Getty Images

Six players were designated as franchise players in early March. Three of the six, all running backs, were unable to reach an agreement before the July 17 deadline for franchise players to sign multi-year contracts. By NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement rules, Saquon Barkley, Josh Jacobs and Tony Pollard are prohibited from signing long term with the Giants, Raiders and Cowboys, respectively, until after the 2023 regular season ends on Jan. 7, 2024.

Pollard is in a different boat than Barkley and Jacobs. He signed his $10.091 million franchise tag in March shortly after getting the designation. The other two ball-carriers remain unsigned.

The expectation is that Barkley and Jacobs will be no shows when the Giants and Raiders veteran players report to training camp on July 25. As unsigned franchise players, Barkley and Jacobs can't be fined $50,000 for each day of training camp missed. Attendance won't be required because of the absence of a signed contract. Barkley and Jacobs won't be withholding
services they are contractually obligated to perform.

Missing part or most of training camp and the preseason isn't out of the ordinary for unsigned franchise players. It's typically done partially to protest not getting a long-term deal and to try to minimize the risk of a serious injury.

Last year, offensive tackle Orlando Brown, Jr. missed a week of Chiefs training camp before signing his $16.662 franchise tag on Aug. 2. Bengals safety Jessie Bates III had a longer absence. He waited until Aug. 23, which was a couple days after Cincinnati's second preseason game, to sign his $12.911 million franchise tender.

Some of the other unsigned franchise players who didn't come to training camp on time over the last decade include running back Le'Veon Bell (2017 and 2018), safety Eric Berry (2016), edge rusher Jadeveon Clowney (2019) and edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue (2020). Bell didn't sign his franchise tender with the Steelers until Labor Day in 2017. Berry didn't report to the Chiefs until the end of August in 2016.

There has been some speculation that Barkley and/or Jacobs could miss regular season games. For every regular season week missed, Barkley and Jacobs would each lose 1/18th of the $10.091 million franchise tender, which has been counting against New York and Las Vegas' salary caps since the designation was made. That's $560,611 per week. In addition to saving money, the teams would get a salary cap credit in that amount for every week their running back was unsigned.

The deadline for Barkley and Jacobs to sign is 4 p.m. ET on the Tuesday after Week 10's games, which is Nov. 14. They would be prohibited from playing during the 2023 season if still unsigned after this date. 

It is a rarity for franchise players to miss regular season games, let alone the entire season. The last time games were missed was with Bell in 2018. He sat out the entire season rather than play on a franchise tag for a second consecutive year. Before Bell, a franchise player hadn't skipped an entire season since Chiefs defensive lineman Dan Williams in 1998. For what it's worth, Bell has expressed regret about sitting out and leaving the Steelers during 2019 free agency.

The Giants and Raiders also have an extreme tool at their disposal. Barkley and Jacobs' franchise tenders can be rescinded while they remain unsigned. $10.091 million of 2023 cap room would be gained by making Barkley and Jacobs unrestricted free agents. 

The chances of this happening are remote. It would be counterproductive and a public relations nightmare for either team to release the running backs considering Jacobs led the NFL in rushing last season with 1,653 yards and Barkley was the focal point of the Giants' offense.

Franchise tenders have been revoked on four occasions. The last revocation was Josh Norman's by the Panthers in 2016 shortly before the NFL Draft. He promptly signed a long-term deal with the Commanders, making him the NFL's highest-paid cornerback. The only time it's happened after training camps opened was when the Eagles rescinded defensive tackle Corey Simon's right before the start of the 2005 regular season. He signed a lucrative long-term deal with the Colts several days later.

Barkley and Jacobs are allowed to negotiate their one-year salary with the Giants and Raiders as well as other conditions relating to being a franchise player. It is customary for franchise players who don't get long-term deals to play for the tender amount. A franchise player getting more than the tag amount would be unprecedented.

The most unique situation involved edge rusher Jason Pierre-Paul in 2015. He signed an incentive laden one-year deal with the Giants worth up to the prorated amount of his franchise tag after severely injuring his right hand during a Fourth of July fireworks accident that kept him from being physically cleared to play football until seven weeks into the season.

Barkley and Jacobs could insist on a clause that would prohibit a franchise or transition designation being used on them in 2024 (i.e.; a prohibition clause) in order to play under the $10.091 million tender. These types of clauses aren't easy for franchise players to obtain.

