Why the Eagles don’t think they overspent on Saquon Barkley

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PHILADELPHIA — The league’s collective reluctance to pay running backs played heavily into the Philadelphia Eagles‘ decision to sign Saquon Barkley to a three-year, $37.75 million contract in free agency.

That became clear at the league meetings in Orlando, where CEO Jeffrey Lurie and general manager Howie Roseman shed light on the thinking behind one of the biggest splash moves of the offseason.

“We’re always looking for inefficiencies in the marketplace. And if we think the league is overvaluing the position or undervaluing a position, we will try our best … [to] take advantage of those inefficiencies,” Lurie said. “That’s important as you try to maximize the salary cap and how you allocate resources within a defined space.”

The Eagles have pushed against the idea that this was an out-of-character move, citing the lucrative extension they gave LeSean McCoy in 2012 and Brian Westbrook before him. But those signings happened over a decade ago, and both with homegrown talents.

Lurie emphasized that they are not averse to paying backs, they are just careful about it, committing only to dynamic players in both the run and pass game.

Barkley rushed for over 5,200 yards over six seasons with the New York Giants and added 288 catches for 2,100 yards. He did so in less-than-ideal conditions, which was also a consideration.

“He exhibited a very special skill set both in the running and the passing game that we think certainly can be maximized by being on a team with better skill positions, quarterback, offensive line,” Lurie said.

Teams have generally been hesitant to commit big dollars to even some of the more productive backs in recent seasons, keeping the salary inflation low compared to other positions. The top-paid back in the league, Christian McCaffrey, makes $16 million a year on average. There are a total of just six running backs making more than $10 million a year including Barkley at $13 million.

Meanwhile, the top NFL receiver, Tyreek Hill, nets $30 million a year. He’s one of 16 players that is north of $20 million per season on average while another 13 players are at $10 million or more, including some that aren’t the primary receiving option on their squad.

“Has the pendulum swung so far at this position — I mean, the guy touches the ball 300 times a year, hopefully,” Roseman said. “There’s not a lot of other skill position players that are touching the ball that many times and having that effect.”

Judging by their comments, the Eagles are expecting Barkley to be a central part of their offense. Then again, the same could be said for quarterback Jalen Hurts and his potent receiving options in A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith and tight end Dallas Goedert.

Coach Nick Sirianni predictably called the plethora of options “a good problem to have,” though he acknowledged it’s going to require a degree of selflessness for the operation to work.

“What’s important in the process of a season is that we build the connection, we build the team, so regardless of how much they’re eating, everyone is excited for each other,” Sirianni said.

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