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Big Blue View mailbag: Part 1, Saquon Barkley edition

The mail’s here!

Predictably, this week’s Big Blue View Mailbag is overflowing with questions about New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley. So much so, in fact, that there will be two mailbags this weekend. This will be a Saquon Barkley edition. Sunday, some non-Barkley questions will be answered.

Derick Gross asks: I agree with many writers who say the Giants did the right thing by not guaranteeing too much money to Saquon Barkley at this point in his career. I also think running backs don’t get a fair chance at a big second contract because of the nature of their position. What do you think of updating the CBA to make rookie contracts for running backs cover 2 years, with a third-year option for a first-round pick? That way a player is hitting free agency with a few prime years ahead of him, and a fair chance to earn a big payday?

Gregory Kolton asks: Clearly the RB market has been a very hot topic this offseason. To me, it seems that the challenge is a mismatch between the real value good RBs provide to teams, the reality that RBs experience more wear and tear than most other positions and have shorter careers, and the way the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) is structured. It seems to me, the only way RBs will get paid what they feel they deserve would be to modify the CBA to make it more RB friendly. For example, the CBA could permit RBs to reach free agency earlier (say after three years) or maybe exempt them from the franchise tag. What do you think?

Patrick Morris asks: There appears to be a lot of discontent with how running backs are currently treated, especially with regards to their second contracts (or lack thereof). The basic issue seems to be that the best years of a running back’s career occur under his rookie contract (or a year afterwards), and 5-6 years after being in the NFL running back, their numbers drop precipitously. The following chart is informative,

Unsurprisingly, the owners are happy to pay for performance on the cheap rookie contract, and are unwilling to pay for what is likely to be a lack of performance on the second contract. But this causes a lot of discontent. Is there any way to fix this situation? Perhaps reduce the length of rookie contracts to a maximum of three years?

Ed says: Guys, I think it is a slippery slope that might have unintended consequences if the NFL were to adjust the Collective Bargaining Agreement to make players at some positions eligible for free agency earlier than players at other positions.

What criteria would you use? How would you justify telling an offensive lineman, for example, that he can’t be a free agent until he has played for four years while a running back can be free after just two. I don’t see how that works.

I have seen people write that the franchise tag is unfair to running backs, and maybe it is. Again, though, how do you justify exempting players at one position from the tag?

I wonder what would happen to the late-round guys, the ones who often don’t earn second contracts, if you lowered the numbers of years before a back could hit free agency. Would we see even more churn, with many of those players out of the league after two years? I don’t know, but I think the league would want to make sure it isn’t hurting those players while trying to help the top guys.

I have to believe the franchise tag is going to be a major topic of negotiation the next time a new Collective Bargaining Agreement has to be negotiated. I really don’t know what the answer is, but I don’t think you can have players at some positions able to be free before players at other positions.

This might be an idea worth considering:

Edwin Gommers asks: As per Monday’s deadline Barkley remained unsigned. Which school of thought do you adhere to?

1) Schoen made his first (major) mistake by clearly overpaying for Jones (40m vs 33-35 for Geno & Carr) which signaled to Barkley to hold firm on his demands and dig in his heels despite what the market dictated?

2) Barkley is a dancer behind the line looking for the home run every time and as a result losing a lot of yards. Someone who doesn’t want to grind for the dirty yards up the middle to wear out a defense and with mediocre pass pro at best he’s merely a(nother) RB who can easily be replaced. So despite Barkley being the focus of the offense last year, it was a good move of Schoen to hold firm.

Ed says: Edwin, I would not put myself in either of those boxes.

I said in last week’s mailbag that I did not think Schoen overpaid for Daniel Jones. I think he is paid right about where he should be paid. That’s more than many thought he would get paid, but match where most people rank Jones as a quarterback to where he is in QB financial pecking order, and it works out just about right. I think Barkley didn’t pay attention to the very public signals Schoen was sending and fooled himself into thinking that since he was Saquon Barkley the market forces dragging running back salaries down would not apply to him.

