saquon barkley giants
(Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

There’s optimism for Giants running back Saquon Barkley in regard to his timeline for return.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports Saquon Barkley is “on track” to be ready for the start of the 2021 season. The Giants running back is recovering from an ACL tear suffered in the 2020 Week 2 loss to Chicago.

The Giants are hoping Barkley will come back from this injury and return to his 2018 rookie-year form (he earned a Pro Bowl bid and the AP Offensive Player of the Year Award that season). This may be why they didn’t bring 2021 free agent Wayne Gallman back after he impressed in Saquon’s absence last season.

Barkley portraying those star-like abilities once again would surely assist in the development of young quarterback Daniel Jones, who must take that leap in his third NFL season later this year. Saquon’s efforts would additionally help the offensive unit find its rhythm — in 2020, the Giants were second-to-last in both total yards and points.

Barkley’s pending return comes when his long-term future in East Rutherford is still undecided.

Co-owner John Mara expects Saquon to remain a Giant “for a very long time,” as he stated during his end-of-season press conference back in January. But if the young running back’s injury-related woes continue, an eventual contract extension may not come to fruition.

As of right now, Saquon has just one year remaining on his rookie deal and the Giants aren’t expected to extend him this offseason. Instead, what they’re likely to do is exercise his fifth-year option, which will lock him in through the 2022 season.

This, of course, would be the correct move.

If the Giants didn’t exercise the fifth-year option or extend him this offseason, they would risk him undergoing a huge year in 2021 and then potentially losing him in free agency next year.

But if they were to extend him this offseason, they would be throwing a significant chunk of change towards a player that’s yet to prove he can return to being the star he was just a few years ago, especially after a notable injury.

Exercising the fifth-year option would count for $7.2 million against the team’s 2022 cap, but it’s a risk the Giants need to take if they wish to put themselves in the best position possible when it comes to their starting running back’s future.

Simply speaking, the organization needs to provide itself with more time to make such an important long-term decision.

The Giants have until next Monday (May 3) to pick up Saquon’s option.

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