The Giants need to make a business decision on Saquon Barkley before Saquon Barkley starts making business decisions on the field.
It seems as if the team has already decided it wants the 25-year-old running back to stick around beyond this season. Speaking on WFAN last week during the bye, general manager Joe Schoen said that beyond Barkley’s eye-popping stats this season he is “a culture guy . . . and we’d like to keep him around here. So we can get into contract extension talks.” Schoen even said he has had conversations with Barkley about that desire and it sounds as if Barkley has responded in kind.
So what’s the holdup?
The longer Barkley plays without a guaranteed salary for 2023 and beyond, the closer we get to a point where he might start wondering why he’s out there exposing himself to danger on every snap he plays. That would certainly be very unlike Barkley, who has never shown one sliver of selfishness or played one down in which he did not appear to give it his all. From the moment he was drafted until now he has maintained a believable mantra that all he cares about is the team and winning.
Without a safety net contract in place, though, maybe those second and third efforts that have allowed Barkley to regain his place among the league’s top players start to dwindle. Perhaps those runs down the sideline will start to end with him gliding out of bounds rather than lowering his shoulder for the extra yards.
It doesn’t seem like a conclusion Barkley would make on his own. But he might have others in his ear wondering aloud why he is pouring every bit of himself into a team that has yet to pour back. He’s already done enough on the field this season to warrant a long-term deal from somebody. It should be from the Giants, and if it’s not, then he might smartly and rightly start saving some of those finite number of cuts and moves for his next employer.
Schoen placed a self-imposed deadline for talks regarding contract extensions with current players on this past Monday, saying he did not want anything to be a distraction to the team. The longer things go without Barkley being locked up as a Giant, though, the bigger a distraction that will become.
As we head into the second half of this season, the questions will start coming at Barkley like would-be tacklers. Could these be your last games with the Giants? What teams might you want to play for? Are you disappointed that no deal has already been reached? Barkley will handle them professionally, but they will become a nuisance. Especially if he is trying to carry the Giants to the postseason for the first time in his career.
The Giants should take a lesson from the Yankees and Aaron Judge: It’s never good to be in a staring contest with your best and most popular player, even if you do have the crutch of some fiscal sanity on your side.
There are some financial reasons why the immediate future — that is to say before the end of this regular season — would seem to be the best time for the Giants to get a deal done. After years of trending toward a devaluation of running backs, this season they are back to a more prominent role in the NFL landscape. Quarterback play and scoring is (mostly) down, defenses are conceding short gains to stop big plays, and players such as Barkley are able to capitalize on those trends with their yards-from-scrimmage stats. That change in attitude toward the position will certainly be reflected in the free- agency market in March. It’s better for the Giants to get something done with Barkley before those price tags start blowing up.
Also, the more games he actually helps the Giants win this season — and he is the main reason why they are winning so far — the more Barkley will command.
Of course there are cautionary tales regarding running back contracts all around — and outside — the league, enough to give the Giants pause. Ezekiel Elliott and Christian McCaffrey, Barkley’s contemporaries, have not lived up to their big second deals mostly because of injury. Jonathan Taylor was the next big thing a few months ago and now, well, he is not. The big-play back when Barkley came into the NFL, Todd Gurley, isn’t even on a roster anymore.
As for Barkley, he should be amenable to a new contract because, unlike the Judge/Yankees situation, he won’t be a free agent after this year unless the Giants let him be. The team has the franchise tag at their disposal for him in 2023. That would pay him a guaranteed $13 million or so next season. Certainly not an insulting figure, but far from what he could garner now. And it would mean he’d have to get through another season injury-free before getting a megadeal . . . if he plays under it at all.
Both sides seem to agree that it’s best for Barkley to remain a Giant for a while. It’s time they put it in writing.