Were the Giants right about RBs declining at age 27 when deciding to let Saquon Barkley walk in free agency?


The New York Giants made the decision to move on from Saquon Barkley instead of franchising him for the second consecutive year. The Giants didn’t want to low ball Barkley with an offer out of respect, and owner John Mara would have liked to have him back. 

New York wasn’t going to prioritize signing a running back in free agency, as general manager Joe Schoen thought it would be better to wait until the second week to sign a running back. The Giants were also banking on Barkley not getting paid $12 million a year with Tony Pollard and Josh Jacobs available in free agency.

Basically, the Giants decided they weren’t going to pay a running back that is 27 years old $12 million a year. The Philadelphia Eagles called their bluff, paying Barkley $12.5 million per season on a three-year contract. 

The sticking point for the Giants was Schoen telling Frank Gore, who has the most rushing yards for a player in his 30s in NFL history, that “the data says that” running backs decline at 27 when Gore asked. Schoen mentioned Barkley had 900 carries at Penn State and six years in the NFL, wanting “bang for your buck.” 

Was the data right? Here’s a quick look at running backs’ yards per game and yards per carry numbers before and after they turn 27: 

*McCaffrey’s age-27 season was in 2023

The data is certainly mixed, but Gordon and Elliott had plenty of carries before their age-27 seasons. Gore is also an outlier since he played well into his 30s, while Henry is still producing the yards per game even though his yards per carry have declined. 

McCaffrey has played just one season at 27 or older, so it remains to be seen how his body ages over the next few years. Jones has actually gotten better since he turned 27, remaining one of the consistent backs in the game. 

The data may show differently for the Giants, but this small sample size shows it’s an inexact science. There’s no way to tell if the Giants were right or not, no matter how Barkley performs in Philadelphia. 

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