It was a disappointing Monday for running backs, as three Pro Bowlers who were franchise-tagged -- Josh Jacobs (Las Vegas Raiders), Saquon Barkley (New York Giants) and Tony Pollard (Dallas Cowboys) -- failed to receive long-term, second NFL contracts from their respective teams ahead of the deadline to receive such deals.
That means all three are set to play the upcoming 2023 season on a $10.1 million, fully-guaranteed one-year deal without the long-term security of multi-year pact. That's a prospect that has Barkley, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft who ended up , considering the nuclear option: sitting out and not playing in 2023.
"My leverage is I could say, 'f--- you' to the Giants, I could say, 'f--- you to my teammates,'" Barkley said Monday after the deadline to sign a new contract on an episode of "The Money Matters" podcast on YouTube. "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."
Barkley has since removed any affiliate to the New York Giants franchise from his social media platforms.
Former Pittsburgh Steelers All-Pro running back Le'Veon Bell experienced a similar situation in 2018, and he followed through on the threat to hold out, missing the entire season. He hit the free agency market in 2019 and signed with the New York Jets on the type of deal he hoped to get from the Steelers: a four-year, $52.5 million contract.
On the field, though, Bell was never the same, only playing three NFL seasons. He was released just a year-and-a-half into the contract he fought to sign after a significant downturn following his holdout. Bell averaged 35.8 rushing yards per game in his final three seasons from 2019-2021 where he played for four different teams: the Jets, Kansas City Chiefs, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Baltimore Ravens. That represented a drop of more than 50 yards per game from his Steelers days in which he averaged 86.1 rushing yards a contest from 2013-2017. Bell's example is one of the many reasons why Barkley is unsure if that's a path he'll actually go down.
"Anybody [who] knows me, knows that's not something I want to do," Barkley said. "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. That's something I have to sit down and talk to my family, talk to my team [of advisers] and strategize about this. Can't just go off of emotions. I can try to get as much money as I can, but what really matters is winning. I know if I'm able to help bring a championship to New York, that's going to go miles more ahead than this contract."
"I believe I'm the best running back in the NFL," Barkley said. "I'm not even asking for what I'm worth. I wouldn't say I'm not happy. Where I'm thrown off, or it doesn't sit right with me, is I came out publicly and said that I want to be a Giant for life. I didn't want to hit the free-agency market. I feel like we could've got the job done."
The 26-year-old reportedly turned down a new deal during the Giants' bye week last season that would have paid him an average of $13 million with a guaranteed payment figure of around $19.5 million, according to the New York Post. On the podcast, Barkley confirmed he was searching for a minimum of $22.5 million in guaranteed money, the amount he would stand to make if franchised-tagged in back-to-back seasons across 2023 and 2024.
His 1,650 scrimmage yards accounted for 27.7% of the Giants' total offense last season, the fifth-highest rate in the entire league trailing only Derrick Henry (36.1%), Josh Jacobs (32.9%), Nick Chubb (28.5%) and Justin Jefferson (28.3%). Yet, Barkley felt like the Giants were trying to take advantage of him in negotiations.
"The number they offered, they thought I might jump at because of my injury history," Barkley said. "I was like I'd rather bet on myself. My comp was two running backs who really aren't used in the pass-catching game, more downhill runners, great running backs. They already showed me their hand: They told me my comp, and I know their [pay]. If that's what you are telling me and I know what they signed for, what are we really talking about? After hearing that, they tell you, 'This is the type of player you are.' I'm like, 'Eh, no. I can catch the ball. I had 91 catches, the rookie record for a running back.'"
Barkley knows contract negotiations in the NFL are a business, but he expressed that he didn't appreciate Giants general manager Joe Schoen "threatening" him to take a team-friendly deal with the notion that he could be franchise-tagged in 2023 and 2024.
"You have to take a more mature route: You can't just be like, 'F-- that, I want something fair,'" Barkley said. "What are we talking about? Ten million dollars is a lot of money, especially when you look at the economics of our country and where the poverty rate is, and I'm a person that comes from that. You have fans, 'How much do you want? We just want you to be here?' That's when it gets upsetting to me. I don't want to come off like I'm greedy, like I'm arrogant. At the end of the day, you still have to do what's right for you."
A week prior to negotiations falling apart at the franchise tag deadline on Monday, Barkley said he was "fine" with having to prove himself on the field in another contract season in 2023. Now, it's less clear if his plan is to still be ready to roll for Week 1 against the NFC East rival Cowboys as he looks within himself to determine the right course of action.