HomeFootball DirtAnalyzing NFL Running Backs Eligible for Franchise Tag in 2023

Analyzing NFL Running Backs Eligible for Franchise Tag in 2023

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One of the key talking points during the 2023 offseason was the continued downward slide of the running back market. High-profile players at the position met to discuss the matter, but to little surprise those efforts did not yield a firm plan for the future. Three backs were hit with the franchise tag last spring: Saquon Barkley (Giants), Josh Jacobs (Raiders) and Tony Pollard (Cowboys). The latter quickly decided to sign his one-year tender, but the other two took until well past the deadline for extensions to be worked out for their immediate futures to become clear. Both Barkley, and later Jacobs, agreed to one-year pacts worth a higher maximum value than those of the tags. Now, all three face the prospect of a second tag or – far more likely – a trip to free agency. With the RB market set to feature a longer list of names in 2024 than it did last offseason, teams will have a number of experienced options to choose from. An evaluation of each ’23 tag recipient’s performance this past year will no doubt be a key factor in determining the value for Barkley, Jacobs and Pollard.

Here is a side-by-side look at each back’s production in 2022 compared to their totals while playing on the tag (or one-year equivalent):

  • Saquon Barkley (Age in Week 1: 27)
    • 2022 (16 games): 18.4 carries per game, 1,312 yards, 10 touchdowns (57-338 receiving statline)
    • 2023 (14 games): 17.6 carries per game, 962 yards, six touchdowns (41-280-4 receiving)
  • Josh Jacobs (Age in Week 1: 26)
    • 2022 (17 games): 20 carries per game, 1,653 yards, 12 touchdowns (53-400 receiving)
    • 2023 (13 games): 17.9 carries per game, 805 yards, six touchdowns (37-296 receiving)
  • Tony Pollard (Age in Week 1: 27)
    • 2022 (16 games): 12.2 carries per game, 1,007 yards, nine touchdowns (39-371-3 receiving)
    • 2023 (17 games): 14.8 carries per game, 1,005 yards, six touchdowns (55-311 receiving)

The Giants ran up against the 2023 tag deadline needing to find a way forward with both Barkley and quarterback Daniel Jones. The four-year, $160MM commitment made to the latter allowed the tag to be used on the former, despite his track record as the focal point of New York’s offense when healthy. Barkley missed time in 2023 due to an ankle injury, and the Giants underperformed with and without him during a forgettable campaign. Still, New York’s offense will be lacking in playmakers even if Barkley is retained for 2024. A trip to free agency is now expected, though, something the former No. 2 pick has publicly welcomed. No doors have been shut with respect to a Giants agreement being reached, but few circumstances (if any) have tangibly changed compared to last year. New York made a series of offers with an inversely proportional relationship between AAV and guaranteed figures during last offseason’s negotiations and a different approach this time around would come as a surprise. Barkley out-rushed backup Matt Breida by 811 yards, so his departure would create a massive void at the RB spot. The Giants are likely to use the No. 6 pick in April’s draft on a much-needed offensive playmaker or a Jones successor, and either move will help their outlook in the passing game. The ground attack would face serious questions without Barkley in the fold or an impactful replacement, although one could be acquired in a more cost-effective manner through the draft or a short-term veteran addition. Barkley’s pedigree could make him the most attractive free agent running back option in 2024, and it would be interesting to see how willing New York would be to win a bidding war.

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