The Giants failed to reach a long-term contract with Saquon Barkley, their star running back, by the N.F.L. deadline on Monday, leaving the two sides at a stalemate over whether he will play this season.
In March, the team offered Barkley, 26, the franchise tag, which would have paid him $10.09 million for the 2023 season, but he declined to sign the tender. It is unclear whether Barkley will sign and report to Giants training camp when it opens for veteran players next Tuesday or if he will hold out.
Saquon Barkley won offensive rookie of the year in the 2018 season and rushed for 10 touchdowns in the 2022 season.Credit…Abbie Parr/Associated Press
Why It Matters: Barkley is one of the best at his position.
A two-time Pro Bowl selection, Barkley has been a mainstay of the Giants’ offense since the team drafted him No. 2 overall in 2018, and he gave the team an identity as it moved on from the longtime quarterback Eli Manning.
He was named the offensive rookie of the year in his first season, and his explosive runs helped turn him into a face of the league, even as ankle and knee injuries kept him out of 21 games from 2019 through 2021.
Barkley bounced back last season to help lead the Giants (9-7-1) to their first playoff appearance since the 2016 season. Behind his 1,312 rushing yards on 295 carries (both fourth best in the N.F.L.) and 10 rushing touchdowns, the Giants were a top-five rushing team and scored 21 touchdowns on the ground compared with 17 passing.
The team’s decision to offer Barkley the franchise tag has been a point of debate in N.F.L. circles, with even members of the Giants’ rivals speaking up on his behalf. In April, Cowboys defensive end Micah Parsons argued on Twitter that Barkley is the centerpiece of the Giants’ offense. “The scheme on Monday morning is we well not let SAQUON BARKLEY BEAT Us!!,” he wrote, adding “Pay him!”
The Background: Teams are averse to long-term deals for running backs.
Barkley is likely looking for a deal on par with the highest earners at his job.
His four-year rookie deal was worth $31.19 million and the team picked up his option for $7.2 million last season.
Christian McCaffrey of the 49ers has the top average salary for a running back at $16 million, and Alvin Kamara of the Saints is earning $15 million. Derrick Henry of the Titans, Nick Chubb of the Browns and Joe Mixon of the Bengals each earn at least $12 million per year on their deals.
Barkley scoffed at a report last week that said he sought $16 million annually and has continued to load social media accounts with images from his off-season workouts.
But he may be negotiating hard for both his personal game and to force better market value for running backs, whose average compensation has been declining.
“The trend right now is not to pay running backs, so everyone is like, ‘OK, we don’t have to do it either then,’” Chargers running back Austin Ekeler said, adding that it would take a top performer to hold out or sign a big long-term deal to reverse the trend.
Josh Jacobs of the Raiders and Tony Pollard of the Cowboys also failed to reach long-term deals with their teams and are expected to play under the franchise tag, the average salary of the top five players at that player’s position. The figure for running backs pales in comparison to the money for quarterbacks ($32.4 million this year), offensive linemen ($18.24 million) or even tight ends ($11.35 million).
If Barkley accepts the Giants’ tag, the two sides cannot negotiate a long-term deal until after the end of the regular season.
If he does not accept the tag, Barkley can hold out and not play. He would not be docked pay for missing training camp dates but he would lose out on paychecks if he were to sit out games. The Giants could also rescind the franchise tag, a highly unlikely move that would make Barkley an unrestricted free agent.
The more likely outcome: Barkley holds out temporarily to make his displeasure known but ends up reporting to camp. He has repeatedly said he’d like to retire as a Giant and shifted his representation to facilitate negotiations. He is currently represented by Kim Miale of Roc Nation and Ed Perry of Creative Artists Agency.
When the regular season is finished, the Giants and Barkley can pick up talks that will likely end in a deal getting done. He has been a stabilizing personality in a locker room that has seen three different head coaches in Barkley’s tenure, and the team’s reliance on the running attack of Barkley and quarterback Daniel Jones won’t be diminished any time soon.