Barkley considered sitting out season as NFL teams shun running backs

A frustrated Saquon Barkley considered sitting out the 2023 season if he couldn’t get a new contract from the New York Giants.

In an interview on a podcast released on Monday, the star running back discussed the negotiations leading up to Monday’s deadline for players on a franchise tag to reach a new multi-year deal with teams. The 26-year-old noted a holdout would thumb his nose at the Giants and his teammates and show them his true value. Running back Le’Veon Bell employed a similar tactic when he sat out the entire 2018 season in search of a better deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He eventually secured a competitive contract with the New York Jets.

“My leverage is I could say, ‘Fuck you’ to the Giants, I could say, ‘Fuck you to my teammates,” Barkley told the Money Matters podcast, which was recorded on 11 July, six days before the deadline. “And be like, ‘You want me to show you my worth? You want me to show you how valuable I am to the team? I won’t show up. I won’t play a down.’ And that’s a play I could use.

“Anybody [who] knows me, knows that’s not something I want to do. Is it something that’s crossed my mind? I never thought I would ever do that, but now I’m at a point where I’m like, ‘Jesus, I might have to take it to this level.’ Am I prepared to take it to this level? I don’t know.”

Barkley and the Giants, who reached the playoffs last season for the first time since 2016, failed to reach a new contract agreement on Monday, meaning Barkley will earn $10.1m this season.

The two sides talked until the 4pm deadline but could not settle on a deal, even though the Giants reportedly offered one worth more than $12m annually.

Barkley’s only comment after not getting a deal was a tweet: “It is what it is.”

Barkley, the NFL’s offensive rookie of the year in 2018, insisted all he wants to do is win and bring a title to New York. Barkley has not signed his franchise tender offer so he cannot be fined for not reporting to training camp next Tuesday. While he can’t reach an agreement on a multi-year contract, the two sides can sign a sweetened one-year deal for 2023. The Giants would retain the right to franchise Barkley again next season.

Barkley is not the only running back upset with his contract talks. NFL teams in general are refusing to give running backs lucrative long-term contracts, leaving the best players at the position feeling angry and underappreciated.

It’s no surprise the league has reached this point, considering recent trends. The days of “three yards and a cloud of dust” are long gone. The NFL has become a pass-first, quarterback-driven league built around explosive offenses.

League rules have changed over the past two decades to enhance scoring. QBs have more protection. Wide receivers have more freedom to roam the field. Defensive players have to be concerned about getting penalized for illegal hits.

The result has been staggering offensive numbers for quarterbacks, wide receivers and tight ends. Running backs – despite their overall value, versatility and responsibilities – are getting left behind.

Tennessee Titans star Derrick Henry wrote on Twitter: “At this point, just take the RB position out the game then. The ones that want to be great & work as hard as they can to give their all to an organization, just seems like it don’t even matter. I’m with every RB that’s fighting to get what they deserve.”

Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler said: “Everyone knows it’s tough to win without a top RB and yet they act like we are discardable widgets. I support any RB doing whatever it takes to get his bag.”

Barkley watched the Giants give QB Daniel Jones a $160m, four-year contract after a season in which he threw 15 touchdown passes. Yet Barkley is making a fraction of that total after carrying the offense to the playoffs last season.

NFL offenses used to revolve around running backs from Jim Brown and Jim Taylor to Walter Payton and Emmitt Smith. Brown, Taylor, Smith and Payton helped lead their teams to nine championships.

Now, teams are winning Super Bowls without a dominant runner. Only three Super Bowl champions in the last 15 years had a 1,000-yard rusher in the regular season compared with 11 in the 15 seasons before that.

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