The New York Giants find themselves at an interesting crossroads when it comes the running back position. Do they pay superstar running back Saquon Barkley a big money second contract. If so, how much and how long? Do they pass on the risky second running back contract and try to get running back production another way?
Let’s discuss that as we continue with our position-by-position breakdowns of the 2022 Giants.
2022 in review
Starter: Saquon Barkley
Backups: Matt Breida, Gary Brightwell
Practice squad: Jashaun Corbin
After three straight seasons in which he was impacted by injuries, and the rehab from injuries, Saquon Barkley entered 2022 with questions swirling about whether or not he was still a great player.
He knew he had a lot to prove. He was also ready and willing to hit back at critics of his running style.
Barkley answered all of the questions with the second-best season of his five-year NFL career, and his best work since his 2,028 total yards from scrimmage Rookie of the Year 2018 season.
For the first time since his rookie year, Barkley was healthy for an entire season. The only game in which he did not play was Week 18, when head coach Brian Daboll held starters out against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Barkley tied his career high in touches, with a combined 352 rushes and receptions. He gained a career-high 1,312 yards rushing and averaged 4.4 yards per carry, his best since 4.6 in 2019. Barkley had 1,650 total yards from scrimmage, second-best of his career. Barkley averaged 103.1 yards from scrimmage per game. He averaged 110.8 in 2019 and 126.75 as a rookie in 2018.
You could perhaps make the argument that Barkley did not have as many explosive, jaw-dropping runs as he had before injuries took a toll on him. He did, though, display more willingness to run inside with power and the capability of handling a heavy workload.
Maybe he isn’t Superman Barkley of 2018. He is, though, still a star.
Behind Barkley, the Giants got adequate work from veteran Matt Breida. He had 54 carries for 220 yards (4.1 yards per attempt) and 20 receptions for 188 yards.
Gary Brightwell had 31 carries for 141 yards (4.5 per carry) in spot duty. Jashaun Corbin, un undrafted free agent, spent the entire season on the practice squad.
This all comes down to whether or the Giants can retain Barkley on a contract they are comfortable with — both in price and duration.
Speaking to media the day after the season ended, Barkley seemed to understand that Christian McCaffrey money ($16 million average annual value) wasn’t coming his way.
“I’m not really too concerned about re-setting any markets or anything like that. I’m realistic. I know what I was on pace to do,” Barkley said. “Having two years filled up with injuries and not performing to the level I know I can perform doesn’t help.”
That, though, does not mean that Barkley is not expecting to be paid handsomely.
Barkley clearly hopes to be paid in the upper echelon of running backs, having reportedly turned down a midseason offer by the Giants of $12 million per year. McCaffrey makes $16 million annually, Alvin Kamara and Ezekiel Elliott make $15 million and five running backs — Dalvin Cook, Derrick Henry, Nick Chubb, Joe Mixon and Aaron Jones — make from $12.6 million to $12 million.
GM Joe Schoen was clear at his season-ending press conference that breaking the bank for Barkley is not part of the offseason plan.
“We’d like to have all the guys back, I really would. But there’s a business side to it. There’s rules that you need to operate under in terms of the salary cap. Saquon, he’s a good player. He’s a great teammate. I loved getting to know him this season. He’s a guy we would like to have back,” Schoen said. “We’ve got to operate under the salary cap. How are you going to divvy up? How are we going to create the roster? What are the priority positions, and how are we going to move forward? We would like to have Saquon back if it works out.”
Perhaps there is a deal to be made somewhere between $12 million and $14 million, if the Giants are willing to increase their reported $12 million offer.
Speaking to media at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., Schoen again made it clear that quarterback Daniel Jones will be back in 2023, but that things are dicier with Barkley.
“We had some initial talks earlier this week with his representatives,” Schoen said of Barkley. “When I get back in the office next week we’ll continue to have conversations with them. With any negotiation you just got to move closer and that’s what we’ll try to do next week.”
If Barkley is not brought back, a Breida-Brightwell-Corbin combination is not likely going to be seen as good enough. So, the Giants figure to be scouring free agency and the draft for replacements.