As to your second point, I do think Schoen was right to set a price point and not go beyond it. If the reports that the Giants weren’t willing to go beyond $23 million in guaranteed money are accurate, I am a little surprised by that. I thought there was a deal to me made at $26 million in guarantees. I am not going to sit here and rip Barkley and say he can “easily be replaced” because he doesn’t do this, that, or the other thing. Schoen has a philosophy, and he’s sticking to it.

Now, if it all blows up and the Giants are terrible for the next few years then maybe we will look back at this differently.

Mark Vicio asks: Now that the Barkley tag is going to be applied this season (if he plays, which you had said would be foolish if not) and our draft picks are signed, the Giants are left with a little over 3.8 million for the season (as per Over The Cap).

With that in mind, do you see any moves being done by the front office to clear more space? Or do you see us going into the season with this as a working number?

Ed says: Mark, this is actually an area where not getting the Barkley deal done hurts the Giants this season. Getting Barkley to sign a multi-year contract would have driven his cap hit down this season and given the Giants some cap relief.

There are not a lot of moves they really want to make. If they wanted to extend the contracts of Leonard Williams and Adoree’ Jackson they would have already done it. I don’t think they want to tie themselves to either of those players beyond 2023 until they see how the season plays out. Aside from Williams and Jackson, though, there aren’t obvious places they can go to get a big chunk of cap relief.

Tyrod Taylor carries a $6.9 million cap hit. Maybe they extend him for a year and use a signing bonus to drive that down a bit. Graham Gano is in the last year of his deal and carries a $5.547 million cap hit. Again, an extension might be in order.

I have said many times through the offseason that I would not be surprised to see Darnay Holmes get cut. That seems even more possible now. The Giants could save $2.743 million against the cap with no dead money by releasing Holmes.

Frederick H. Humphrey asks: I see that you wrote you don’t believe the Giants made a mistake by not signing Barkley before the deadline. I disagree and now I’m kind of resentful towards Joe Schoen. I think his actions were disrespectful to Barkley and I think low balling him could hurt the Giants in the long run. I feel now that getting free agents to come to play for the Giants may be more difficult. Who would want to play for an organization where you won’t be treated or paid fairly? So my question to you is do you think that this can hurt Giants chances of signing free agents in the future?

Ed says: Frederick, I’m not going to buy the ‘free agents won’t come to New York because of how the Giants treat their players’ argument. The Giants just gave Daniel Jones and Dexter Lawrence contracts totaling nearly $250 million, with more than $150 million of that guaranteed. Players love Brian Daboll and the Giants coaching staff.

I don’t think Schoen was disrespectful to Barkley at all. Miles Sanders signed for $25.4 million over four years, roughly $6.3 million annually, with $13 million guaranteed. Ezekiel Elliott and Dalvin Cook got cut, and Josh Jacobs and Tony Pollard also will have to settle for the tag. Consider those things and then consider the fact that dating back to last season the Giants made Barkley at least three contract offers roughly double (we don’t know exact amounts) what Sanders got paid.

I don’t call that disrespect. I think that was fair, based on the current market for running backs.

We can certainly argue about the devaluation of running backs, because that has obviously happened. I was a bit surprised the Giants didn’t offer Barkley guaranteed money between Derrick Henry ($25.5 million) and Christian McCaffrey ($30.062 million), but under current market conditions I think calling the Giants’ offers to Barkley disrespectful is misguided. Though you are certainly entitled to feel that way.

Are players going to avoid the Dallas Cowboys because they cut Elliott? Are they going to avoid the Minnesota Vikings because Dalvin Cook got cut? Big-name players get cut or traded all the time. It’s a business, and both players and teams will do what they think is best for themselves.

Jerry Panza asks: Ed, your mailbag is gonna be full on subject Saquon. Wondering if you feel he got bad advice by his representatives going back as far as the bye week and just this week as well? I’ve always been a fan of SB, I support him trying to get as much as he can get due to the low shelf life of running backs but recently (6/14) I asked you if you felt Barkley was a selfish me, me, me player? He has stated he wants to be a Giant for life but not accepting this last offer and ”taking for the team” so to speak. It kinda puts him in a bad light as a team guy. Players probably will back him, but do you think Saquon will care how he’ll be perceived going forward?

