What is the latest in the contract talks between Saquon Barkley and the New York Giants? Let’s look at some of the recent reporting and analysis.
‘Talks are back on’
This is what NFL Network insider Ian Rapoport said in his latest Barkley report:
“Talks are back on between the Giants and Saquon Barkley. Now, we’ll see if they can get to a point where he could become one of the highest-paid running backs in the NFL.
“At the very least, Saquon Barkley is expected to be back with the Giants on a one-year fully guaranteed tag. It’s just a matter of whether he’s going to get the security that he wants. Time will tell on that one.”
This “report” from Rapoport was treated like big news in some places, and I’m not sure why. We learned a week ago that Barkley and the Giants had reopened negotiations. Maybe the two sides haven’t spent every minute of every day poring over details of a potential deal, but this round of discussions has been open for a week.
Rapoport is right, though, that it is uncertain Barkley will get what he wants. I can’t see the Giants going much beyond the $13 million mark on an annual basis. Nor would I want them to.
Would this novel idea work?
Daryl Slater of NJ.com wonders if the Giants and Barkley could reach a one-year compromise. In the event a long-term deal can’t be reached, Slater proposes a one-year deal for more than the $10.09 million franchise tag.
It’s unlikely, but it could be a way for Schoen to get an angry Barkley to show up.
How would that work? Well, let’s say it’s a one-year, $15 million deal — about a $5 million raise from the tag. Schoen could give Barkley a low salary for 2023 and have the rest of the deal’s money be a signing bonus, while adding void years for cap proration purposes.
That would result in Barkley getting more than the tag figure in 2023 (though still less than $22.2 million), while also letting Schoen lower Barkley’s $10.091 million cap number. (The Giants are currently fourth-to-last in the NFL in cap space, at $3.8 million, according to overthecap.com.)
This is a possible (albeit unlikely) middle ground solution.
There is some logic to the case Slater makes, but I can’t see the Giants doing it. Joe Schoen has indicated for months he is fine with Barkley playing on the tag, and I don’t see him backing off that. I especially don’t see him adding void years that would push money into the future — something he has tried to avoid whenever possible ever since he became Giants GM.
Market unfair to running backs?
Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio recently tried to make the case that running backs gets screwed by the system. He wrote:
The problem for Barkley is that the system screws him and other running backs. While he made better money than most incoming tailbacks as the No. 2 overall pick in 2018, he’s got five years in the NFL. The franchise tag will extend it to six. A second tag would push it to seven. How, if he hits the market after seven seasons in the NFL at the running back position, will he ever get the kind of contract he would have gotten if he’d become a free agent in 2023?
It’s a frustrating and unfortunate situation. The players who are playing the most dangerous position in football can’t get a fair return for their efforts. They can’t get to the open market until it’s too late to matter.
And no one seems to care, other than the men who play the running back position. The NFL doesn’t care. The NFL Players Association doesn’t care. Why should they? The league and the union created the system that screws the league’s running backs.
I don’t necessarily agree with Florio that the ‘system’ screws running backs. The nature of the position, where they are generally more productive on their first contracts than later in their careers, does.
More on that coming up next.
Why paying running backs big second contracts is a gamble
Ted Nguyen of The Athletic recently broke down what deals for Barkley and Josh Jacobs of the Las Vegas Raiders could look like, and much of his discussion was based on the data that supports not giving running backs big second contracts.
The main reasons teams are hesitant to give running backs long-term contracts after their rookie deals expire are longevity and saturation. Running backs take a beating, their careers aren’t long and often, even great running backs can fall off a cliff athletically earlier than expected. Also, there are a lot of good running backs on the market who can produce at close to elite levels in the right situation. This phenomenon doesn’t happen often with other positions.
Pro Football Network’s Arif Hasan looked at every running back contract signed since 2016 with an average annual value that consumed at least 4 percent of the cap and compared those players’ production two years before signing to their production three years after signing. He found that only four out of 17 made good on their contracts. Dalvin Cook, who signed a five-year extension, was cut last week after only two years into his contract.
If Jacobs and Barkley get long-term extensions, to live up to them, they’ll have to buck the trend and stay healthy while producing at a much higher level than potentially cheaper replacements — two feats that rarely have been accomplished.
Nguyen described the current state of Barkley’s game this way:
He doesn’t break a lot of tackles, but he’s explosive in the open field. Barkley ranked 19th out of 69 in rushing explosiveness and 16th out of 64 in play speed. Barkley looked like he was breaking tackles at a higher rate in the beginning of the season, but as it wore along, he struggled to do so. He ranked 54th out of 70 in rushing elusiveness.
Nguyen’s final point is perhaps the biggest one regarding why it is risky to give Barkley anything more than the shortest possible contract:
Injuries are a bigger concern with Barkley than they are with Jacobs. In 2020, Barkley tore his ACL in Week 2, and in 2021, he missed four games because of a low ankle injury. With a back that relies on explosion and speed, it’s right to question how effective Barkley will be when injuries start to take away from his athleticism.
Tiki’s surprising take
Tiki Barber recently offered a surprising take on life without Barkley for the Giants:
“I know Giant fans want Saquon Barkley on this team, and feel like they need Saquon on this team,” Tiki said. “But the fact is, if he’s not on this team, I honestly don’t know if they’d be worse off. I think they would be because of the locker room, but I can’t say for a fact, ‘This team won’t win 10 games without Saquon Barkley.’ I can’t say that.”
I think in the short term the production on the field would be impacted. It would, though, be the long-term impact on the locker room and the players’ trust in the front office that I would worry about damaging.