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Why Dallas Cowboys benefit from avoiding big RB paydays in more ways than one

While Dallas learned from the mistake of using a large amount at the position, the Giants-Saquon Barkley saga is worthy of attention.

Just because the Cowboys arrived late to the party for cutting running backs out of the loop for big paydays doesn’t mean they aren’t profiting from it now. And letting Tony Pollard play the 2023 season on the franchise tag isn’t even the biggest part of this story.

While it was a given that Dallas would not sign Pollard to a long-term contract after he suffered a broken leg in last year’s playoff loss at San Francisco, New York’s back-and-forth squabble with Saquon Barkley — arguably the best player on the Giants’ roster — went public for weeks. At Monday’s 3 p.m. deadline, Barkley tweeted, ”It is what it is,’’ signaling that there would be no multi-year deal for him, same as Pollard, same as Josh Jacobs in Las Vegas.


Give them a chance and NFL owners, blessed with TV riches other sports can’t even contemplate, will find ways to cut costs. The silencing of running back dollars is merely their latest gambit.

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The Barkley saga has been significant for Cowboys fans, along with any coming fallout, for the obvious reasons. Dallas plays the Giants twice including the season opener at MetLife Stadium Sept. 10. There have been hints that an unhappy Barkley would sit without a long-term extension, one that cannot now be negotiated until after the season.

For most of the last 40 years, I have taken athletes’ threats to withhold their services as a proper negotiating ploy and nothing more. More than 90% of the time that proves to be the case. Emmitt Smith altered that line of thinking in 1993 by sitting out the Super Bowl champions’ first two games — losses to Washington and Buffalo — but that was a different world in which real free agency had not truly burst onto the scene.


We have seen unhappy running backs do strange things — Le’Veon Bell recently apologized for ever leaving Pittsburgh in a huff over money to go to the Jets — so who knows what Barkley might do or where his head might be on Sept. 10. Much of his presumed anger relates to the club’s having given quarterback Daniel Jones a four-year $160 million deal so it could franchise Barkley at $10.1 million for this season. Barkley is a top five running back on anyone’s list. Jones is not a top 10 quarterback, but he plays the position that gets paid and Barkley plays the one where players are cast aside long before their 30th birthdays.

See Ezekiel Elliott and Dalvin Cook (both 27) for more details.

Still, the idea that the Giants were allegedly offering Barkley about $22 million in guaranteed money would understandably incense the running back. In 2019 under different circumstances — Elliott still had two years remaining on his rookie deal — the Cowboys tacked on a six-year, $90 million addition that made Zeke (at least for a time) the highest-paid back in the league.


If he wasn’t instantly supplanted by Pollard in terms of a breakaway threat, it did not take long. Elliott ended up making about $50 million the last four years, which was the reported guarantee at the time of the signing. In today’s game, Jacobs led the NFL in rushing and couldn’t get a multi-year deal. Barkley, when healthy (and that is part of the equation for management), is the key to the Giants’ attack but New York will gladly and I would say wisely take his production one year at a time now.

However things go with Barkley‘s mindset when the Giants open camp on July 25 is certainly worthy of attention. As a 9-7-1 team under first-year coach Brian Daboll last year, the Giants fall into the classification, at least for me, of “Objects In Your Rearview Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear.”

It’s easy for Cowboys fans to view New York dismissively. The Cowboys won both meetings last season, 23-16 and 28-20. A Barkley touchdown briefly put New York on top 13-6 in the third quarter in New York but Dallas quickly rallied and took control. I don’t mean to play the ”take out one play and a team or player only did this” game, but aside from that 36-yard touchdown run, the Cowboys kept Barkley under wraps for the two games — 24 carries for 84 yards.


Still, I wouldn’t assume anything about a season opener in a road stadium against a team that believes it turned the corner last January with its first playoff win since the Super Bowl 12 seasons ago. The Cowboys should be grateful that their mishandling of Zeke’s situation helped elevate virtually all NFL clubs to the “Pay No Mind to Running Backs” mentality. If it still stings Barkley on Sept. 10 — or if, in fact, he’s not even there that night — a Cowboys team that lost its last three season openers will take a break wherever it can find one.

Twitter: @TimCowlishaw

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