Ed says: Jerry, you sort of meandered your way through asking a pair of Barkley questions. I will try to address both.

On the subject of bad advice, this is something that Pat Traina and I discussed this week on the ‘Valentine’s Views’ podcast. Maybe he has gotten bad advice. Barkley wouldn’t be the first player to have agents, friends, family members — anyone in his inner circle — tell him what he wants to hear rather than what he needs to hear.

I don’t know if it is bad advice, Barkley (and perhaps his reps) just not reading the situation correctly, or some combination of both. What I do think is that Barkley was not entirely realistic throughout this negotiation. My belief is that he felt like because he is Saquon Barkley the devaluation of the running back market wouldn’t apply to him and he would get an above market deal.

Look at what Barkley said on the ‘Money Matters’ podcast recently. He said multiple times that he believes he is the best running back in football, and that he wasn’t even asking for what he feels he is worth. Sorry, but there are clearly players who have been better. Barkley’s injury history is part of it, of course, but his production compared to others doesn’t match up with that belief.

On the topic of how he is perceived, Barkley absolutely cares. He probably cares about that too much. He keeps bringing up the perception that he is greedy. In the past, he has been vocal about criticisms of his running style. So, yeah, he pays attention to what people say about him. I think he is probably too sensitive to those outside opinions.

Paul Miller asks: Do the Giants still have the ability to negotiate a contract with Saquon Barkley or is it just sign the tag or holdout? Do you have any idea how much money the Giants still have to work with? Could they sign Dalvin Cook or a Kareem Hunt as an insurance policy if Saquon sits out?

Ed says: Paul, the window for negotiating a deal ended on July 17. That’s what all the fuss was about. In theory, Barkley and the Giants could negotiate a one-year deal that differs somewhat from the straight franchise tag, but no player in this circumstance has ever gotten more than the tag. Joel Corry of CBS Sports broke down the Barkley and Josh Jacobs situations post-tag, and it is worth reading. Here is a snippet that applies to your question:

Barkley and Jacobs are allowed to negotiate their one-year salary with the Giants and Raiders as well as other conditions relating to being a franchise player. It is customary for franchise players who don’t get long-term deals to play for the tender amount. A franchise player getting more than the tag amount would be unprecedented.

Could the Giants sign Dalvin Cook or Kareem Hunt? Theoretically, sure, they could find a way. I would be shocked if they did. First of all, everyone expects Barkley to play in 2023. They should not have to go looking for a replacement. Secondly, to sign Cook or Hunt you would have to do that soon — they won’t be available a week before the season starts. Schoen isn’t committing big money to two running backs. Sign one of those guys and you likely have to rescind the tag on Barkley and cut him loose. That’s not happening.

The Giants did sign running back James Robinson on Friday. I don’t expect any sort of move for a top-tier guy.

Steve S asks: I know with Barkley being on the franchise tag the NY Giants can’t continue contract negotiations until after the 2023 season is over. My question is can the Giants remove the franchise tag from Barkley to then continue negotiations and or release and quickly resign Barkley to a new contract?

Ed says: No. Pro Football Talk got this same mailbag question from a reader recently and did what I should have done — gone to the Collective Bargaining Agreement and looked it up. Since they already did the work for me, though, here is the answer:

That cannot happen; the Collective Bargaining Agreement addresses it with this sentence in Article 10, Section 2(k): “After [July 15], the player may sign only a one-year Player Contract with his Prior Club for that season, and such Player Contract may not be extended until after the Club’s last regular season game of that League Year.”

Steven Wolf asks: Much publicity surrounds the Barkley tag. However, Barkley being the second overall pick doesn’t exactly make him underpaid. What has Barkley received in compensation with his rookie deal? How does that compare to other running backs over the past few years?

Ed says: Steven, in the piece by Joel Corry I mentioned earlier he listed Barkley as having made $38,411,750 from the Giants over five seasons. Corry said that Josh Jacobs, 24th overall pick in 2019, had made $11,933,398 on his four-year rookie deal. That is a massive difference.

