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Should the Giants pay star running back Saquon Barkley?

Big Blue View contributors weigh in

NFC Wild Card Playoffs - New York Giants v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

Should the New York Giants pay big money to keep running back Saquon Barkley? That is a question that divides Giants fans and NFL media.

During a recent show on WFAN, co-hosts Tiki Barber and Brandon Tierney disagreed on what the Giants should do about Barkley.

Barber, a one-time great Giants running back, wants him back:

The Giants need Saquon Barkley for this team to keep on the path that they started with Brian Daboll,” Tiki said. “It’s interesting when you hear and listen Joe Schoen talk about him, because he’s clearly pulling down the monetary commitment that he wants to throw at Saquon by saying ‘Yeah, he’s a good player for us and he did everything he was asked to do.’

“But he was fourth in the league in rushing this year. He averaged over four yards per carry, 4.5 yards a carry, almost 82 yards a game. He had 10 rushing touchdowns on the season. He led the team in receptions, at least in the regular season. So he did exactly what this team needed.”

Tierney, on the other hand, thinks paying him would be a mistake:

“I think if the Giants pay Saquon, the Giants will never win a Super Bowl with this set, with this roster,” BT said. “They’re gonna lament it, and I know nobody wants to hear that, but that’s the reality of the NFL.

“I think the problem, and it sucks because it’s it obscures so much of the good that the Giants did this year, but by paying Saquon, they are they are putting their resources in the wrong direction.”

Is Barber right that the Giants should pay Barkley? If so, how much? Is Tierney right that the Giants are better off putting their money elsewhere?

Below, the opinions of your Big Blue View contributors.

Tony Del Genio

Saquon Barkley is not quite the player he was in 2018. He’s also not quite the player Christian McCaffrey is. But he’s not far behind either one. And compared to other great backs like CMC or Nick Chubb, he’s done it behind a subpar OL. Barkley is the spiritual leader of the Giants’ offense, its only elite player other than Andrew Thomas.

NFL rushing was up and passing down in 2022, whether due to two-high safety defenses or something else. Playmakers win games for winning teams. Barkley won the Titans game by eluding a LB who had him dead to rights on the last minute 2-point conversion. He carried Dalvin Tomlinson into the end zone for the winning TD in the Wild Card game. He was second among RBs in 15+ yard rushes, sixth in first downs, fifth in TDs, eighth in receiving yards. He was even third in pass blocking grade. Great running backs can be had cheap in the draft, but few do everything well and carry the offensive load the way Barkley does.

My hope is that common ground can be found in the $15M per year vicinity. Let’s say three years, $45M, $15M signing bonus spread over the three years, salaries of $7/10/13M with year three not guaranteed. Cap hits $12/15/18M for the three years. Barkley is worth it.

Nick Falato

Saquon Barkley’s impact is more than his 1,426 rushing yards (4.6 yards per carry) and twelve rushing touchdowns; it’s also more than his 64 catches for 415 yards as a receiver. Barkley’s presence sets an important example for others to emulate, and he’s the most recognizable face of the current New York Giants. His teammates love him, and his leadership should not be undervalued.

However, the NFL is a business. Barkley is one of the only explosive offensive weapons on this roster, but the running back position has a finite shelf-life. Allocating a contract that’s north of $16 million per year (Christian McCaffrey earns the most average annual value at the RB position at this number) isn’t conducive to success with a roster lacking depth and a quarterback who isn’t on his rookie deal anymore.

I believe Joe Schoen has his number for Saquon Barkley - ballpark it around $12.5 million AAV. That puts Barkley in the same area as Nick Chubb, Dalvin Cook, and Derrick Henry, but it would be less than Alvin Kamara and Ezekiel Elliott, who both earn $15 million.

Barkley himself said he wasn’t trying to reset the RB market, and he was going to be realistic, which leads me to believe that $15 million could be his number. With the holes on this roster, and the impending position dictating contracts of Dexter Lawrence and Andrew Thomas, $15 million starts to tread into precarious territory for a running back with an extensive injury history. I would love for Barkley to return to the Giants, but I don’t believe Schoen should budge off where he values the player and the running back position. If another team is willing to give Barkley $16 million, c’est la vie and I wish him nothing but the best.

Chris Pflum

The Giants have a lot of decisions to make this offseason, and the one regarding Saquon Barkley is one of the biggest.

On one hand, the Giants need playmakers on offense, and Barkley is still one of the more dangerous offensive players in the NFL. He is clearly a big-play threat that defenses need to respect and is able to flip the momentum of the game on a moment’s notice. The Giants’ offense was anemic for large parts of the season, and they were able to make due thanks to Barkley carrying a huge load and making plays when they needed to come out on top in the fourth quarter.

On the other hand, Barkley is a running back. Their careers are typically (much) shorter than other positions, and their production is in large part dependent on the other 52 players around them. Teams tend to regret giving veteran runners big second contracts and they have a nasty habit of turning into an albatross. While players as individually talented as Barkley are few and far between, teams can find good running backs into the third day of the draft. And the difference between a great running back and a runner who is merely “good” isn’t nearly as much as at quarterback or the “cornerstone” positions (OT, EDGE, CB, or WR). In most cases, “good” is good enough.

So I think my answer as to whether the Giants should re-sign Barkley comes down to the contract in question. They can’t sign him to a deal that would be onerous down the line. Nor can they sign him to one that makes them feel obligated to playing him. I’ve thought that the Giants needed to go to school on how Sean Payton used Alvin Kamara. Move Barkley around the formation, use him as a receiver, put him in the Pony Package, and limit his touches to preserve him for the season. But that also means that the Giants can’t pay him to be a “Franchise” player who is the focal point of the offense.

A three-year deal worth around $36 million (roughly $12 million per year) is a respectable pay check for Barkley that would allow him to hit free agency again at age 29.

If that contract is below what Barkley needs and he can get a better contract elsewhere, then I genuinely wish him the best. I am always on the side of players getting every cent they can, but the Giants don’t necessarily need to be the team to give them that money. Joe Schoen doesn’t owe any one player anything — his duty is to the long-term health and competitiveness of the New York Giants as a whole.

Valentine’s View

I am not a fan of paying big money to running backs. I am, though, even less of a fan of a team with an acknowledged “talent gap” between it and the best teams in the league pushing its best players out the door.

Saquon Barkley is still a terrific player, though maybe not the Superman of his rookie season. It is hard to argue that there is an easy path to the Giants being a better team without him in 2023 than they would be with him.

I want to see Barkley remain a Giant. I think the sweet spot for a deal is likely three years with the max value of the deal somewhere around $39-40 million. The Giants could use incentives, particularly not likely to be earned incentives, to increase the value of the contract while keeping the cap hit down. Not likely to be earned incentives can lower a cap hit, as can per-game roster bonuses.

Here is a quick explainer on how ‘likely’ and ‘not likely’ to be earned incentives work:

If the player does not earn a LTBE Incentive, then the amount of the incentive ($100K in our example) will be credited against the following year’s Salary Cap and the team would have $100K in additional Cap space in the following year.

The opposite happens with NLTBE Incentives. If those are earned, they are charged to the following year’s Salary Cap. In our example, that would mean that the team would have $100K less in Cap space the following year.