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Franchise tag value making Nick Chubb’s extension the exception to RBs getting paid rule

Saquon Barkley, Josh Jacobs & Tony Pollard had their franchise tag deadlines pass without extensions

2023 NFL Pro Bowl Games Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

“The NFL is a passing league.” “Running backs don’t matter. “ “I wouldn’t take a running back in the first round, ever.” “Signing backs to big extensions is always a bad idea.”

These, and more, have been said over the last decade as things change in football. Despite the fact that running backs are keys to the game in high school and college, they have been mostly used and discarded at the pro level.

The Cleveland Browns went against what many expected from an “analytics” led front office to do with RB Nick Chubb. Chubb’s three-year extension for over $36 million is the fourth-highest total contract at his position.

Comparing positions, Chubb’s contract wouldn’t crack the top 20 for quarterbacks or wide receivers.

Monday was the deadline for franchise-tagged players to reach long-term deals with their teams. TE Evan Engram was able to come to an agreement but three running backs did not: Saquon Barkley, Josh Jacobs and Tony Pollard.

The failure for the three franchised tagged running backs failing to get extensions has reignited the conversation about running back value.

Christian McCaffrey, the highest paid per year back, didn’t mince words:

While McCaffrey responded to the news, three other top running backs responded to ESPN’s Matt Miller’s take on running back:

While Derrick Henry is already one of the top paid at his position, Jonathan Taylor and Austin Ekeler are known to be looking for big deals coming their way.

Unlike the Browns with Chubb, most teams are showing what they think of running backs with their contract decisions. The New York Giants paid QB Daniel Jones a big deal despite continued questions about his ability to play at a high level. Instead of paying Pollard, the Dallas Cowboys traded for Brandin Cooks despite having Michael Gallup already making over $50 million and CeeDee Lamb up for a big new deal soon at wide receiver.

The Los Angeles Chargers, Ekeler’s team, refused his request for a contract extension this offseason having invested $60 million in Mike Williams last season and having Keenan Allen making $20 million a year.

Joe Mixon just took a pay cut to stick with the Cincinnati Bengals before they look to pay an overwhelming amount of money to Joe Burrow, JaMarr Chase and Tee Higgins.

One of the many reasons that running backs have struggled to get a big deal is the value of the franchise tag. The only tag that costs less is for a kicker or punter. Not only that but the value of the tag has actually gone down as the salary cap has risen:

While the NFL can be cyclical in nature, Chubb’s extension could be the last one for running backs in the near future. If Barkley, Jacobs and Pollard can’t get multi-year contracts, it will be tough for Najee Harris, Travis Etienne, Taylor and others when their free agency hits. Instead, expect teams to place the franchise tag on their back for a year or two before moving on to a cheap draft pick as Miller suggested.

Are you surprised by how quickly running back contracts have fallen? Surprised that the Browns and Chubb worked out a deal?