With Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley‘s free agencies happening in the same year, the Giants face the prospect of losing their two-time Pro Bowl running back. They have made their priority clear: Jones’ positional value will lead to the quarterback being the first order of business. That clouds Barkley’s Big Apple future.
The Giants did approach Barkley about an extension before Jones, entering negotiations with the former Offensive Rookie of the Year during their bye week. But GM Joe Schoen confirmed the sides did not come close on terms. The Giants were believed to have offered Barkley a deal worth around $12.5MM per year. While Barkley said he was not looking to reset the running back market, he is believed to be looking for an accord in the Christian McCaffrey neighborhood ($16MM AAV).
A compromise may be in reach, however. Should the talks move to a $14MM per year compromise, ESPN.com’s Jordan Raanan notes that is believed to be enough to finalize a deal. This would place Barkley between the first and second tiers at his position, bridging a narrow gap between the McCaffrey-Alvin Kamara plane ($15MM and up) and the field.
This might not be a splashy conclusion for Barkley’s camp, with McCaffrey’s deal having topped the market for almost three years now, but it would set up the former No. 2 overall pick to be a pivotal part of the team’s Jones-centric future. Guarantee structure would also play an obvious role in Barkley agreeing to an extension ahead of free agency, though the running back — via his draft-slot contract and fifth-year option — has already done quite well for himself.
Barkley has said he would like to return, and it would be interesting to see the Giants’ skill-position centerpiece agree to a new contract before testing the market. Feelers to potentially interested teams would undoubtedly occur, with the Combine (the illegal tampering hub) approaching. But a host of running backs being near free agency also opens the door to a buyer’s market forming at a position that has not fared too well in recent Marches. Since Le’Veon Bell‘s $13.13MM-AAV Jets deal in 2019, no running back has signed for more than $7MM annually on the open market. Each of the league’s RB deals in the $12MM-AAV range — for Dalvin Cook, Derrick Henry, Nick Chubb, Joe Mixon and Aaron Jones — came via extensions.
Then again, Barkley is more talented than just about any back to reach free agency over the past several years. Even with the prospect of Kareem Hunt, Miles Sanders, Jamaal Williams, Devin Singletary and David Montgomery hitting the market together, Barkley would reside as the clear-cut top prize. He led the league in yards from scrimmage (2,028) as a rookie and showed he could hold up for a full season in 2022, totaling 1,650 scrimmage yards and 10 touchdowns while anchoring a bottom-tier Giants skill corps. Josh Jacobs and Tony Pollard being tagged would only increase Barkley’s value.
The Giants have been linked to a willingness to match or surpass $35MM per year for Jones, and Raanan confirms the quarterback’s extension is expected to check in north of that number. Jones on this deal and Barkley at $14MM per year — on a team that has extension candidates in Dexter Lawrence and Andrew Thomas — would bring a major change from its 2022 payroll setup, thus impacting the team’s funds for outside upgrades. But the salary cap’s steady rise will be beneficial here. The cap will climb by nearly $17MM this year, moving to $224.8MM.
Conflicting reports have emerged about the Giants’ appetite for tagging Barkley, though Raanan notes a Jones extension before the tag window closes (March 7) leaving the door open for a Barkley tag is the team’s preferred option. Schoen has referenced a Jones tag, but that cap hold ($32.4MM) would hinder the Giants’ free agency plans. Tagging Barkley would cost the Giants just $10.1MM. This limits Barkley’s leverage with the team, and with the tag window opening Tuesday, the Giants’ Barkley-Jones setup remains the most interesting situation on this front.