We all know Saquon Barkley has been the soul of this upstart Giants team this season. We also know it’s the 1st time in 3 years he has looked every part the superstar he was drafted to be because of several injuries. I am sure it is safe to say that if Giants fans were given the decision to sign Barkley to a long-term deal, it would be a resounding YES and it should be. He has earned the right to a pay raise along with reclaiming the title of best all-around Running Back in the NFL. Therein lies the problem, we know he is playing like the best but also at the least impactful position in the NFL from a cost efficiency standpoint. Let’s take a look at what that means.
In the 2010’s, it was the golden age of Running Backs in terms of contract payouts. We saw many popular RBs like Ezekiel Elliott, Alvin Kamara, Nick Chubb, LeVeon Bell, Jamaal Charles, Doug Martin, Arian Foster, Joe Mixon, Derrick Henry, Todd Gurley, Adrian Peterson, Matt Forte, and many more. Do you know what the names listed have in common? They never won a single Super Bowl and almost all of them never played in one. I know many can name high level QBs that never won a championship either, but the list is much shorter than the RB list and everyone knows no player affects the game more than the QB position. Many teams have seen this pairing of elite RB play with no Super Bowls and have started to avoid lucrative, long-term deals at the position as a result.
Don’t believe me? Look at the Raiders and Josh Jacobs. He has been a premier player at the position since he entered the league, but his team declined his 5th year option. Sure, it could be because of a new regime but why hasn’t the new regime used the RBs they brought in? It has nothing to do with Jacobs not being their guy, but more so because they do not want to pay a RB big money for a long time whether they earned it or not.
Many players on the list from before lost their elite standing once they reached age 28 or even before that. What is scary is a few of the ones who haven’t hit 28 yet are about to soon and will be a scary situation for their respective teams (especially the Titans given Henry IS their offense). There are exceptions to the rule (looking at you Peterson and Frank Gore fans) but those are outliers in the grand scheme of things. The biggest reason for the faster decline is due to the frequent injuries from the physical demand of the position. Hard to commit to someone long term when they are frequently injured and/or degrade in ability so fast.
A final point would be that 8 of the last 10 Super Bowl champions either used a committee of RBs, a young RB on a cheap contract, or a below average RB. The other 2 team’s RB were not significant factors in the game to the point it would have affected their outcome (sorry Lynch and Rice fans). If the RB position doesn’t impact the outcome of the big game, why pay so much into it when other positions need investment?
Now, don’t misconstrue this as RB’s are useless because that is not true. The issue is most of the time their production can be replicated (or somewhat close) by a lesser player on a cheaper salary. It is also cheaper and more efficient to have multiple backs on the roster to distribute workload and reduce frequency of injuries as a result. The Giants have a special (albeit oft injured) talent in Barkley, and like Derrick Henry is the focal point of the Giant’s offense. It is difficult to replace what he does with a lesser talent given his significance, but one cannot also be reckless when assessing his monetary value. Given his importance to the team and the impact he has made, a 4-year deal is fair, BUT with only 2 years of guaranteed money in the event he declines or gets injured again. Alternatively, they can franchise tag him until he declines as well.
What they cannot do is guarantee him max salary for several years the way Dallas did for Zeke Elliott. Elliott has declined rapidly due to his high mileage and his inflated cap number forced Dallas to send their most vital weapon to the Browns for minimal compensation (sorry Amari Cooper) since the league knew they had to unload salary. They couldn’t trade Zeke because his injuries started to pile up and affect his performance (even if he was playing through them). Nobody wanted to take on a declining asset at his outrageous salary and now they are stuck with him. This is why teams won’t want to pay up the same anymore. Luckily, Schoen has mentioned he wants Barkley around long-term, but it will have to make sense. The avenue is there, but long term isn’t so “long” anymore.
Here’s to seeing Barkley beyond 2022! (responsibly)