Free agent takeover: How Giants and free agent Saquon Barkley can find common ground on new deal

Free agent takeover: How Giants and free agent Saquon Barkley can find common ground on new deal

The Giants’ better-than-expected season ended with a 38-7 loss to the Eagles on Saturday night in the division final. The organization’s focus now shifts to handling its two top free agents: running back Saquon Barkley and quarterback Daniel Jones.

Barkley has made it clear that he wants to stay with the Giants. It also recognizes that it will not reset the current deal on a new deal.

Christian McCaffrey is the highest paid defensive end in the NFL. He signed a four-year extension, averaging $16,015,853 per year with $39,162,500 guaranteed, in 2020. McCaffrey has $30,062,500 fully guaranteed at signing.

“I am realistic. I know what I was on pace to do. But after two years filled up with injuries and having a season that is not performing to the level that I know I can do not help,” Barkley said after the loss. “But I think I was able to show what kind of player I am – the things I can do on a football field. That’s something I wanted to do. That was my goal. I was able achieve that.”

Barkley had his best season since 2018 when he looked like a superstar during a stellar rookie campaign in which he led the NFL with 2,028 yards from scrimmage (combined rushing and receiving yards) and earned NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. He was fourth in the NFL with a career-high 1,312 rushing yards and had 10 touchdowns on the ground (ninth in the NFL) while playing 16 games. Barkley’s 1,650 yards from scrimmage ranked seventh in the league (fifth among running backs). He was one of the top five running backs in the NFL this season.

The Giants tried to negotiate a contract extension with Barkley’s representatives around the Week 9 deadline, which was in early November. General manager Joe Schoen told reporters Monday that the two sides were “not really that close” to reaching an agreement.

The Hunters’ offer for Barkley was reportedly in the neighborhood of $12 million per year. According to Fox Sports’ Ralph Vacchiano, Barkley is looking for a deal in McCaffrey’s territory. This is not necessarily consistent with Barkley’s statement.

When contract talks began with Barkley, he suggested the Giants were his top signing priority and the best candidate for the franchise tag. Jones has not had similar efforts during the season.

That may no longer be the case. Barkley is a better running back than Jones is at quarterback but passers are more important and valuable than runners in today’s NFL.

Schoen was more decisive in Jones returning than Barkley next season. He qualified his comments when discussing Barkley.

“We want these guys back, I really want,” said Schoen. “But there’s a business side to it. There’s rules you have to work under in terms of the salary cap. Saquon, he’s a good player. He’s a great teammate. I’d love to get to know him this season. He’s a great guy. we want to … As far as the value of the site, we’ll go into how we want to build this team and allocate our resources.”

Schoen’s comments suggest that Barkley won’t continue to be a member of the Giants or receive the franchise tag if he’s committed to a McCaffrey-type deal. Ezekiel Elliott and Alvin Kamara are tied for the league’s second-highest paid reserve at $15 million per year. Elliott is expected to be a salary cap offender unless he takes some sort of pay cut to stay with the Cowboys.

The average of Kamara’s five-year extension with the Saints is misleading. He has no chance of seeing the $25 million in his 2025 contract year. The deal averages $12.5 million per year through 2024, the first four new years. The next step in the current salary hierarchy is Dalvin Cook, who signed a five-year extension with the Vikings in 2020, averaging $12.6 million per year.

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If the Giants could get Jones to a quick deal, it would pave the way for Barkley’s franchise designation. The non-exclusive franchise tag supports running projects backwards to 4.489% of the salary cap. If the 2023 salary cap is set at $225 million, the current number should be $10.1 million. Barkley, who turned 26 on Feb. 9, indicated he would be upset if given the franchise tag.

The franchise nomination is good value compared to the reports of the bid being rejected. The second franchise tag in 2024 at the NFL-mandated Collective Bargaining Agreement was $12.12 million—a 20% increase over Barkley’s projected number for 2023. Over the two-year period, Barkley would make $22.22 million, an average of $11.11 million per year before he hits the open market in 2025 at age 28.

McCaffrey’s money would be more justifiable with Josh Jacobs’ production. Jacobs led the NFL with 1,653 rushing and 2,053 yards from scrimmage while scoring 12 times.

The appropriate range for Barkley on a multi-year contract is probably between $13 million and $14.25 million per year. There are currently eight running backs in the NFL whose contracts average $12 million per year or more. All the moves were for the players to stay with their own teams.

These eight deals averaged $13,047,526 per year and averaged 4.375 years. The eight running backs this season averaged 1,135 rushing yards, eight rushing touchdowns and 1,521 yards from scrimmage in 16 games. Barkley surpassed all of those statistical marks during the 2022 season.

As one of the top five running backs this season, Barkley has a legitimate case to claim to be one of the five highest paid at the position. Rounding out the top five is Derrick Henry. He signed a four-year, $50 million deal, averaging $12.5 million per year, with the Titans in 2020 as a franchise player. The maximum value through incentives is $51 million and $25.5 million was fully guaranteed. Adjusting for salary cap inflation, Henry’s contract is worth nearly $14.25 million per year.

An agent told me recently that sometimes there is a level playing field that makes both sides a little uncomfortable. A modified version of Le’Veon Bell’s free agent contract with the Jets from nearly four years ago in 2019 could qualify.

Bell signed a four-year, $52.5 million contract with a veteran contract record at the time of $27 million fully guaranteed at the signing, which was the first two years. There were $35 million in overall guarantees. The $13.125 million deal was worth as much as $60.15 million per year through incentives and salary ladders.

Bell had $1.5 million in annual incentives — $500,000 of which was at least 1,800 yards from scrimmage. He received an additional $500,000 by reaching 2,000 scrimmage yards. Another $500,000 is up for grabs with the Jets making the playoffs.

Bell also had a $550,000 base salary raise in each of the past three years based on his performance in the previous season. The three different ways to trigger the promotion were gaining 2,000 or more yards from scrimmage, being named the AP NFL Offensive Player of the Year or winning the AP MVP award.

A deal of $13.5 million per year is below the midpoint of the proposed contract range of $13 million to $14.25 million per year. With $7.65 million upside, the maximum contract value is $61.65 million ($15,412,500 per year).

Fully guaranteeing $27.5 million for the first two years shouldn’t be an issue. Henry has essentially the same percentage of his fully guaranteed contract as his $25.5 million. The Giants would certainly not agree to the additional $8 million in guarantees in the third year as in Bell’s contract.

The incentive thresholds and dollar amounts should be fine except for 1,800 scrimmage yards and the playoffs could replace hitting 1,400 rushing yards, which Barkley never did in his NFL career. The stair climb should also be acceptable. Perhaps it would be an added boost for the escalator to reach 1,500 rushing yards.

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