Saquon Barkley
Vincent Carchietta | USA TODAY Sports

This is not about Saquon Barkley’s talent. Never has been. The initial talk about gold jackets and God’s Hand was a bit much. But the sentiment was sound. Most everyone believed he would be an elite player. And when healthy, he has been.

But this is about his health. And the realities of modern NFL economics and positional value, roster-building needs and consideration of future priorities. If Brian Daboll and Joe Schoen — and let’s be honest, John Mara too — can remove emotion from the equation, the conclusion should be straightforward. Letting Barkley walk in free agency is in the Giants’ best interest.

Sure, they would love to have him back. Schoen said so Monday. That does not make it the responsible decision. It is the same story as when Dave Gettleman used the No. 2 pick in the 2018 draft on Barkley. Running backs — even the great ones — tend to have shorter careers. They are more prone to injury. And most importantly, they play a position that is no longer considered premium. You can find effective backs almost anywhere, and for pennies in the grand scheme of the salary cap.

That is why people criticized the pick then. And why moving on from Barkley is prudent now.

Last Saturday’s beatdown in Philadelphia was a blessing, in a twisted sense. It held a mirror up to this team as all the happy talk and dreaming evaporated. The Giants had a tremendous season to be proud of. But they were much greater than the sum of their parts. And they remain a long way off from true championship contention with many concerns and needs to address.

They have to retain Daniel Jones, and they will do so at a price that would have seemed incomprehensible last summer. Paydays for Dexter Lawrence, Xavier McKinney and Andrew Thomas are right around the corner (and Lawrence’s is likely imminent). Leonard Williams is likely looking at an extension to lessen his 2023 cap hit. The Giants also desperately need an impact wide receiver. Two, really. The interior of the offensive line will be retooled. The inside linebacking corps is due for a revamp. Another defensive lineman would not hurt. Nor would another cornerback.

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All of these things, we would argue, are more important than re-signing Barkley to a lucrative multi-year deal. And that is what it would be. Barkley said all the right things the other day, that he wants to be a Giant for life and does not seek to reset the running back market. But Baggie Day comments are not made under oath at the risk of perjury.

The Post reported Barkley and his camp turned down around $12 million a year at midseason. Schoen since added an agreement was never close. Even if Barkley would “settle” for something between that apparent offer and Christian McCaffrey’s $16 million a year, we’re still talking significant money that surpasses the projected $10 million franchise tag rate for backs in 2023.

The tag has been promoted as a cost-effective magic bullet to bring Barkley back for some time now. While that idea initially made sense, it quickly slide into wishful thinking territory and now feels somewhat delusional.

The Giants have determined Jones is their quarterback. And more importantly, this surprise playoff run has left them with no viable alternates if he is not. Jones has significant leverage and is due a massive payday. The Giants will use the franchise tag on Jones, burning half their projected cap space in the process (even if only temporarily). Or they pay up and give Jones a sizable deal that makes them think twice about deploying the tag elsewhere. Especially given everything else they must accomplish this spring.

A common refrain exiting the Eagles loss has been the Giants are ahead of schedule after the first year of their rebuild. Which is certainly true. But that does not ensure they will stay on schedule. They have too many holes and caught too many breaks this year to assume further ascent without significant intervention this offseason. That means adding missing pieces through free agency and the draft and moving to hold onto the cornerstones already in place. It will also mean making tough decisions. Which is what moving on from Barkley will be. But you have to give to get.

If Giants ownership and management is capable of sober analysis, they will realize losing Barkley is the concession that must be made. This is about business and championships. The Giants are better off on both fronts without Barkley. They don’t have to like it. But they do need to accept it.

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James Kratch can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @jameskratch.

James Kratch is the managing editor of ESNY. He previously worked as a Rutgers and Giants (and Mike Francesa) beat reporter for NJ Advance Media.