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Would free-agent RB Saquon Barkley be missing piece for C.J. Stroud, Texans?
National Football League

Would free-agent RB Saquon Barkley be missing piece for C.J. Stroud, Texans?

Published Mar. 5, 2024 6:59 p.m. ET

The Houston Texans have a need at running back. And Saquon Barkley is set to become an unrestricted free agent. 

Are the two sides a match? 

The 27-year-old Barkley was not franchise-tagged by the New York Giants by Tuesday's 4 p.m. ET deadline, paving the way for the two-time Pro Bowler to hit the market for the first time after six NFL seasons. The legal tampering window for free agency begins Monday at noon ET. 

Reports have linked Barkley to Houston, which is the betting favorite to land the former No. 2 overall pick. 


Of course, the run game was a glaring weakness for the Texans last season, when they tied for 22nd with 96.9 rushing yards per game and tied for 28th with 3.7 yards per carry. Quarterback C.J. Stroud, who had arguably the best season for a rookie signal-caller in league history, often had the weight of the offense on his shoulders. 

Impending free agent Devin Singletary, who played in Houston on a one-year deal, impressed with a career-high 898 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 216 carries. He was one of the NFL's most effective tailbacks in the second half of 2023 — second to Christian McCaffrey with 745 rushing yards from Weeks 8-18, according to Next Gen Stats. But Dameon Pierce, Houston's 2022 fourth-round pick, struggled mightily after a promising rookie campaign. He had just 426 rushing yards on 145 carries (2.9 yards per carry). Singletary took his starting job the second half of the season. 

The Texans never had the 1-2 punch at running back they hoped for entering last season, and the run game overall was far too inconsistent. They failed to reach 90 rushing yards in 11 of their 17 regular-season games. 

Then in the postseason, they had just 38 rushing yards in their divisional-round loss to the Ravens

"The running game will be significant for us to improve upon," Texans coach DeMeco Ryans said at his end-of-season press conference in January. "As you go throughout this game, especially in the postseason, teams that win games, you have to be able to run the football. We weren't able to accomplish that versus the Ravens. It showed up. We definitely have areas to improve. Many different areas, but the run game is one of those areas, for sure."

Are Giants making a mistake not tagging Saquon Barkley?

Ryans has also said the Texans would "love" to bring back Singletary, that he was a "bright spot." While he'll be more expensive than last year, Singletary would be cheaper than options at the top of the market (Barkley, Josh Jacobs, Derrick Henry). Houston could also draft a tailback to bolster the room and bank on a bounce-back year from Pierce. 

But as an assistant with the 49ers, Ryans saw firsthand the value of an elite, versatile running back to an offense. San Francisco gave up five draft picks — a second, third, and fourth-rounder in 2023; a fifth-rounder in 2024 — to Carolina in October 2022 for McCaffrey, who has been the engine of the Niners' offense for the last year and a half. 

That's why a player like Barkley could make sense for the Texans. He didn't have the best season to his standards in 2023 — he missed three games and fell short of 1,000 rushing yards (962) — but best-case scenario, he could give Houston a similar kind of receiving threat that McCaffrey has given the 49ers. As a rookie in 2018, Barkley had 91 receptions for 721 yards and four touchdowns. 

Barkley's pass-catching potential, on top of his elite rushing ability, could justify a significant deal for the Texans in a slow running back market, more so than for Henry or Jacobs.  

The Texans certainly have the financial flexibility. Before reaching terms on a multi-year extension with tight end Dalton Schultz on Tuesday, Houston was sixth in the NFL with more than $70 million in 2024 salary cap space, according to 

Since becoming general manager in 2021, Nick Caserio hasn't invested big at running back. He's only acquired one via the draft (Pierce in the fourth in 2022). And apart from Singletary, a past-his-prime Mark Ingram (2021) and Phillip Lindsay (2021) were the most notable free-agent running backs Caserio has signed.  

But this offseason is far different than any other in Caserio's tenure. The Texans are regarded as a contender entering 2024. Armed with a promising young quarterback, stability at coach and plenty of cap space, Houston must be aggressive in building the roster this offseason.  

"Our job is to try to find good football players and add good players to our team," Caserio said of the running back outlook. "We have a couple free agents at that position. We're going to evaluate that position, like we do other positions as well." 

At the very least, Barkley represents an intriguing possibility for the Texans. 

Ben Arthur is the AFC South reporter for FOX Sports. He previously worked for The Tennessean/USA TODAY Network, where he was the Titans beat writer for a year and a half. He covered the Seattle Seahawks for for three seasons (2018-20) prior to moving to Tennessee. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @benyarthur.


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