Zeke’s contract raises the question: Should the New York Giants do the same with Saquon Barkley?
After an entire training camp of holding out, Ezekiel Elliott won his power struggle against Jerry Jones, becoming the highest-paid running back in the NFL. On September 4th, he signed his 6-year extension including $90 million dollars in new money, $50 million in guarantees. His annual salary stands at $15 million dollars.
The New York Giants just enjoyed a fabulous rookie season from their young running back but before we know it, his time will come to be the highest-paid running back as well.
There’s no question of whether it will happen, but should the Giants be the team to make Barkley the highest-paid running back?
Looking at Todd Gurley and the Rams as an example is unsettling, considering Gurley’s tendon flare-up last season.
Gurley only had 23 total carries in his last 2 games before missing the last 2 games of the season. The team even had CJ Anderson shoulder the load in the playoffs when the games mattered most. The backup running back helped the Rams get to the Super Bowl but he wasn’t enough to take down Tom Brady and the Patriots. Todd Gurley only had 11 touches in the Super Bowl due to his injury, leaving Anderson as the primary back.
The ultra-talented running back also affected the passing game. When Jared Goff had Todd Gurley for the first 15 weeks he passed for at least 300 yards 9 times. In the 5 games where Gurley either didn’t play or wasn’t himself, Goff didn’t reach the 300-yard mark once. He also threw just 6 touchdowns without Gurley at 100%. Before that, he threw 27 touchdowns in 14 games with Gurley healthy.
While the running back proved to be vital to the success of this offense, he just couldn’t last as long as they needed him. This unfortunate situation transpired just months after the team signed Todd Gurley to a multi-year deal paying him over $14 million dollars annually.
The Businessman Paid a Running Back
Jerry Jones has been known to be a very successful businessman, leading the Cowboys to become the most valuable football franchise in the world. He was recently inducted into the Hall Of Fame as one of the league’s most successful owners.
He also just paid $90 million to a position that “doesn’t matter” according to many. Clearly, he doesn’t view running back as a worthless asset. He probably shouldn’t think that way either, considering his Super Bowl titles consisted of Emmitt Smith running his way to victory.
As far as his current team, Jones probably sees Elliott in the same light. When the running back was suspended for 6 games in 2017 Dak Prescott didn’t look so good. He went from winning nearly every game he played to falling into a 3-3 record without Zeke carrying the load. Dak’s efficient passing stats fell to an embarrassing 5-9 touchdown to interception ratio during the 6-game ban. For a point of reference, he only threw 4 interceptions in the first 9 games with Elliott on the field.
How many teams can field a 4th round rookie quarterback and win 13 games? In 2016, Dak Prescott led the team to 13 victories and his passing stats are alarming for such a high success rate. He only had 2 games with 300 passing yards. The rookie only had to throw the ball 30 times in 9 games. With all due respect to his ability to manage a game at a young age, Dak wasn’t the reason they were winning games. Ezekiel Elliott rushing for over 100 yards per game, with a total of 1,000 rushing yards on first downs alone was the reason they were winning games. Any offense should be efficient and ahead of the chains when there were 1,000 rushing yards on first downs alone throughout the season.
In the 2018 playoffs, Elliott ran all over the Seahawks for 137 rushing yards, leading the team to victory. When the team couldn’t run the ball well against the Rams a week later, Dak didn’t have an answer. The team fell 20-22 with Zeke’s 47 total rushing yards.
Here’s another situation where a running back is vital to the success of an offense.
Gurley and Elliot are the two running backs that are paid upwards of $14 million dollars annually so far. Will Saquon Barkley be worth a similar price for the Giants?
We don’t know how the Elliott deal will go for the Cowboys. The Rams are only 1 year into their new deal with Gurley. So far it hasn’t gone well with health being the reason. It’s important to note Saquon Barkley doesn’t have the injury history that Gurley has. The Rams running back has suffered ACL injuries in the past leading to his tendinitis. Barkley hasn’t sustained any significant injuries and hasn’t missed a game since his freshman year at Penn State.
So far, the team doesn’t have a sample size of time Saquon has missed and how it affects the offense. What we do know is he accounted for OVER 50% of the team’s total yards as a rookie. He also helped Eli cut down his interception total to a career-low of 11. A quarterback who has thrown 14+ interceptions in 11 seasons. Barkley also had over 700 receiving yards out of the backfield, providing number two wide receiver numbers on top of his 1,307 rushing yards.
The Giants should re-sign him one day, but what will Saquon Barkley cost?
With the current cost of an elite running back standing at $15 million annually, The Giants are looking at a hefty price to keep Barkley once his rookie contract expires.
Based on the young talent’s immediate success and classy approach, you can plan on the team further investing in him, if selecting him second overall didn’t say enough.
The good news is that there’s arguably only two elite running backs yet to be paid before Barkley, being Alvin Kamara and Christian McCaffrey. This means the number could remain under $20 million annually if both only slightly set the new standard in pay. Running backs like Dalvin Cook, Joe Mixon and Melvin Gordon will most likely fall under Todd Gurley in the hierarchy of running back contracts.
If the Giants are looking at slightly under or even $20 million in annual salary, this would be nearly a sixth of the salary cap for one player. Usually, a team has a quarterback who makes that kind of money. While it’s certainly a lot of money for a non-quarterback, the Giants won’t need to re-sign a quarterback until the 2024 season, at the earliest.
The Giants will have the luxury of spending less than $10 million annually on the quarterback position after 2019, leaving plenty of room to spend elsewhere. The timing works beautifully for a team needing to pay a running back in the future. If the team wants to avoid breaking the bank for both players, they could front-load a contract that pays Barkley the brunt of his deal before re-signing Jones if all goes well for the rookie quarterback.
Not only is an elite running back like Saquon Barkley a quarterback’s best friend, but the New York Giants will also be in the right financial position to keep Saquon Barkley around for a long time. If the team wants to minimize the blow to their wallet, they should try to pay him before many other running backs top Zeke’s deal. There’s a couple right around the corner in Alvin Kamara and Christian McCaffrey.
As much as you hear about running backs being a product of their surroundings, there is clear statistical regression for an offense when removing an elite running back from the unit. Since quarterback play is also directly affected by elite running backs, valuing elite running backs at top-dollar is more reasonable than many think.