Giants Considering Transition-Tagging S Xavier McKinney

Unlikely to pull the trigger on a second Saquon Barkley franchise tag, the Giants are considering a more creative solution in an effort to retain their other top free agent.

A belief within the organization points to another agreement with Xavier McKinney being a better investment compared to paying a seventh-year running back, according to the New York Post’s Paul Schwartz. As Barkley seems to be a diminishing priority within the Giants’ power structure compared to 2023, McKinney’s stock may be rising.

[RELATED: 2024 NFL Franchise Tag Candidates]

Although the team is unlikely to use the franchise tag to retain McKinney, Schwartz indicates the lesser-used transition tag is a possibility to prevent the safety from testing free agency. The safety transition tag is still expected to be costlier than a second Barkley tag, being projected (per OverTheCap) at $13.9MM. After losing Julian Love last year, the Giants look to be exploring all avenues regarding McKinney. The latter was a consideration in the Love talks.

Unlike the franchise tag, teams receive no compensation if they fail to match an offer sheet for a transition-tagged player. The non-exclusive franchise tag mandates two first-round picks come back in the event of an unmatched offer sheet. If a team does not match an offer for a transition-tagged player, it simply loses the player. Teams have until March 5 to apply tags. Only one tag is available to a team each offseason.

Only four teams have used the transition tag over the past decade. The Dolphins (Charles Clay, 2015), Bears (Kyle Fuller, 2018) and Cardinals (Kenyan Drake, 2020) have applied the tag. A fourth transition tag development did affect the Giants in 2016. The Dolphins did use the transition tag on Olivier Vernon, but they rescinded it. That led to Vernon signing a monster Giants pact during an offseason that featured pricey Big Blue upgrades on defense. Of this group, only Drake ended up playing that season on the tag. The Dolphins’ GM when they transition-tagged Clay, Dennis Hickey now resides in the Giants’ front office.

Barring an offer sheet, the Giants would carry that estimated $13.9MM number on their cap sheet this year. They would have until mid-July to negotiate an extension. McKinney being prioritized over Barkley would continue a trend of other Dave Gettleman-era investments being viewed as better assets; GM Joe Schoen has given Daniel Jones, Dexter Lawrence and Andrew Thomas lucrative second contracts. Barkley joins McKinney in being weeks away from free agency. Players can begin negotiating with other teams March 11.

Proclaiming he is the NFL’s most complete safety, McKinney does not sound like a player who would be willing to make a deal without testing the market. The sides had started negotiations on an extension, but talks were ultimately tabled to 2024. It is also unclear if much negotiating transpired last year. Time is running out for the Giants, who have made a habit of moving on from safety regulars in recent years. In addition to letting Love walk — after months of negotiations — the Giants allowed Jabrill Peppers to leave in 2022, the same offseason in which the Schoen regime cut Logan Ryan. The Giants also did not re-sign Landon Collins when he became a free agent in 2019; the ex-second-rounder scored a then-record-setting deal in free agency.

I want to be appreciated in every way for what I do and bring to the table. As a player and as a leader,” McKinney posted on X recently. “I’ve stood by myself ten toes through the critics, the hate etc. sacrificing what those around me didn’t want too or were afraid too for those same people to make it a better situation for all of us. May not always have been beneficial for me but it was for US. Don’t let that go over your head . And I’d do it 10 times over again.”

Last year, only one free agent safety — Jessie Bates — signed a deal worth more than $8MM per annum. The Giants obviously believe McKinney is in position to do better than last year’s second-tier safeties did. Grant Delpit also signed an extension in between these ranges, inking a $12MM-per-year accord with the Browns during the season. That only ties for 11th in terms of AAV at the position; McKinney will undoubtedly aim higher, which could set up another months-long Giants offseason negotiation.

Pro Football Focus graded McKinney, 24, as its No. 4 overall safety last season. The former second-round pick intercepted three passes, forced a fumble and tallied a career-high 116 tackles in his contract year. The Alabama alum did criticize the Giants’ coaching staff for a perceived lack of leadership last season, and he missed extensive time due to injuries in 2020 and ’22 — the latter due to an ATV accident.

McKinney may not be the safest bet, but he will be a high-level free agent soon. The Giants are planning last-ditch negotiations, but it may take a tag to ensure he stays in 2024.

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