We know what the Giants offered Saquon Barkley in terms of average annual salary (and what they have since rescinded). But the true measure of an NFL contract — the guaranteed money — remains an unknown.
And that speaks volumes about what likely happened between the team and the star running back, and about where this contract standoff is inevitably heading.
If the Giants had lowballed Barkley on guarantees, matching or modestly eclipsing what he would get playing on back-to-back franchise tags, the world would know. Barkley’s camp would have gladly gotten that message out to benefit their client. But that the information remains under wraps suggests a different potential reality: Barkley and his representation overplayed their hand and the polite Giants do not want to rub in their overwhelming leverage any further.
The Giants were apparently willing to give Barkley in the vicinity of $13 million a year when they tagged him. Which would have been a fair deal. Barkley had insisted he was not looking to reset the running back market. But that appears to have been a clever way to obfuscate that he wanted much closer to Christian McCaffery’s $16 million a year than implied. Which is his right, of course.
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But NFL annual average salaries are not real. Guaranteed money is. McCaffery got $30 million of it. The Titans gave $25.5 million to Derrick Henry. Alvin Kamara got just under $23 million from the Saints. And Barkley — were he to play on the franchise tag in 2023 and ’24 — would collect about $22 million. So it’s hard to imagine general manager Joe Schoen did not at least beat Henry’s deal, which was signed two years ago. Barkley would have had no motivation to sign a long-term deal otherwise. And again: If Schoen had made a subpar offer, we would know.
This curiously missing puzzle piece signals this is on Barkley’s side. They miscalculated, both at midseason last year and in the run-up to free agency. The Giants then managed to get Daniel Jones re-signed in time to use the tag and the running back market proceeded to tank. At which point the Giants likely concluded they were bidding against themselves and Barkley never had the suitors his sympathizers said there were. And that they would win no matter how this all shakes out.
Schoen has been able to use the Barkley situation to set a tone for future talks with other high-priority players. And to make it clear he has the freedom to run the Giants as he sees fit. If he tells someone an offer will not stand forever, it will not. And if you wager that co-owners John Mara and Steve Tisch will eventually think with their hearts and interfere for sentimental reasons, think again.
The Giants kept Barkley. They will make him prove himself again. If he stays healthy and produces, they can try again for a long-term deal. Or tag him again. And if he falters? They can move on without pain. Or retain him for far less than they would have been on the hook for. Every angle is covered.
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To be clear: Barkley will eventually sign the tender and be on the field in Week 1, hoping he stays healthy and gets another crack at a pay day next March. This is not going to become a Le’Veon Bell repeat. Bell was entering his second tagged year when he sat out in 2018. He has already played a season with an eight-figure salary. And he knew the Steelers would let him walk. Barkley has not had a high-earning season yet and he cannot be sure the Giants would allow him to reach free agency in 2024.
But that does not mean this will not take a while. Or that it will be without its unpleasant moments. Barkley is reportedly upset with the tag and has no urgency to sign it. Negotiations are at Square No. 1 and currently on hold. The tag extension deadline is July 17. And the Giants won’t yank the tag or trade him.
Add it all up and it seems highly unlikely Barkley shows this spring. And, depending on how poorly things go between now and late July, he could certainly stay away for some or all of training camp in the summer. Barkley doesn’t lose a dime until the games begin, remember.
So while we wait, we ruminate. And we have to say: Everything we do and do not paints a clear picture: Barkley and his team appear to have botched this. And it will be very difficult for them to gain much ground back for now.
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James Kratch can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @jameskratch.