Heading into the 2022 season, questions loomed about Saquon Barkley’s future with the New York Giants. After picking up his fifth-year option, Barkley is set to be an unrestricted free agent in March. Will the Giants and Barkley work out a contract extension? Will they franchise tag him? Or will Barkley be playing elsewhere for the second part of his career?
Saquon Barkley Reminded Everyone Just Who He Was in 2022
Entering this season, Barkley was one of the most polarizing players. Everyone knew the talent was there. But after three years mired with injury and poor play, we didn’t know if the talent was still there.
I wrote an article in August comparing Barkley’s career arc to that of Todd Gurley. Barkley’s career was at an inflection point. It was going to go one of two ways: Either the injuries had completely sapped his explosiveness and he was just done, or in his second year removed from an ACL tear, he was going to bounce back in a big way.
While Barkley’s 2022 season wasn’t in the same stratosphere as 2017 Gurley, it was way better than 2019 Gurley, which was the beginning of the end of Gurley’s career.
Barkley rebounded from a woefully inefficient 2021 to total 1,650 yards on 352 touches. It wasn’t quite his rookie year where he topped 2,000 yards on the same exact touch count, but it was far better than the 856 yards he managed on 203 touches in 2021.
Barkley may not be the best running back in the league, and he’ll never live up to being the second overall pick, but he’s got a strong argument for being a top-five RB. At worst, he’s top 10.
The Giants Will Offer Saquon Barkley a Contract Extension, but Will It Be Enough?
The Giants are set to have about $56 million in salary cap space once the season flips over to 2023. This may seem like a lot, but it’s all relative. New York has some big decisions to make with big players.
The core of the Giants’ offense is Barkley and Daniel Jones. Both are poised to hit free agency.
I’ve been critical of Jones’ performance in the past, but he noticeably improved in 2022. Given the state of the QB position in the NFL, the Giants are unlikely to find anyone better. Bringing him back has to be a top priority.
Additionally, the team has Kenny Golladay’s albatross of a contract still on the books. He comes with a $21.4 million cap hit in 2023. That drops to $14.7 million if they cut him, which they absolutely should.
Either way, general manager Joe Schoen has his work cut out for him in maneuvering around the cap to give extensions to both Jones and Barkley. If forced to choose between one of them, it has to be Jones.
Barkley’s 2022 cap hit was $7.2 million. Even with NFL teams growing wise to the whole “running backs don’t matter” movement in recent years, Barkley is going to command more than $8 million a year.
What Might the Running Back Market Look Like?
I don’t foresee any running back ever getting Ezekiel Elliott money again, but Barkley will likely get something between Dalvin Cook, Derrick Henry, Joe Mixon, and Christian McCaffrey. That puts him around four years, $50-$55 million.
Barkley is 26 years old. By no means is he an old player, but in RB years, he’s probably closer to the end than the beginning. At age 24, Mixon got four years and $48 million. Cook got five years, $63 million at age 25. Henry’s four years, $50 million at age 26 is probably the closest comparison.
Where Could Barkley Land in 2023?
Even if teams scale back on their running back spending, someone out there is likely to offer Barkley a large extension. With that said, I do think the most likely outcome is a return to New York. Let’s examine why.
First, Barkley is beloved by Giants fans. They will not want to lose him and can likely make it work to bring him back.
Second, the franchise tag for running backs is projected to be at $10.1 million. It’s too early to tell if Barkley will even be willing to play on the tag, but it would be a cheaper option for the Giants, at least in 2023, than giving him an extension.
Third, and this is just reasonable speculation, but I do think Barkley wants to stay with the Giants. As a result, New York could slap him with the tag in March and then work out a long-term agreement shortly thereafter.
As for teams that will likely be in the mix to at least kick the tires on Barkley, there are plenty.
Teams like the Raiders and Eagles have Josh Jacobs and Miles Sanders, respectively, in the final year of their rookie deals as well. We also have teams that don’t have an answer at running back.
The Bills, Dolphins, Texans, Commanders, Rams, Panthers, and Falcons all need a true starting running back. We also have teams with aging running backs potentially looking for a replacement. The Saints, Browns, and Titans fit the bill there.