Have the New York Giants finally learned the modern lesson at the running back position?
After contract negotiations between the team and Saquon Barkley ended in disappointment by Monday’s franchise tag deadline, New York must move forward with the very real possibility they won’t have their Pro Bowl back for the 2023 season.
Should Barkley not sign his franchise tender, the Giants would have just Matt Brieda, Gary Brightwell, Eric Gray, and recently signed James Robinson in the running back room. Each of these backs brings something unique to the room.
More importantly, they carry a total cap hit of under $4 million – almost twice as less as Barkley’s franchise tag.
The full contract details for the recently signed Robinson have not been disclosed yet, but it’s a clear example of the changing of the guard with how the Giants want to operate. Most NFL-contending teams have used a running back-by-committee approach that uses value signings to make up for what a bell-cow back could bring. In Super Bowl LVII, both the Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs paid their entire runningback rooms under $10 million between the two. They were also the two best teams in the NFL last season.
It appears the Giants understand that if they want to be in the conversation of the best teams in the NFL, they’ll need to begin acting like one within the players they decide to actually pay.
Without Barkley attending camp, the G-Men will be relying on Brieda’s shiftiness, Brightwell’s speed, and Robinson’s overall power. It’s an interesting combination that has served New York well in the past. On the 2007 championship team, the running back trio of Brandon Jacobs, Ahmad Bradshaw, and Derrick Ward were important to the overall health of the roster. Because neither of the three received major contracts, the Giants were able to keep their approach for a second Super Bowl just four years later.
Even without their Pro Bowl running back, the Giants can still be a successful football team. Down the stretch in 2022, Barkley began to falter behind the schematic changes of defense targeting him in New York’s offense. He averaged less than four yards a carry in six of his final nine regular season games. They may have gone 3-5-1 to end the season, but their success in the postseason (securing their first playoff win in over a decade) relied more on the arm of Daniel Jones than Barkley.
This should allow New York to be able to find a different scheme that relies more on the plethora of wide receiver weapons they have instead of focusing their offensive strategy on one player. That kind of balance makes other offenses difficult to stop, instead of the one-dimensional approach that mediocre teams sift through.
There will be analysts and former players that may be angry with the running back position continuing to be devalued, but the Giants’ forward-thinking approach has brought them into the modern generation. James Robinson may not even be on the team to start the regular season, but his signing before training camp practices shows a recommitment from the team to go back to the kind of style of football that made them so successful years ago.
And it might just get them back to the Super Bowl after over a decade of futility this time around.