Moving NFL running backs work to adjust to new teams

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Saquon Barkley's move from one NFC East team to another gives Philadelphia Eagles coach Nick Sirianni the opportunity to deliver a stinging response whenever a rival fan shouts "Go Giants" at him.

"I typically let it go," Sirianni said. "But if the guy gets me good enough, I usually say, 'You know, I got your best player.'"

Barkley was one of several notable running backs to switch teams for the first time during the offseason. The list includes Washington's Austin Ekeler (formerly with the Los Angeles Chargers), Baltimore's Derrick Henry (Tennessee), Green Bay's Josh Jacobs (Las Vegas), Minnesota's Aaron Jones (Green Bay), Houston's Joe Mixon (Cincinnati) and Tennessee's Tony Pollard (Dallas). All but Ekeler made a Pro Bowl with their original teams.

"It's like a fresh start," said Barkley, who spent six seasons in New York. "I feel like a rookie again."

Recent history suggests Barkley and the other running backs who switched teams could struggle to match the production they had with their original franchises.

According to Sportradar, only three players have rushed for at least 1,200 yards with multiple teams since 2010: LeSean McCoy (Philadelphia and Buffalo), DeMarco Murray (Dallas and Tennessee) and Christian McCaffrey (Carolina and San Francisco). Barkley, Henry, Jacobs and Mixon have a chance of adding their names to the list.

That's a pretty steep drop, considering 14 different players rushed for 1,200 yards for a second franchise from 2000-09.

"A lot of it is just nowadays running backs aren't valued as high," said McCoy, who now co-hosts "Speak," a sports talk show on FS1. "Around that time (the early 2000s), they emphasized getting the ball to the running back - they emphasized needing just one. Now if you're not that top-top guy, you're splitting carries."

McCaffrey joined an exclusive fraternity last season by becoming just the fourth running back ever to earn first-team All-Pro honors with multiple teams. The others are Cookie Gilchrist (Buffalo and Denver), Eric Dickerson (Los Angeles Rams and Indianapolis) and Jerome Bettis (Rams and Pittsburgh Steelers).

Henry and Jacobs will try to join that club. Henry earned All-Pro honors with Tennessee in 2020 and Jacobs did the same with Las Vegas two years later.

For Henry, this represents a chance to show he still has plenty left to give after leading the NFL in carries four of the last five seasons.

"I think it's taking care of your body, doing the things you need to do to get your body prepared, year in and year out, week in and week out and every single day, making sure that you're at your best, can perform at your best (and) creating good habits with eating healthy," Henry said during his introductory news conference with the Ravens.

"As you get into the league, do more research (on) guys who played a long time. Be a sponge to guys at the running back position or anywhere else and see what they've done to try and implement that into your life, as well. That's all I try to do. I feel great."

Henry, 30, is a throwback to an era when teams ran the ball more often and had one primary running back. He had 2,030 carries during eight seasons at Tennessee.

Most of today's top ball carriers don't stay with their original teams nearly that long. For instance, one of Henry's replacements in Tennessee is Pollard, a 27-year-old with only 762 career carries since he was splitting time with Ezekiel Elliott for much of his Dallas tenure.

Some of these running backs benefit from a new chapter. McCoy cited Jacobs and Barkley specifically as players who could thrive in their new situations because of the talent they'll have around them.

"All the pressure and workload won't be on Josh," McCoy said. "Look at Saquon. Now he goes to a team that's super productive - especially on offense. … You won't have to do everything for them to win, where in New York, he had to do everything."

Jacobs, 26, believes coming to Green Bay will help him bounce back from a disappointing 2023 campaign. After rushing for an NFL-leading 1,653 yards and gaining 4.9 yards per carry in 2022, Jacobs ran for 805 yards and had just 3.5 per attempt last season.

"It was just so much uncertainty," Jacobs said of his time in Las Vegas. "We were going through a lot of coaches, having certain things happen as a team, I just felt like it was like an emotional rollercoaster. So to be somewhere and be stable and be at a place where you feel like you're wanted and things like that, I think it's huge. It definitely brings that joy back to the game."

All the other running backs who switched teams also are hoping to find that joy. McCoy has some advice for them based on his own experience.

"Don't let your past hurt your future," McCoy said. "The new team they're on, they traded for you. They signed you. Don't let all the baggage from the old team - you're mad because they didn't sign you, mad because you're at a new place, mad because you moved your family - that stuff can (tick) you off, but don't let that hurt what you've got now.

"When a player goes to a new team, that new team wants him and will do whatever you take to make you comfortable. So I'd tell all those guys, when you go there, be happy, because they wanted you."