Pittsburgh Steelers star Najee Harris lamented the state of affairs that led Saquon Barkley to settle on a one-year contract that closely mirrored his franchise tag with the New York Giants.
"Saquon accumulated for almost 30 percent of the offense," Harris told reporters Wednesday. "Why can't you look at that and say, 'OK, well, he said he's not trying to break the market or set the market, but he's trying to get compensated of what he thinks is fair.'"
He added that it wasn't fair for the Giants to turn around and drive such a hard bargain knowing how valuable he is to the offense.
Brooke Pryor @bepryor
Najee Harris on Saquon Barkley's one-year deal: <br><br>"Saquon accumulated almost 30% of the offense. Why can't you look at that and say, "OK he said he's not trying to set the market, but he's trying to get compensated for what he thinks is fair… that ain't fair what he's getting." <a href="https://t.co/p94j2TOtBq">pic.twitter.com/p94j2TOtBq</a>
Running backs have watched the gulf between their earnings and those at other positions grow for years. Now, they might be approaching a crisis point.
Barkley made his second Pro Bowl and totaled 1,650 yards from scrimmage, while Las Vegas Raiders star Josh Jacobs was the NFL's leading rusher (1,653 yards). Both saw the deadline to negotiate a long-term extension pass after they were franchise-tagged.
Joel Corry of CBSSports.com noted the number of running backs with an average salary of $12 million or more has been halved from eight to four.
And the concerning part is, the trend is all but guaranteed to continue. It's simply far more cost-effective to let even an elite running back walk than pay him a big long-term contract.
Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio reported on July 18 that a number of running backs have set up a group text chain in an effort to build some collective strength and develop ways that can reverse their current predicament.
Florio subsequently reported one idea floated during a Zoom call was "holding in via the embellishment/exaggeration/fabrications of injuries." They also drew attention to how some contracts are backloaded in a way that inflates a player's salary without ensuring all of the money is actually paid out.
Still, Cleveland Browns star Nick Chubb reflected on the futility of the situation.
"Right now it's just talking, there's really nothing we can do," he said Sunday. "We're kind of handcuffed with the situation."
Chubb added how having a big year on the ground can be a double-edged sword.
"If we go out there and run 2000 yards with so many carries, the next year they're going to say you're probably worn down," he said. "That's the biggest thing that I took from it. It's tough. It hurts us just to go out there and do well. It hurts us at the end of the day."