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Saquon Barkley’s potential future with the New York Giants may significantly ride on his on-field performance next season.

“Certainly expect [Saquon Barkley] to be a Giant for a very long time.”

Those were the words stated by none other than Big Blue co-owner John Mara at the recent end-of-year press conference. In a discussion that included the 2020 season’s performance along with the mistakes the franchise has made over the last few years, that ended up becoming one of the more crucial quotes.

Because Barkley’s long-term future with the organization is indeed unclear, and next season may be a huge determinant for what that future holds. After an extremely successful 2018 rookie campaign in which he led the league with 2,028 scrimmage yards and won the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year Award, Barkley battled injuries each of the last two seasons, including an ACL tear suffered in Week 2 of 2020.

The Giants have a decision to make regarding their starting running back real soon. Given the fact he’s entering his fourth year in the league, New York could ink him to a long-term extension in the offseason or exercise the fifth-year option on his rookie deal, which would keep him under contract through at least the 2022 season.

Both are possible routes to take, and it’s understandable he carries the potential to be a star. Nonetheless, the health-related setbacks along with the decreasing value in the running back position may eventually drive the Giants away from the long-term option. This might especially be the case if Barkley requests a dollar amount that resets the market for running backs. Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey just reset the market last year, earning a new deal that’s worth $16 million annually.

Thus, what the organization should do is exercise the fifth-year option — it would be the most logical choice considering how injury prone Barkley’s been. Saquon needs to prove he’s able to remain on the field in a consistent manner before the Giants decide to spend a significant amount of money on him especially after a pandemic-related 2020 loss in revenue.

He could prove himself worthy of a long-term deal after potentially signing one this offseason, but it’s not worth the risk right now. The Giants need to take another year to see what they can get out of him prior to making any sort of noteworthy financial decision.

Barkley can still be one of the top running backs in the league, there’s no doubt about it. He’s extremely versatile and would greatly assist in the overall development of Daniel Jones.

But during the end-of-year press conference, Mara additionally touched on “miscalculations” the organization made in 2018. Before possibly inking Barkley to a lucrative contract, the Giants need to make sure drafting him at No. 2 overall that year with an aging quarterback instead of 2020 All-Pro Josh Allen wasn’t one of those “miscalculations.”

This potential contract will be one of the more important decisions the organization will have made in quite some time. The Giants can’t rush it and can’t risk making any sort of mistake. Take time and have Barkley prove he can remain healthy and return to his 2018 form before breaking the bank.

Ryan Honey is a staff writer and host of the Wide Right Podcast.