Saquon Barkley, Derrick Henry head star-studded NFL free-agency class that will answer major question

The true worth of a running back will be determined this offseason.

This year’s stable of free-agent running backs could arguably be the most star-studded group of all time, potentially featuring standouts such as the Giants’ Saquon Barkley, the Titans’ Derrick Henry, the Raiders’ Josh Jacobs, the Cowboys’ Tony Pollard and the Chargers’ Austin Ekeler, among others.

Saquon Barkely is set to enter free agency. AP

The Post reported last week that the Giants are not expected to use the franchise tag on Barkley, and the Raiders and Cowboys will follow suit with Jacobs and Pollard, respectively, according to ESPN.

With such difference-making talent available, this upcoming free-agency period will showcase whether teams truly are no longer willing to pay significant amounts for the running back position.

While other positions like quarterback and wide receiver have seen salaries skyrocket as the salary cap has increased, the running back position has gone the other way with concerns over longevity due to the bruising nature of the role.

49ers do-it-all sensation Christian McCaffrey is the only back with an annual average value of more than $15 million, according to Spotrac.

Jonathan Taylor led the league in rushing yards and touchdowns in 2021, but only signed a three-year, $42 million deal this past October.

Josh Jacobs of the Raiders. Getty Images

Former Eagles running back Miles Sanders, a perfectly solid player, settled for a four-year, $25.4 million deal and lost snaps to Chuba Hubbard in the first year of the deal.

The Giants, Raiders and Cowboys are already showing the market may not be all that robust as the Raiders passed on a franchise tag worth $14.15 million for Jacobs, while New York and Dallas are not using their $12.11 million tags on Barkley and Pollard, respectively, per ESPN.

The odds are not all of these players will receive the long-term paydays they are searching for, especially when there are lower-tier options that will be more cost-efficient in D’Andre Swift, Gus Edwards, Ezekiel Elliott, AJ Dillon and Devin Singletary, among others.

Derrick Henry will be a top free agent. Getty Images

Teams also have taken to selecting running backs later in the draft, giving them an inexpensive option with high upside.

Other teams opt for the running-back-by-committee approach, rather than relying on one bell-cow back like in previous eras.

Free agency opens on March 13.

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