saquon barkley giants
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Giants running back Saquon Barkley is eligible for a contract extension but must prove he can remain consistently healthy.

A massive payday was, at one point, surely in Saquon Barkley‘s future. The Giants running back and 2018 No. 2 overall pick’s incredible rookie campaign led to that widespread belief.

However, that ideology has fizzled out for some over the last few years. Barkley played in just 15 combined games from 2019-20, missing three the former season due to a high ankle sprain and then 14 the latter campaign because of a torn ACL.

The injuries, along with the Giants’ decision to exercise Saquon’s fifth-year option (and thus keep him under contract through 2022), were expected to delay his potential contract negotiations until next year.

But could the talks between his agent and the Giants front office come even earlier than that?

“I think that it depends upon the guy,” general manager Dave Gettleman said in regard to in-season contract negotiations, per SNY’s Ralph Vacchiano. “I think it depends on where the team is at and I used to feel like it was a bad idea, but not so much [now]. Have I changed my idea on that? Yes. I’m a lot more flexible on that.”

A lot would need to occur for the Giants, in the middle of the season, to agree to a long-term investment with a running back who suffered a major knee injury just last year.

Barkley would need to swiftly return to his 2018 rookie-year form once healthy. Number one, we don’t know if he’ll be capable of doing that, and number two, we don’t know when 100% health will be achieved. He’s off the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be ready to go for the Week 1 matchup with Denver. There’s a chance we don’t see Barkley on the game field until Week 3 (Sept. 26).

The Giants cannot jump the gun on an extension, which is why if one is to get done, it should be after this season. Don’t break the bank after eight or nine games in 2021; let Barkley prove himself the entire year.

That’s also why the fifth-year option was so important — so the Giants could have that extra offseason to make what will be such a crucial decision regarding their running back.

They must utilize that additional time and not prematurely choose whether paying Saquon is worth it.

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