Edge rusher Jadeveon Clowney was able to finagle a clause preventing the Seahawks from designating him as a franchise or transition player once his one-year contract expired in connection with his trade from the Texans, which occurred a week before most teams opened the 2019 regular season. He took almost $1 million less than his franchise tender in the process. The Texans also agreed to pay $7 million of Clowney's $15 million one-year salary as a signing bonus to help facilitate the trade.

A franchise player hadn't gotten this type of provision in over a decade prior to Clowney. The Titans gave defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth a conditional prohibition clause in 2008. It was triggered by Haynesworth making the Pro Bowl, having at least 60% defensive playtime, or 53% defensive playtime and the Titans winning at least 10 games or ranking in the top five in total defense.

Linebacker Lance Briggs and cornerback Asante Samuel had clauses similar to Haynesworth's when they were franchised in 2007 by the Bears and Patriots, respectively. Samuel's prohibition clause was triggered by him having at least 60% playtime on defense or the Patriots winning at least 12 games. Samuel held out until the end of August for his clause. Briggs' clause was predicated on his defensive playtime being at least 75%.

Offensive tackle Jeff Backus and cornerback Nate Clements had prohibition clauses without any conditions in 2006 when they were respectively franchised by the Lions and Bills. The Seahawks also gave running back Shaun Alexander one when he was their franchise player in 2005.

The clause might be an easy concession for the Giants and Raiders to make given the current financial climate for running backs. Barkley and Jacobs might not cash in with assured freedom in 2024.

Teams exercised fiscal restraint in free agency this year. The four-year, $25.64 million deal Miles Sanders signed with the Panthers averaging $6.35 million per year was the best running back contract in the open market. Sanders was unable to capitalize on a 2022 season with the Eagles where he had career highs of 1,269 rushing yards and 11 rushing touchdowns, which were fifth and eighth in the NFL, respectively.

Bell was the last running back to get a big payday in free agency. The Jets gave him a four-year, $52.5 million contract ($13.125 million per year) worth up to $60.15 million through incentives and salary escalators. The deal had $35 million in overall guarantees where $27 million was fully guaranteed at signing. The $27 million was a record for running backs at the time.

Bell's first year with the Jets was underwhelming. He rushed for 789 yards while averaging 3.2 yards per carry in 2019. The Jets pulled the plugged on a disgruntled Bell by releasing him five games into his second season in New York. Bell made just over $27 million for his 21-game stay in New York.

Trying to force a trade is another option for Barkley and Jacobs. The prohibition on signing a long-term deal until the regular season ends also applies to the new team with a trade.

An unsigned franchise player can have influence over his destination. Since a player with an unsigned tender can't be traded until under contract, he essentially has veto power on where he is being dealt or at all. This gives the player a de facto no trade clause. Clowney was able to quash a trade to the Dolphins by refusing to sign his tender for a move to Miami.

Franchise player trades during the preseason are about as rare as prohibition clauses. Outside of Clowney being dealt, the only other preseason franchise player trade recently involved edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue in 2020.

Ngakoue made it abundantly clear he wasn't going to continue playing for the Jaguars after being designated as franchise player for $17.788 million in 2020. He wanted out of Jacksonville so badly he put his money where his mouth is. In order to facilitate a trade to Minnesota, Ngakoue took close to a 30% pay cut from his unsigned franchise tender down to $12 million. Ngakoue was subsequently traded during the middle of the 2020 season to the Ravens.

Given how big a haircut Ngakoue took financially, it was surprising that he didn't get a clause, like Clowney, preventing a franchise or transition designation during the following offseason.

Ngakoue may have inadvertently created another obstacle to a preseason franchise player trade. He may have set a new precedent teams will try to enforce in which a franchise player unhappy with his situation takes a steep pay cut in order to get a change of scenery, yet the acquiring team can still restrict him once his one-year contract expires. Since a second franchise tag is typically a 20% raise over the first one, a steep pay cut lowers the value of a second designation.

Conventional wisdom suggests that Barkley and Jacobs would end any boycott before the regular season starts by signing the $10.091 million franchise tag. Barkley is in a better position financially than Jacobs to take things further. As 2018's second overall pick, Barkley has earned $38,411,750 from the Giants. Jacobs, who was 2019's 24th overall pick, made $11,933,398 on his four-year rookie contract. The $10.091 million franchise tag comes close to doubling Jacobs' NFL player contract earnings.