Although the NFL calendar is designed to be free for the next month-plus, ahead of the opening of training camps in late July, Monday is four weeks until the July 17 deadline for teams to sign franchise players to long-term contracts .
Only six were tagged this year, and Baltimore Ravens QB Lamar Jackson and Washington Commanders DT Daron Payne have received huge extensions. However, four others – notably three at the salary-challenged running back position – remain without financial security beyond the 2023 season.
A little advice for every club facing a decision in the coming month:
New York Giants RB Saquon Barkley
Where things stand: Despite sitting out the regular-season finale, the Pro Bowler’s 1,650 yards from scrimmage for a 2022 wild-card entry was more than double the production of any of his teammates and represented nearly 30% of the club’s total offensive production — which is to say, hard to figure out how the Giants would manage to make up for the shortfall if Barkley doesn’t post. With the prospect of making $10.1 million on his current one-year tender (which has not been signed) this season – that would tie him for seventh in the league in average salary, behind the likes of Joe Mixon and Aaron Jones – Barkley has already entertained the idea of sitting out the season, saying recently: “I think it’s a conversation. … It’s a card I could play.”
Best practice: Barkley has expressed a desire to be “a giant for life” while claiming he’s not aiming to reset the running back market, which has just two players (Christian McCaffrey and Alvin Kamara) averaging at least 15 million dollars annually with two-time rushing champion. Derrick Henry in third place with $12.5 million per It seems like a pretty nice canvas for the G-Men and Barkley to find a rewarding middle ground — especially considering the offensive regression the team will surely face without him, not to mention the likely derailment of the upward development that QB Daniel Jones showed last. season.
Las Vegas Raiders RB Josh Jacobs
Where things stand: He was a first-time All-Pro and league rushing king (1,653 yards) in 2022, the final year of the former first-rounder’s rookie contract after the Silver and Black declined his fifth-year option. And yet Jacobs remains basically stuck in a prove-it position for a franchise that hasn’t exactly had a smooth offseason.
Best practice: Jacobs’ league-best 2,053 yards from scrimmage last season eclipsed his previous best of 700+ yards — so you can call his campaign a breakout … and/or suggest his value may never be higher. Though he’s been beat up often, he’s been a more durable player than Barkley, if not quite the dynamic talent. With the Raiders likely no better than a third-place team in the AFC West and seemingly in some version of a rebuild, trading Jacobs might actually be the smartest move given the apparent reluctance to commit to him.
Dallas Cowboys RB Tony Pollard
Where things stand: Unlike his fellow tag-ees, Pollard has signed his offer — $10.1 million for a year’s work, apparently more appealing to a former quarterback coming off a broken leg, to say nothing of his inexperience as Dallas’ RB1. But Pollard has earned a payday after his first 1,000-yard rushing season, which included a team-high 12 TDs and consistent play production on the ground and in the passing game.
Best practice: Pollard recently turned 26, and last season was his first in the NFL with more than 200 touches. Giving him a three- or four-year deal that averages $11 or $12 million — essentially where Mixon and Aaron Jones are — seems reasonable given the extra dimension Pollard adds to a Dallas offense that seems will be more dependent on running in 2023. And a relatively modest extension might better enable America’s Team to rekindle its relationship with Pollard’s former running mate, Ezekiel Elliott — an outcome that seems best for all parties.
Jacksonville Jaguars TE Evan Engram
Where things stand: His first season in Duval Co. produced a career year (73 receptions, 766 yards), with Engram becoming a valuable component in the AFC South champions’ passing game. GM Trent Baalke has telegraphed a willingness to find a multi-year deal with the 2017 first-rounder.
Best practice: The 4.4 speed Engram displayed coming out of college makes him one of the bigger mismatches at his position. Still, he’s never had the consistency, durability or combine ability to warrant jumping him near the top of the tight salary scale. If the sides can work out a pact somewhere in the $13 million-a-year range — Dawson Knox territory — that seems eminently reasonable. Otherwise, play it out and move on if necessary.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.