Does Saquon Barkley win by signing a contract with the Giants?

The fact that Saquon Barkley has signed a contract with the 'New York Giants,' minimally different from the franchise tag conditions, just to save face, speaks to one thing: running backs have come to terms with the situation.

Does Saquon Barkley win by signing a contract with the Giants?

Analysts confidently predicted about 7 years ago that the running back position was rapidly losing its former glory. However, many running backs and some club executives were reluctant to believe it. It took a series of mistakes in the form of big contracts to make it evident.

And I'm not a proponent of the argument, 'Hey, they pay you $5 million, tens of thousands of people would love to be in your place, so eat what you're given and stop complaining.'

Josh Jacobs, Saquon Barkley, Dalvin Cook, Austin Ekeler, Tony Pollard are some of the brightest playmakers in today's NFL. They are the best at what they do. It's truly unfair that they earn less than some third-string receivers on certain teams.

But how is economics related to fairness?

American football is constantly changing. 20 years ago, top running backs were almost as significant as top quarterbacks. Fullbacks were essential players on every team. However, since then, the league has become much more pass-oriented, consequently increasing the value of quarterbacks and receivers while diminishing the value of running backs, and fullbacks have almost become extinct.

Club executives didn't conspire against running backs. They simply know how to manage finances and learn from others' mistakes.

Most NFL players reach their peak performance when negotiating their second contract, meaning after 4-5 years in the league. By that time, running backs have already endured significant wear and tear since they take a lot more hits. If we count their college years as well, it's around 6-8 years of taking blows like punching bags. Naturally, by the age of 26, running backs start experiencing serious health issues, and a running back performing after 30 is perceived as a natural wonder.

Moreover, players in this position are directly dependent on the quality of the offensive line. Certainly, there's a difference between Barkley and an average RB from the 3rd round of the draft, but if the Giants' O-line performs poorly, that difference becomes negligible. There are clear examples like Le'Veon Bell and DeMarco Murray, who experienced a catastrophic drop in efficiency after transitioning from a strong to a weak offensive line. Conversely, there are cases where a star was replaced by some unknown player, and the performance didn't suffer much (James Robinson, Phillip Lindsay, Austin Ekeler).

Building a productive ground game can be achieved by using three diverse and inexpensive running backs. It's a much safer option than having one expensive top player who can break down at any moment, and whose financial attractiveness for the club diminishes with each hit received.

Clubs simply operate based on the economic reality that has developed in the league, and the fact that this reality is harsh on players in a certain position is not their concern. If the NFL suddenly abolishes the kickoff, kickers will also feel it in their wallets in a couple of years.

In terms of absurdity, I can only envision one artificial solution to resolve this crisis by altering the terms of the collective agreement. Running backs would receive rookie contracts for two seasons (with an option for a third season if they were a first-round pick) instead of four, as it currently stands. This way, they would have the chance to secure more attractive contracts earlier. However, such a decision would be dictated not by business but by political will.

Barkley understood everything correctly after a Zoom meeting with the best representatives of his position — they have no leverage to change the situation. If they start a collective strike, they will simply be replaced by other players. In the 1980s, ALL NFL players tried to strike, and even then, the league found replacements and prevailed. Here, they have no chance.

Barkley remembered how the story ended for Le'Veon Bell — an absolutely elite running back who, at his peak, played both as an RB and WR. He too wanted more money, staged a year-long holdout, and went to the 'New York Jets.' A week ago, Bell, whose career quickly hit a dead-end after that maneuver, apologized to the 'Pittsburgh Steelers' fans and said that it was the biggest mistake of his career.

By signing a contract with the Giants now, Barkley hasn't won anything. He simply avoided a catastrophic mistake.

Read Also: Several notable statements on the topic of NFL running back contracts

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