Once upon a time, the Giants rewarded an oft-injured game-breaker with a top-priced new contract after opting out of training camp in his fifth season.
That tricky 2018 Odell Beckham Jr. deal looks like child’s play compared to what awaits the Giants and Saquon Barkley, whose once-ideal marriage has been so upended by injuries over the past two years that it is no longer possible to distinguish between best and worst case scenarios for each side.
Barkley got his wish this offseason when the Giants never seriously considered trading him for much-needed salary cap relief, but there was never public pressure to extend him as the highest-paid player. at his post, as was the case when Beckham Jr. entered. his walking year. Certainly not thought of a holdout.
It’s because of the difference between running against receiver and realizing the Giants aren’t on the cusp of a long playoff run, as was the illusion four years ago. So what does the future hold for Barkley and the Giants? Here are the possibilities:
Barkley is playing well and is re-signed
It’s not as crazy as it sounds for Barkley to return to his 2018 form of 2,028 yards and 15 touchdowns from scrimmage.
One school of thought is that some players don’t return to full strength until the second season after a serious knee injury like the one Barkley suffered in September 2020. Another factor is that Barkley is finally in an attack capable of using his various rushing and receiving skills. rather than misfitting it like a 1990s I-shaped power back.
If that happens, the Giants have to decide if they want to be the last team to reset the running back market. There will be shouting on both sides of the fence: critics pointing to poor ROI for the Rams (Todd Gurley) and – so far – for the Cowboys (Ezekiel Elliott) and Panthers (Christian McCaffrey ), as well as fans who see Barkley as both an elite playmaker and marketable star facing the franchise with the values co-owner John Mara holds dear.
Scans indicate that running backs break down around the age of 30, but Barkley will still be just 25 when the 2022 season ends.
Barkley is playing well and is not re-signed
What is the impact of a great running back on winning? Of the 12 teams paying the highest salaries to running backs in 2021, only three made the playoffs. Since 2009, the average salary of the top rusher on the winning Super Bowl team is just $1.09 million, according to CBS Sports.
The franchise tag ($13 million) could be an option, although the Giants may need that security blanket to prevent quarterback Daniel Jones from being released. And asking Barkley to bypass long-term security to play on his fifth-year option and then a franchise tag in consecutive years could create the kind of bad blood that’s been cleverly avoided thus far.
The downside of letting Barkley go as a free agent is threefold: criticism for getting nothing in return for one of the few roster assets, reliving the 2018 decision to pass on quarterback Josh Allen and the player of offensive line Quenton Nelson to draft Barkley, and the fear that he would fulfill his Hall of Fame potential elsewhere.
A true pessimist might say the Giants allowed Barkley’s success to lead to wins and worsen the 2023 draft position with no long-term gains.
Barkley plays well but Giants start badly
Given Daniel Jones’ inconsistencies, understaffed secondary and reliance on inexperience on both sides of the line, Barkley could be sensational and the Giants could still start 2-6 or 1-7 for fifth season. consecutive. The Giants are 5-7 when rushing for 100 yards and 2-5 when rushing for 70+ yards in his career.
In that scenario, it would become apparent if the Giants’ thinking in retaining Barkley in March was that his value would be higher before the Nov. 1 trade deadline than it was in the offseason. The Giants would need to know by then what Barkley’s asking price will be in free agency.
Paying big for running backs isn’t what Giants general manager Joe Schoen has been exposed to in his role as the Bills’ top lieutenant. The Rams traded fourth- and sixth-round picks for a 2021 season to hire Sony Michel before free agency — and Michel’s cap is a far cry from Barkley’s.
Barkley is playing poorly or not healthy
It’s almost impossible to predict a scenario in which Barkley struggles but the Giants often win. It’s still just as important.
Whether he’s no better than last season — when he rushed for a career-low 3.7 yards per carry — or adds significantly to the 22 total games missed due to an injury in the past three seasons, so the writing is on the wall to go different paths.
But the Giants will have wasted $7.2 million in cap space that could have been given up in March and possibly used to save cornerback James Bradberry. They’ll have nothing but an abysmal five-year record to show for the No. 2 pick in the 2018 draft.