and the Giants being a forever thing. -- Raanan
Jacobs: While Mark Davis is anything but a meddling owner, if he wanted Jacobs back on a multi-year deal deemed acceptable by Jacobs, it would have happened quickly. Yes, Jacobs has a fan in Davis, but the window to get a multi-year deal is closed since they couldn't agree to terms by Monday's deadline.
"Josh is phenomenal, he was the heart of our team, in my mind," Davis said this offseason. "He came to play every day. Tough, tough, tough guy. Just really proud of him. If we had 22 Josh Jacobs [on the roster] with that mentality, he came in every day ... that guy's just amazing."
Plus, Jacobs' mentor, Hall of Famer Marcus Allen, has Davis' ear and has already endorsed paying his ward, which, of course, cannot now happen until after this season, should any bad feelings be alleviated. Jacobs' best bet for a multi-year deal from the Raiders would be another banner season, but the team could choose to franchise him again, leaving us in this same position 12 months from now. -- Gutierrez
In the short-term, free agent Dalvin Cook can use the three franchise-tagged running backs (including theDallas Cowboys' Tony Pollard) as contract comparisons for his eventual deal. He should sign some time before the regular season.
Jonathan Taylor, a free agent in 2024, was likely rooting for Barkley or Jacobs to pull off an upset and reach a deal by the deadline as a way to elevate his market. Taylor and the Indianapolis Colts have had preliminary talks about a new deal, and Indy has a precedent for extending core contracts.
Young backs entering Year 3, such as thePittsburgh Steelers' Najee Harris andDenver Broncos' Javonte Williams, could re-sign with their teams if they have big seasons in 2023. And the Tennessee Titans' Derrick Henry is 29, a year away from free agency and showing little signs of slowing, even if his 1,750 career carries will one day catch up. -- Jeremy Fowler