Saquon Barkley
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Before the season started, anyone could’ve told you this was going to be Saquon Barkley’s final year with the Giants. The running back hadn’t stayed healthy since his sensational 2018 rookie campaign and Big Blue was entering the first year of a long and overdue rebuild. An extension beyond his fifth season (which former GM Dave Gettleman exercised in 2021) was highly unlikely.

But eight weeks later, Barkley is second in the NFL with 779 rushing yards and the Giants are 6-2 heading into the bye. Just like we all drew it up.

So things have changed, right? Barkley is back in the future plans, right?

Well, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that.

Rebuild is still on. Don’t let this great start fool you. This team is still in a rebuild and the roster is still a work in progress. There are various areas of the roster that need fixing, and many of them carry more value than the running back position. This includes the depleted wide receiver room, the offensive line, the cornerback room, and potentially the quarterback position if the Giants don’t decide to retain Daniel Jones.

Not to mention there are various starters who may need to be replaced due to horrendous contracts. Cornerback Adoree’ Jackson is on the hook for $19.48 million in cap space next season while wide receiver Kenny Golladay, an inevitable cap casualty, has a $21.4 million hit.

There are only so many spots and issues you can address with limited available cap space. And running back may be low on the totem pole. Remember: general manager Joe Schoen didn’t have the necessary cap space to productively alter the roster this past spring. Next offseason: he will, and he’ll have the opportunity to construct the roster the way he desires.

Other possible extensions. We could also see Schoen look elsewhere when it comes to extending players already on the roster. Andrew Thomas will be eligible for an extension next offseason and Schoen might wish to lock the talented left tackle in long term. However, there’s also the chance Schoen exercises Thomas’ fifth-year option and attempts to extend him after the 2023 campaign.

Defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence will also be an extension candidate next offseason if he continues to shine as an interior pass-rusher (Lawrence has a team-leading 4.0 sacks). Extending Lawrence would also help spread out the cap — currently, his 2023 5th-year option, which Schoen picked up in April, carries a cap hit of $12.4 million (fully guaranteed).

Schoen might extend safety Xavier McKinney if he continues to be a top-tier versatile weapon for this defense. McKinney is not a former first-rounder (2020 second round) and does not have the fifth-year option. So Schoen will only have two options: lock him in long term or let him play out the final year of his rookie deal in 2023. Taking into account McKinney’s value in Wink Martindale’s defense (he’s taken every single defensive rep through eight games), extending him this coming offseason seems likely.

Asking price. In a perfect world for the 2022 Giants, Barkley helps the team make the playoffs while putting together a strong second half of the year. But if that occurs, Barkley could potentially wish for a payday that makes him one of the league’s highest-paid running backs.

Right now, 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey leads all running backs with an average annual value of $16.02 million. Behind McCaffrey are Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott and Saints running back Alvin Kamara, both earn $15 million annually.

Even franchise tagging Barkley could make him the league’s fourth-highest-paid back in terms of average annual value. Per OverTheCap, the 2023 franchise tag for running backs is projected to be $12.632 million.

If the Giants truly wish to rebuild the correct way, they won’t give Barkley anything in the $12-16 million per year range. Especially when they have other positions and possible contract extensions to address.

So what’s the 2023 plan? Don’t make the big signing at this position. Don’t make the big draft-day decision either (like Gettleman did back in 2018).

Schoen could build a running back committee for head coach Brian Daboll, and not spend nearly as much money in the process.

Start by bringing back Matt Breida due to his likely low salary and familiarity in the system, and possibly retain Gary Brightwell (who is signed through 2024 on a rookie deal) for his special teams value.

And then maybe sign a healthy veteran in free agency before using a late-round draft pick on a reserve back/return specialist. The Giants have a pair of seventh-round picks and now a sixth-rounder they just received from the Chiefs for wide receiver Kadarius Toney. With one of these draft choices, Schoen could round out a low-cost running back committee that could still fit what Daboll is trying to accomplish.

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