NFL Rumors: Several Star Running Backs Expected to Avoid Franchise Tag

If there was any lingering doubt that running backs are no longer a hot commodity in today's NFL, it should be gone now. According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry, New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley, Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler, and Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Pollard are ALL expected to avoid the franchise tag and hit unrestricted free agency.

Henry and Ekeler are at the end of long-term deals but apparently haven't been deemed worthy of the $11.95 million it would take to apply the franchise tag to them. Pollard and Barkley are coming off 2022 franchise tags, so applying it a second time would cost the Cowboys and Giants a slightly inflated $12.1 million.

Henry, Barkley, Ekeler, and Pollard all avoiding the tag speaks to just how much the running back has been deprioritized in the NFL. Between the four of them, they've combined for seven Pro Bowls and 22689 rushing yards. Only Henry is over 30 years old (he had his 30th birthday in January), and all four appeared in at least 14 games last season.

Frankly, it's a passing league now. Backs can still present value so long as they're versatile and durable enough to contribute as receivers: The San Francisco 49ers made it all the way to the Super Bowl this year with running back Christian McCaffrey as the centrepiece of their offense. McCaffrey won Offensive Player of the Year in 2023 because of his ability as a runner (a league-leading 1459 rushing yards) and his unique value in the passing game (564 receiving yards, 6.8 yards per target).

Of the four backs, Ekeler is the best pass catcher: He has an exceptional 440 receptions for 3884 yards and 30 touchdowns over his 103 games. Henry still has a lot of star power, so he'll probably draw interest from a team with fantasies of fielding a power-running attack: the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens would both make sense. As for Pollard and Barkley, they may have to settle for modest, short-term deals and cross their fingers that they can enhance their value with big seasons.   

Photo Credit: © Denny Simmons / The Tennessean / USA TODAY NETWORK