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What’s next after Saquon Barkley, Giants fail to reach long-term contract?

Barkley will have to play 2023 season on franchise tag ... unless he doesn’t play

NFC Divisional Playoffs - New York Giants v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

Star running back Saquon Barkley and the New York Giants failed to reach a multi-year contract agreement by Monday’s 4 p.m. ET deadline. That means Barkley must now decide whether or not to play the 2023 season on the $10.091 million franchise tag.

Barkley had made his disdain for the franchise tag clear, saying “no one wants to get tagged.” He had also been clear that he was not looking to reset the finances of the running back market, but that his goal was “to be compensated respectfully based on my contributions to the team on the field and in the locker room.”

Before Monday, Barkley had reportedly turned down two contract offers from the Giants, the first dating back to the 2022 bye week. Those were reported to include average annual values of $12.5 million to perhaps as much as $14 million, with the guaranteed money in each unknown.

Barkley termed as “misleading” reports of some of the offers he has turned down.

“I’ve been open about it, I said I want to be a Giant for life,” he said. “This is where I want to be. At the end of the day, it’s all about respect.”

As the deadline approached the Giants were said to have upped their offer. They had previously, per reports, held fast to a guaranteed money amount of no more than $19.5 million. Over the weekend, it was reported that they had increased their offer to “a smidge” above the $22.2 million Barkley could earn on back-to-back franchise tags in 2023 and 2024.

Obviously, Barkley did not think the overtures from the Giants were enough.

Barkley tweeted this shortly before the deadline:

Ian Rapoport tweeted “No deal for the #Giants and star RB Saquon Barkley, with talks going down to the wire and the best efforts made to strike a compromise.”

What happens now?

We wait to find out Barkley’s next move.

It seems unlikely that Barkley would quickly and willingly sign the franchise tag. With training camp opening on July 25, just eight days from now, it would seem a training camp holdout by Barkley would be likely.

But, for how long?

This might be a hint:

Until he signs the tag, Barkley is not under contractual obligation to report to the Giants and cannot be fined. Would he sit out for a few days? All or most of training camp? Into the regular season.

By league rules, Barkley has until the Tuesday after Week 10 regular season games to sign the tag or come to a one-year deal with the Giants. After that, he would be ineligible to play for the remainder of the season.

Most likely is that Barkley sits out most or all of training camp, reporting shortly before the Sept. 10 season-opener against the Dallas Cowboys.

Barkley might be unhappy that he wasn’t able to reach a long-term deal, and he might not like the franchise tag, but he would still bank $10.091 million by showing up for Week 1. Pro-rated over the 18-week NFL season, each week into the regular season that Barkley held out would cost him $560,611.

It would be shocking — and foolish — for him to do that.

Playing the full season, playing well, and returning to the bargaining table with the Giants next offseason would appear to be Barkley’s best path. Perhaps not what he would have preferred, but logically now the best way to move forward.

Neither Tony Pollard of the Dallas Cowboys nor Josh Jacobs of the Las Vegas Raiders, other franchise-tagged running backs, were able to reach deals with their teams.

Did the Giants make a mistake?

I don’t believe so.

Yes, Barkley is an incredible player. Yes, it stinks that one of the best half-dozen running backs in the NFL can’t get the same contract tight end Evan Engram just got with the Jacksonville Jaguars — three years, $41.25 million, $24 million guaranteed.

That, though, is the way the market is for running backs currently in the NFL.

Going back to the four-year, $57.5 million ($45 million guaranteed) contract the Los Angeles Rams gave Todd Gurley in 2018, we have seen several teams get burned by giving running backs lucrative long-term second contracts.

Running back, unfortunately, is a position of tremendous wear and tear. Even the best running backs generally see declining performance after the first five or six years of their careers, complicating their ability to earn the big-money second contracts players at other positions are getting as the salary cap continues to rise.

Ezekiel Elliott signed a six-year, $90 million contract with the Dallas Cowboys in 2019 and has not played up to his $15 million annual salary the past couple of seasons. He is now looking forward. Dalvin Cook, who had a five-year, $63 million deal with the Minnesota Vikings, an average of $12.6 million per year, got cut this offseason and has yet to find a new home.

Tony Pollard accepted the tag from the Cowboys. Miles Sanders, the best back available when free agency opened in March, signed for $25.4 million over four seasons ($6.35 million per year).

NFL Network insider Mike Garafolo was on the ‘Valentine’s Views’ podcast during the offseason. He said this about the Giants’ offers to Barkley at the time:

“I believe it’s [the contract offer] fair. Relative to the running back market, which you saw what free agents got, Miles Sanders came in at $6 million a year. I’m not saying that Miles Sanders is Saquon Barkley or comparable, but they’re offering double that .. I think it’s a fair deal.”

We don’t know what the final numbers were, but the Giants appeared to make Barkley a representative offer based on the current market for running backs and he did not accept it. Now, the Giants are in a position to get the 2023 and 2024 seasons — probably most of Barkley’s remaining prime years — without having to give him an exorbitant long-term deal they may ultimately regret.