Monday's deadline for franchised players to agree to long-term contracts passed without deals for the New York Giants' Saquon Barkley, the Las Vegas Raiders' Josh Jacobs and the Dallas Cowboys' Tony Pollard.
The three running backs were the only players who received the franchise tag not to have reached a long-term contract, and they had until 4 p.m. ET Monday to get one. They will now have to play the 2023 season on their franchise tenders, worth $10.091 million for running backs. Pollard has already signed his tender. Barkley and Jacobs, however, remain unsigned and stayed away from their teams' offseason programs.
"It is what it is," Barkley tweeted Monday.
Because they are unsigned, Barkley and Jacobs cannot be fined for not attending training camp, which begins for veterans on both the Giants and Raiders on July 25. Barkley and Jacobs are not expected to report to training camp with the rest of their teams, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Monday. The two unsigned stars will lose money only if they miss regular-season games and forfeit game checks.
The player to most recently sit out an entire season was running back Le'Veon Bell in 2018.
The Giants' contract negotiations with Barkley did not go smoothly from the start. The Giants made an initial offer during the bye week last November that Barkley never seriously considered, multiple sources told ESPN's Jordan Raanan. The two sides then tabled talks until after the season.
The Giants' offers to Barkley increased earlier this year, reaching a point where a deal could max out at $14 million per season, sources told Raanan. But the sticking point was guaranteed money and structure. They never got close to his satisfaction.
Once the Giants signed quarterback Daniel Jones just minutes before the start of the new league year, they instantly used the franchise tag on Barkley. This was always one of the options, according to general manager Joe Schoen. At that point, the Giants took their last offer off the table, and talks did not seriously pick up until recently.
Barkley admitted this opened his eyes to the reality that the NFL is a business. However, he did not like the tag and how the entire process was portrayed publicly, making it known on multiple occasions that the offers were not always how they were being perceived.
"Me getting tagged, was I upset about it? Nobody wants to get tagged," Barkley said last month. "To sit here and say I was frustrated, I was mad, I was upset, what really got me upset was the stories that got leaked out, how misleading they were and how untruthful they were. I feel it was trying to paint a narrative of me, a picture of me, that is not even true. Not even close to being the truth."
Barkley's contention throughout was that the way the money was being portrayed made him look greedy. The Giants had never offered near the desired $22.2 million (the combined amount of franchise tags this year and next) as of late last week, a source told Raanan.
Barkley, 26, finished fourth in the NFL with a career-high 1,312 rushing yards last season and ran for 10 touchdowns. He also tied for the team lead with 57 receptions. He has played in 60 career games over five seasons since being the No. 2 overall draft pick in 2018, after which he was named Offensive Rookie of the Year. He has 4,249 rushing yards and 37 total touchdowns.
The Raiders had presented a deal to Jacobs and he chose not to accept it, as he wanted a bigger payday, Schefter reported Monday.
Jacobs, a first-round pick of the Raiders in 2019, when Jon Gruden was coach and Mike Mayock was general manager, did not have his fifth-year option picked up last spring by the incoming staff of coach Josh McDaniels and GM Dave Ziegler.
Jacobs, 25, surprisingly played in the Raiders' 2022 preseason opener, leading to rumors of his being a trade candidate. Instead, he responded with a career season, leading the NFL in rushing yards (1,653) and yards from scrimmage (2,053) while scoring a career-high-tying 12 touchdowns and catching 53 passes. His 86-yard walk-off TD at Seattle was the longest run in the NFL last season. He became the first Raiders player to lead the league in rushing since Marcus Allen in his 1985 MVP season.
Jacobs' production surprised McDaniels, who acknowledged he was used to a running-back-by-committee approach in his offensive system. After the season, Jacobs insisted he wanted to return to Las Vegas, though he added, "It's got to make sense."
Raiders owner Mark Davis said at the NFL's annual meeting in March that Jacobs was "the heart of our team." Jacobs, meanwhile, was essentially silent throughout the process aside from a few cryptic tweets.
"Sometimes it's not about you," he tweeted in June, giving the impression he wanted to effect change to a system that financially undervalues the running back position. "We gotta do it for the ones after us."
Tennessee Titans star Derrick Henry was among those taking notice of the depressed market for running backs, tweeting Monday: "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."
Pittsburgh Steelers running back Najee Harris added on Twitter: "I agree with my running back brothers around the NFL- history will show that you need running backs to win- we set the tone every game and run through walls for our team and lead in many ways- this notion that we deserve less is a joke."
And Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler tweeted: "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."
Pollard, 26, will take over the lead running back role this season for the Cowboys after the team released longtime starter Ezekiel Elliott earlier this offseason. Pollard said in May that he expects to be fully ready to practice in training camp after having surgery to repair an ankle injury he suffered in Dallas' playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers in January.
Two days after the playoff defeat, Pollard underwent a "tightrope" procedure instead of a surgery that requires screws into the tibia and fibula for a repair. In this procedure, a braided polyethylene cord, rather than a rigid surgical screw, is applied to restore the original position of the bones and to allow for proper healing.
Pollard was named to the Pro Bowl after rushing for a career-high 1,007 yards on 193 carries with nine rushing touchdowns. He also caught 39 passes for 371 yards and three touchdowns. Before last season, he had never had more than 130 carries or 719 rushing yards in a season.
ESPN's Paul Gutierrez and Todd Archer contributed to this report.