NFL Free Agency

These 5 star running backs not expected to be franchise-tagged, report says

Saquon Barkley and Austin Ekeler are among the star running backs reportedly expected to hit free agency

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The 2024 NFL free agent class is shaping up to be loaded at the running back position.

ESPN's Adam Schefter reported, citing sources, on Monday that running backs Saquon Barkley, Austin Ekeler, Derrick Henry, Josh Jacobs and Tony Pollard are all expected to hit free agency.

Barkley, Jacobs and Pollard were each franchise-tagged last offseason, while Ekeler and Henry were in the final years of their deals. But, according to Schefter, the tag isn't likely to be applied to any of the five big-name backs this time around.

"The Las Vegas Raiders will attempt to re-sign Jacobs, but they are not expected to tag him, league sources told ESPN, especially with his franchise tag costing $14,149,200," Schefter wrote. "The New York Giants will speak with Barkley and explore a deal with him, but they are also unlikely to tag him for $12,109,200, sources told ESPN. The Dallas Cowboys are not expected to use the same $12,109,200 tag for Pollard, sources told ESPN.

"The Tennessee Titans won't tag standout veteran Derrick Henry, and the Los Angeles Chargers also are expected to let Austin Ekeler explore free agency, league sources told ESPN."

The franchise tag period, which opened on Feb. 20, runs until March 5 at 4 p.m. ET.

Barkley, who turned 27 earlier this month, rushed for 962 yards (3.9 per carry) and six touchdowns over 14 games last season. The two-time Pro Bowler added 41 receptions for 280 yards and four scores.

Jacobs, who turned 26 earlier this month, posted career lows in several categories in 2023 on the heels of an All-Pro 2022 campaign. The two-time Pro Bowler tallied 805 yards (3.5 average) and six touchdowns on the ground along with 37 receptions for 296 yards over 13 games.

Pollard appeared in all 17 games last season as he returned from a broken leg. The one-time Pro Bowler, who turns 27 in April, went above 1,000 rushing yards a second straight season with 1,005 yards (4.0 average) and six scores on the ground. He added 55 receptions for 311 yards.

Ekeler, who turns 29 in May, tallied 1,064 yards from scrimmage (628 rushing, 426 receiving) and six total touchdowns over 14 games last season. The all-around back recorded 1,500-plus yards from scrimmage and 18-plus total touchdowns in each two seasons prior to 2023.

A two-time rushing champ, Henry is set to hit free agency a couple months after turning 30. The 2020 Offensive Player of the Year notched the fifth 1,000-yard season of his career in 2023, racking up 1,167 rushing yards on a league-high 280 attempts (4.2 average) over 17 games. It marked the fourth time in the last five seasons Henry led the NFL in carries.

Should they make it free agency, Barkley, Ekeler, Henry, Jacobs and Pollard won't be the only notable backs on the open market. D'Andre Swift, AJ Dillon, Devin Singletary, Zack Moss, J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards are among the other players scheduled to hit free agency.

It will be interesting to see what types of deals the top running backs land in free agency as big-money, long-term contracts have been rare at the position in recent years. Last season, Jonathan Taylor became the first back since 2021 to sign a long-term deal worth at least $10 million per year when the Indianapolis Colts inked him to a three-year, $42 million contract.

NFL free agency begins with the legal tampering period on March 11 at 12 p.m. ET. Deals can be made official once the new league year starts on March 13 at 4 p.m. ET.

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