Derrick Henry, Christian McCaffrey, Jonathan Taylor, Austin Ekeler sound off on absence of RB extensions: 'Criminal'

Le'Veon Bell also said he's persuading young players to switch positions

Saquon Barkley and Josh Jacobs will play this NFL season on the franchise tag. Or they won't.

Those are the only two options.

After the passage of a Monday deadline, neither is eligible to sign a long-term deal this offseason following months of failed negotiations. How they proceed is now up to them. Holding out for training camp, the start of the season or beyond is an option for both players. It's an option Le'Veon Bell maximized in 2018 under similar circumstances that marked the end of his tenure with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Neither has signed their franchise tender.

Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Pollard, meanwhile, has decided to sign his franchise tender and is expected to play this season without an extension.

For NFL running backs, the absence of extensions for two of the best at the position further signals a stark reality in a league that continues to devalue them and increasingly declines to make long-term investments in the position. Some of the league's best backs took notice of the news.

Derrick Henry, right, has Saquon Barkley's back. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
(R-L) Derrick Henry has Saquon Barkley's back. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

They also took notice of ESPN draft analyst Matt Miller, who tweeted about the perceived disposability of running backs amid Monday's news. They sounded off.

Tennessee Titans running back and two-time NFL rushing champion Derrick Henry had this to say:

"At this point, just take the RB position out the game then," Henry wrote on Twitter. "The ones that want to be great & work as hard as they can to give their all to an organization, just seems like it don’t even matter. I’m with every RB that’s fighting to get what they deserve."

Fortunately for Henry, he's not facing the same circumstances as Jacobs and Barkley. He's approaching the final year of a four-year, $50 million extension to his rookie contract and was awarded a $2 million pay bump last offseason. He got his big payday. But he'll be fighting for another one soon.

Three-time Pro Bowl and two-time All-Pro San Francisco 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey has also secured his payday as he approaches the second year of a four-year, $64 million contract. Like Henry, he stood in solidarity with his fellow running backs, calling the lack of long-term deals by Monday's deadline "criminal."

"This is Criminal. Three of the best PLAYERS in the entire league, regardless of position," McCaffrey wrote of Barkley, Jacobs and Pollard.

Austin Ekeler is playing on considerably less lucrative 4-year, $24.5 million contract with the Los Angeles Chargers. He requested a trade this offseason in search of a new deal, but is remaining with the Chargers after negotiating an incentive boost. Like Henry, he pronounced his support for his fellow running backs while calling Miller's take on the position's disposability "trash."

"This is the kind of trash that has artificially devalued one of the most important positions in the game," Ekeler wrote. "Everyone knows it’s tough to win without a top RB and yet they act like we are discardable widgets. I support any RB doing whatever it takes to get his bag."

Without a new deal of his own, Indianapolis Colts running back and 2021 NFL rushing champion Jonathan Taylor will be in a similar position as Jacobs and Barkley next offseason. He's approaching the final year of his four-year, $7.8 million rookie contract. He could very well face the prospect of playing the 2024 season under the franchise tag if he and the Colts don't come to terms.

He was among the first to respond to the news Monday that Jacobs and Barkley didn't get new deals. He was succinct in his response.

Later, he saw the same tweet from Miller that prompted responses from Henry and Ekeler. He responded in kind.

"1. If you’re good enough, they’ll find you," Taylor wrote.

"2. If you work hard enough, you’ll succeed.

…If you succeed…

3. You boost the Organization

…and then…

Doesn’t matter, you’re a RB"

Le'Veon Bell compares the NFL to "A Bug's Life"

Former NFL running back Le'Veon Bell, who recently admitted he shouldn't have sat out an entire season in search of a new contract, offered his perspective on the subject in a series of tweets Tuesday morning.

First, he said he actively steered a young football player away from playing the running back position.

"It’s to the point now where I gotta tell em play defense, quarterback, wide out, or KICKER … straight up."

Bell then compared what is happening to running backs with the plot of Disney's 1998 animated movie, "A Bug's Life." He said running backs are the ants and he's the main character, Flik, who tried to rally the other ants against the oppressive grasshoppers (who he said would be the NFL owners).

For those who don't remember or haven't seen the movie, the ants are forced to give a large portion of their seasonal harvest to a gang of grasshoppers. But Flik attempts to convince his fellow ants — who vastly outnumber the grasshoppers — that they should stand together and push back on the demands.

NFL running backs are in a position like they've never been before. Now, they're showing solidarity. How Jacobs and Barkley approach the upcoming season without new deals will be of great interest to all involved parties.

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