Analysis: Running Backs Contract Troubles Could Lead To Locker Room Dissension

Jul 28, 2023, 11:25 AM

Running backs contract...

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - JANUARY 21: Saquon Barkley #26 of the New York Giants reacts during the third quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Divisional Playoff game at Lincoln Financial Field on January 21, 2023 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

(Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

(AP) – Saquon Barkley worked out his contract squabble with the New York Giants and showed up for training camp. Josh Jacobs is holding out with the Las Vegas Raiders. Le’Veon Bell once sat out the entire season after getting the franchise tag.

Different running backs. Same problem. No solution on the horizon.

NFL teams have devalued running backs to the point where Bell’s franchise total just five years ago was significantly higher at $14.5 million. The tag for Barkley, Jacobs and Dallas’ Tony Pollard was $10.1 million this season.

Bell played on the franchise tag in 2017 but sat out the following year in Pittsburgh and ended up going to the New York Jets. The two-time All-Pro wasn’t the same player he was with the Steelers and ended up bouncing around from Kansas City to Baltimore to Tampa Bay.

“My franchise tag was 14.5 and I walked away from it,” Bell said on the AP Pro Football Podcast. “It’s a respect thing. You told me you were going to do this for me but you didn’t. … I could’ve just ignored it, went inside the locker room and had been playing. But that wouldn’t have made me happy and I’m sure inside the locker room, everybody would’ve felt it and, as a team, we wouldn’t have been good. I feel that’s the same with Saquon. He’s trying to be the best he can, but obviously deep down, he’s not happy because he wanted to be compensated. He still wants his teammates to be good so he showed up.”

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Barkley and the Giants agreed on a one-year deal that raised his contract value to $11 million with incentives. He had threatened to skip the season because the Giants didn’t give him a long-term deal but he had a change of heart.

“I could sit here and lie to you and be like, ‘I wasn’t disappointed, I wasn’t this and that and the third,’” Barkley said. “That would just be a flat-out lie. But I am mature enough to understand that it’s a business and understand that deals don’t get done every year.”

Barkley accounted for 29.1% of New York’s offense last year but he watched the Giants give quarterback Daniel Jones ($160 million) and left tackle Andrew Thomas ($117.5 million) big money while he had no leverage.

Barkley said all the right things Thursday and isn’t holding any grudges.

“I’m all about my teammates and my brothers getting paid,” he said. “I’m all about success coming to them. … Those guys deserve it. I’m so happy for them. You see all throughout the league, there are people that get paid every single year, and I’m happy for those guys, too. But what I will say, for the running back position, not speaking necessarily on my teammates that got signed, there are a lot of running backs out here that are pivotal, key points to teams having success in this league, and helping teams have success in this league. The way that we are getting devalued, it’s not fair at all. But life’s not fair.”

There was no anger or bitterness in Barkley’s voice when he spoke to reporters. It speaks to his strong character. But it’s natural for members of the position group to express frustration and disappointment. Austin Ekeler, Nick Chubb, Christian McCaffrey, Najee Harris and others have spoken out. They met virtually last week to discuss ways to remedy the situation.

Some guys have quietly pointed out to The Associated Press and questioned why some injury-prone players at other positions got lucrative contracts. That’s a departure from the old code players have among themselves. Don’t begrudge someone else getting paid.

“I thought it was an unwritten rule,” said Bell, who recently partnered with OnlyFans to promote his new career in music and boxing. “I thought you weren’t supposed to count other people’s money but when it was my turn, everybody was in my pocket worried about what I was making.”

On some teams, that could lead to dissension in the locker room.

“It subconsciously affects it,” Bell said.

It’s not a concern in New York because Barkley has handled his business professionally. Time will tell how it plays out in other cities.

Take us with you, wherever you go.

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Analysis: Running Backs Contract Troubles Could Lead To Locker Room Dissension