The long, and frequently contentious, contract negotiation between the New York Giants and running back Saquon Barkley has finally come to a close today. Unfortunately it wasn’t with the news anybody wanted, as the two sides couldn’t come to an agreement.
It is what it is— Saquon Barkley (@saquon) July 17, 2023
The Giants were consistent throughout the offseason that they wanted Barkley back, but at “their” number. Barkley, meanwhile, has maintained that he wants to be back. He’s said that he doesn’t want to re-set the running back market (paced by Christian McCaffrey’s $16 million per year average), but does want a contract that shows the Giants respect him and what he brings to the team.
The two sides weren’t able to come together by the March 7th deadline to apply the franchise tag, which the Giants ultimately used to keep Barkley off the open market while the two sides negotiated.
The problem has been that those two numbers are not the same, and the math hasn’t mathed over the last few months. The Giants came into the 2023 offseason with plenty of cap flexibility, but big contracts for Daniel Jones and Dexter Lawrence limited their cap flexibility considerably.
Today, July 17th, was the deadline after which the two sides could no longer negotiate until after the 2023 season.
So what does all this mean? Well, as things stand now, there are precisely two ways this can play out.
The first is that Barkley will (eventually) sign the $10.09 million franchise tag and rejoin the team. Doing so will get him back on the field for the Giants and allow him to continue to demonstrate his value on the field and help the Giants’ offense. The risk here is that even a short-term injury could seriously hurt his long-term prospects.
The other is that he’ll sit out regular season games. That move will cost him money in missed game checks, but would limit wear and the risk of injury for a player who has no long-term security. Sitting out would also make Barkley conspicuous by his absence and demonstrate definitively that he, in fact, does matter if the offense struggles without him on the field. Playing hardball and holding out would almost certainly create bad blood with the franchise and fanbase, and likely close the door to a long-term extension. However, a healthy Barkley could certainly create buzz for himself around the NFL with another workout like his 2018 NFL Scouting Combine performance.
Taking a step back, the fact that the former second-overall pick doesn’t have a second contract illustrates just how definitively the running back market has cratered since its peak in 2020.
That summer, Alvin Kamara signed a $75 million extension, Christian McCaffrey and Dalvin Cooke each signed $63 million extensions, and Derek Henry signed a $50 million extension.
This year, six players who were given the franchise tag: Lamar Jackson, Saquon Barkley, Evan Engram, Josh Jacobs, DaRon Payne, and Tony Pollard.
Jackson, Payne, and Engram each signed multi-year extensions — and in the case of Jackson and Payne, they were massive deals. The three running backs, each of whom was among the best in the NFL last year, were unable to secure long-term contracts. And that’s in the wake of McCaffrey being traded while Ezekiel Elliott and Dalvin Cook were released to create cap space.
So what happens now?
The most important thing for the Giants will be to make sure the lines of communication stay open with Barkley, and that the relationship stay as healthy and amicable as possible. The most likely outcome is still that Barkley will play on the franchise tag, and be on the field for the Giants come Week 1.
Reports are now out that Barkley will sit out training camp and preseason, but frankly, that doesn’t matter much. Barkley is already a great player who understands his role in the offense both with and without the ball. He doesn’t really need the practice reps, and he’d barely see the field in preseason anyway. This does present an opportunity for the Giants to get a good look at Matt Breida as a “starting” running back for them, and experiment with how they could tweak the offense to his skill set. Likewise, it opens up practice reps for rookie Eric Gray, as well as Gary Brightwell and Jashaun Corbin. Gray isn’t a dynamic athlete, but he was a very good receiver out of the backfield for Oklahoma and this is a chance to show that he deserves playing time as a rookie.
Beyond that, we can only wait and see — and hope that things don’t get any more interesting than they have been since March.
Listen to Nick and Chris as they react to the news of the day.
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