It has been a quiet 10 days on the Saquon Barkley front.
The Giants hit the running back with the franchise tag on March 7 after re-signing Daniel Jones at the tag deadline buzzer. There were initial reports a deal could happen before the start of the new league year. But that did not happen. It has been radio silence since.
Barkley should return to the front burner, though, as the first wave of free agency ends. And one thing is clear: The star running back and his camp may have greatly overestimated his value.
To recap: Barkley reportedly turned down a deal in the $12.5 million-a-year range at midseason (the guaranteed money was never reported). He said at the end of the season he was not looking to reset the market at the position. But he was clearly looking for a deal at around $14-16 million annually (ditto on his guarantee demands). The Giants apparently upped their offer slightly, but negotiations went nowhere. They then used the $10.1 million non-exclusive tag on Barkley after Jones’ deal was secured.
Which brings us to the present. And to a leaguewide running back market that has cratered.
The Panthers just gave Miles Sanders — the best back on the open market — a four-year, $25 million deal with $13 million guaranteed. The structure of the deal is not known yet. But unless all the guarantees are in Year 1, Sanders is not coming close to to the tag figure as an effective annual average value. So unless one or both of the other franchise-tagged backs — the Cowboys’ Tony Pollard or the Raiders’ Josh Jacobs, and really only Jacobs — cashes in soon, Barkley is going to be in a tough spot.
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Barkley has not just twice turned down an AAV above the 2023 tag rate. He’s twice turned down an AAV that beats the two-year tag rate (Barkley would get a $12.1 million tag in 2024 if the Giants used it again). And he has little leverage — beyond the organization’s affinity and goodwill — to get a third crack at it.
The Giants are not hard-up for salary cap space at the moment. And if they were, they have other ways to free it up. The team’s next offer to Barkley probably won’t go down out of the goodness of their heart. And if he still balks? Barkley plays on the tag this season and they do it all again next year. Which is a pretty good option for a team when dealing with a back who has plenty of tread on his tires and a significant injury history.
Barkley is not under contract to the Giants until he signs the tag or a new deal. So he can stay home, miss the entire offseason program without penalty and take talks all the way to mid-July, when tagged players can no longer sign extensions. But making things uncomfortable and perhaps a tad messy may not be enough to get what he wants. Or closer to it. Because the Giants have the upper hand here, and it is a heavy one.
If the market Barkley’s fans promoted ever existed, it is almost assuredly gone now. So too is any leverage he previously had. Barkley appears to have overplayed his hand here. Now to see how he resets, if at all. And how the Giants take it from here.
James Kratch can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @jameskratch.