Here is one more. Nick Chubb, selected in Round 2, 35th overall the year Barkley went No. 2 overall, signed a four-year rookie deal worth $7,383,095. Now, add the $12 million signing bonus he got when he was given a three-year, $36 million extension that began in 2022 and his $1,213,059 base salary last year and my calculator says you get $20,595,154. Again, a lot less than what Barkley has put in the bank.

Chubb, incidentally, has 6,341 career rushing yards to Barkley’s 4,294 and has carried the ball 256 more times. He also has 7,331 total yards from scrimmage to 6,069 for Barkley. Pretty easy to decide which team has gotten more for their money.

Dave Nelson asks: 1) What happens to Saquon’s status as a team captain if he holds out for most or all of summer camp? When are the team captains voted on, and would he potentially lose that status due to a holdout and not being at camp?

2) What do you make of the trust Mara has shown to Schoen? Many thought Mara may get involved to help force a deal last minute, but that obviously did not happen. What does the lack of deal say about Schoen and his team building philosophy?

Ed says: Dave, normally, I prefer to limit people to one question, but this is not a normal mailbag and you have broached two questions a haven’t answered yet, so here goes.

Barkley’s captaincy: As much support as Barkley appears to have from players at this point, I doubt players would strip him of his captaincy. It is, though, worth monitoring and worth asking about. As Ralph Vacchiano and I discussed in the YouTube clip above, I don’t think any player in the locker room is going to be truly bothered by Barkley’s absence unless he isn’t on the field Week 1.

John Mara: The Giants co-owner promised when he hired Schoen that he would give the new GM the freedom to do his job. What happened at the tag deadline is, to me, the clearest indication that he meant it and is sticking to it. Mara loves Barkley. He wants him to be a Giant for his entire career. If the financial gap at the deadline was as small as it has been reported to have been, Mara could easily have stepped in and told Schoen to ante up, bridge the gap, and do the deal. He did not.

As for Schoen’s philosophy, it’s been clear all along that he does not want to build his team around a running back. He does not want to pay Barkley, or any running back, big money if he does not have to. He is, though, playing the hand he was dealt. I believe he would not have drafted Barkley, and I will be very surprised if you ever see the Giants select a running back in Round 1 again as long as Schoen is the GM.

Alex Hamilton asks: Since Tuesday, there have been a number of articles speculating that the tag instead of a long-term contract is the beginning of the end of Barkley’s time with the Giants. However, for that to be the case, there would have to be a team willing to offer him more than what the Giants just did. Do you think there’s another team out there that will be willing to guarantee him what the Giants were willing to?

Ed says: Alex, I have my doubts. He’s not getting traded this season, and the running back market isn’t changing overnight. A year from now, Barkley will be a year older and a year deeper into his career. Even if he is healthy and has a big year, that’s 300+ more touches and a lot more hits absorbed, probably making teams even more reticent to pony up a big long-term deal.

If the Giants tag him again and refuse to trade him that’s two more years of wear and tear before another team could sign him.

Just speculating, but maybe there would be a team out there next offseason that believes Barkley could put them over the top and to acquire him via trade would be willing to give him an above market two-year deal. Barkley may never get the deal he thinks he deserves.

Brian Sheitman asks: While I understand why the Giants didn’t want to pay Barkley what he was asking for, nevertheless I find myself surprisingly very disappointed this deal did not get done. I have been a passionate Giants fan for many years and maybe part of the reason for that is the perception that the Giants are a class organization that is especially loyal to the players who act in an exemplary manner both on and off the field.

Do you think Joe Schoen might have under estimated the disappointment among at least some Giants fans for not getting this deal done? Especially if what was written about the 2 sides not being that far apart was true.

Ed says: Brian, short answer to this one. A GM is not doing his job properly if he gives one iota what the fans or the media think of his decisions. Fan opinion can’t be a consideration. He has to build the team the way he and Brian Daboll believe it should be built. He was hired because the Giants need to change the way they do things.

In the end, fans want to win. If Schoen builds a consistent winner fans are not going to care who is on the team and who isn’t.

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