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Henry, Ekeler offer support for Barkley, RBs who fail to get long-term deals

New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley (L) totaled the fourth-most rushing yards (1,653) in the NFL last season. File Photo by Ian Halperin/UPI
1 of 5 | New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley (L) totaled the fourth-most rushing yards (1,653) in the NFL last season. File Photo by Ian Halperin/UPI | License Photo

July 18 (UPI) -- Derrick Henry was among the NFL running backs to offer support to Saquon Barkley, Tony Pollard and Josh Jacobs after they failed to sign long-term contracts with their teams and will likely play on franchise tags.

The New York Giants, Dallas Cowboys and Las Vegas Raiders placed respective franchise tag designations on Barkley, Pollard and Jacobs earlier this off-season. Those teams could negotiate for long-term contracts with the star running backs until a deadline of 4 p.m. EDT Monday.

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Barkley, Pollard and Jacobs now must either sign their $10.091 million tenders for 2023 or sit out the season.

"It is what it is," Barkley tweeted six minutes before the deadline.

Henry was the first star running back to respond to a tweet, which detailed the trend of star running backs receiving franchise tags and not signing large, long-term deals after their 4- or 5-year rookie pacts.

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"At this point, just take the RB position out the game then," Henry tweeted. "The ones that want to be great and 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."

Henry was a second-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. He signed a 4-year, $5.4 million rookie deal. The Titans placed the franchise tag on Henry in March 2020. He agreed to a 4-year, $50 million contract four months later.

Austin Ekeler of the Los Angeles Chargers and Christian McCaffrey of the San Francisco 49ers were among the other running backs to offer support for those who received the latest round of franchise tags.

Ekeler went undrafted and was signed in 2017 by the Chargers. He played under a 3-year, $1.67 million rookie deal. The Chargers signed Ekeler to a 4-year, $24.5 million deal in 2020. He is set to make $6.2 million in 2023, the final year of that pact.

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He said earlier this off-season that playing out the final year of his deal without a new contract and becoming a free agent in 2024 would be his "worst case scenario."

"Everyone knows it's tough to win without a top RB and yet they act like we are discardable widgets," Ekeler tweeted Monday. "I support any RB doing whatever it takes to get his bag."

McCaffrey signed a 4-year, $17.24 rookie deal in 2017. He agreed to a 4-year $64 million extension with the Carolina Panthers in 2020. The Panthers traded McCaffrey to the 49ers in October.

"This is criminal," McCaffrey tweeted. "Three of the best players (Barkley, Jacobs and Pollard) in the entire league, regardless of position."

Jonathan Taylor of the Indianapolis Colts and Najee Harris of the Pittsburgh Steelers were among the other running backs to tweet about the status of running back contracts.

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Jacobs led the NFL with 1,653 rushing yards in 2022. Henry (1,538), Nick Chubb (1,525), Barkley (1,312) and Miles Sanders (1,269) were among the league's other top rushers.

Henry led the NFL in rushing in 2019 and 2020. Taylor was the top rusher in 2021. Henry is set to make $10.5 million next season. Atlanta Falcons rookie Bijan Robinson will make $13.7 million in 2023, the most among running backs.

Rookies will start to report Tuesday to NFL training camps. Veterans will start to report Wednesday at New York Jets camp. Pollard already signed his franchise tag tender.

Barkley and Jacobs have not signed their tenders, but can't be fined for missing off-season programs because they are technically not under contract.

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