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Is this the beginning of the end for Saquon Barkley and the Giants?

Being a Giant for life might now be unattainable for Barkley

New York Giants v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Is this the beginning of the end for Saquon Barkley and the New York Giants?

The Giants and Barkley could not reach a long-term deal by Monday’s deadline, meaning Barkley will have to play this season on the $10.091 million franchise tag. The two sides got within inches, according to reporting from Ryan Dunleavy of the New York Post — $1 to $2 million in average annual value and guarantees on deals maxing out around $11.5 million annually and $23 million in guaranteed money.

In football parlance, they fell inches short of the fourth-and-1 conversion.

So, here we are.

Barkley will not report to training camp when the rest of his veteran teammates do on July 25. Best guess is the earliest he signs the tag and reports to the Giants is sometime after the Aug. 26 preseason finale against the New York Jets and before the Sept. 10 season opener against the Dallas Cowboys.

Would he take this into the regular season? Anything is possible, but it’s hard to imagine Barkley forfeiting $560,611 per week once the games count.

One way or another, eventually, Barkley is almost certain to play football for the Giants in 2023. He may threaten to, but he isn’t going the Le’Veon Bell route, sitting out the season and turning his back on $10 million. I also can’t see the Giants trading him.

At least not yet.

It is, though, fair to come away from Monday with the belief that the Giants and Barkley are headed for an eventual divorce.

Jordan Ranaan of ESPN is predicting as much:

It seems the only path for a new deal for Barkley is if he plays so extraordinarily well this season that the Giants feel they absolutely can’t afford to lose him under any circumstance. So far that hasn’t been the case. He probably would have to top last season’s 1,300-plus yards and be an MVP candidate. Otherwise, it appears the ship has already sailed on Barkley and the Giants being a forever thing.

Ralph Vacchiano of FOX Sports is also seeing the end of Barkley’s days as a Giant coming:

So how will this all end?

Not well. Barkley is not very happy with how this was resolved. He’ll sit out the summer and, most likely, show up for the regular season, but it’s hard to imagine he’s going to hide his unhappiness. That will loom over everything this season, and could make it really difficult for him if he struggles.

As for his long-term future, don’t be so sure the Giants will tag him again. And if they didn’t offer him the kind of long-term deal he wants now, it’s hard to imagine their position on that will change when he’s a year older. It’s much more likely that, for Barkley and the Giants, this summer of discontent will be the beginning of the end.

Maybe you are happy today that GM Joe Schoen didn’t give Barkley more than he wanted to. Maybe you are sad or angry that Barkley can’t make Evan Engram money, and that his long-term future with the team is most definitely in doubt.

What you should not be is surprised.

John Mara has said in the past he would love for Barkley to spend his entire career with the Giants. Barkley has said he wants to be a Giant for life. Schoen has been clear throughout the offseason that he wanted Barkley to be a Giant, but way back in January at his end-of-season press conference he added the caveat “if it works out.”

At the combine, Schoen said there had to be “a walkaway number where this is too rich for us.”

Schoen also added this:

“If someone’s got to walk then that’s unfortunate but that’s a part of the business. We’re still building a team, that’s important to keep in mind.”

Schoen always prioritized quarterback Daniel Jones over Barkley. He always said there was no way Jones was going to get away from the Giants this offseason. It is obvious he always meant that if Barkley had to go, then Barkley had to go. Even if that wasn’t the preferred scenario.

Schoen is not Dave Gettleman. He was hired to clean up Gettleman’s mess. Part of that mess was created by overvaluing Barkley, as good as he is, and trying to start a rebuild by drafting him No. 2 overall. Part of that mess was also created by doling out money to players like Kenny Golladay, Leonard Williams, Adoree’ Jackson, Golden Tate, Kyle Rudolph, Patrick Omameh, and probably a few others I can’t think of right now like there were no consequences to overspending.

Running back has not been a big ticket item for the Buffalo Bills, where Schoen was assistant GM to Brandon Beane before coming to the Giants. Schoen has given every indication that he wants to follow that same blueprint in running his own team.

Schoen sounded lukewarm, at best, to the idea of using a first-round pick on a running back when he was asked about it before the 2023 NFL Draft.

“If it’s a good player and a team decides to take them, and they have success for their system, then I don’t think you can go wrong with taking good football players,” Schoen said. “I don’t want to pigeonhole myself into saying I would never take a certain position in the first round.”

It is apparent Schoen would rather not have a running back, even one as good as Barkley, swallowing up a big chunk of the team’s cap space.

The argument about running back value isn’t going to be solved here, but by holding the line below the four-year, $50 million deal ($25.5 million guaranteed) that star back Derrick Henry got from the Tennessee Titans back in the dark ages of 2020, Schoen made it clear that the Giants are currently riding the ‘don’t overpay running backs’ train.

The simple reality is that running backs are best early in their careers and that their production tends to fade as they approach — and surpass — age 30. It is difficult to give running backs big-money, long-term second contracts when you are probably going to wind up paying for what they used to be, not what they are as their play declines.

Barkley has to be disillusioned. Disappointed. Angry. Hurt. Even if, from the outside, it seems like he spent much of this process fooling himself into believing that because he was Saquon Barkley he could land a bigger, longer contract than current market forces deemed feasible.

Barkley can stay home throughout training camp and hope he can convince the Giants to agree that they won’t use the franchise tag on him again in 2024. I doubt that gets him anywhere. Why would the Giants willingly give up the hammer given to them by the Collective Bargaining Agreement?

Eventually, though, he will realize that he has to sign the tag and play. If he doesn’t, sure he hurts the 2023 Giants. He hurts himself even more. He loses $10 million. He loses a season in a short career that he could use to try and prove once and for all that he deserves a mega-contract — from the Giants or someone else.

The Giants always seemed comfortable with Barkley playing on the tag in 2023. They are probably comfortable with him doing so again in 2024, even though Barkley would probably try to force a sign-and-trade in that scenario.

I can’t help but think that if the Giants weren’t willing to meet Barkley’s price this time, even though they got close, they aren’t likely to do so a year from now.

This means that, barring something extraordinary, divorce could be on the horizon.