EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Everyone tried to say as little as possible.
Head coach Brian Daboll introduced his news conference saying “every conversation I have about Saquon will be private.” Six subsequent questions about star running back Saquon Barkley received variations of declined comment.
Quarterback Daniel Jones said he’s “going to let Saquon speak for himself” on whether the running back will play in 2023. At Tuesday’s minicamp practice, Jones expressed support but shed scant light on what’s holding up contract negotiations for his franchise-tagged teammate.
And assistant general manager Brandon Brown, despite acknowledging that the Giants’ collaborative approach gives him a front-row seat to each negotiation, said “that’s above my paygrade in terms of divulging some stuff we’re going to keep in house.”
“We’re going to keep the family business inside,” Brown said. “But I love Saquon.”
Barkley has reiterated he, too, loves the Giants. He wants to complete his career with the franchise that selected him second overall in the 2018 NFL Draft.
But the two-time Pro Bowl back disagrees that family business has remained inside.
Barkley spoke to reporters this weekend at his youth camp, expressing frustration with what he views as leaked reports misconstruing his negotiations.
“It’s all about respect,” Barkley said. “It’s misleading for sure. I think I’ve came out and said that I wanted to be a Giant for life. I’ve came out and said I’m not trying to reset the running back market. For those reports to come out and try to make me look like I’m greedy or whatever, that’s not even close to being the truth.
“The thing I’m most frustrated about is like how family business is family business, and then sources come out and stories get leaked and it ain’t coming from me.”
If the Giants were publicly tight-lipped about Barkley’s negotiations before he aired this grievance, they now have even more reason to keep things close to the chest. Which leaves us wondering – what can we deduce about the Giants’ stance on Barkley’s next contract? And what’s holding up a negotiation that seems to have begun in earnest nine months ago?
4 criteria that will impact Barkley-Giants negotiations
Reports vary on the exact value of Barkley’s offers, some framing the average annual value between $12.5 million and close to $14 million. The Giants hold Barkley’s 2023 rights, designating him with a $10.1 million franchise tag that he has yet to sign.
Barkley has accounted for 6,069 yards from scrimmage and 37 touchdowns in five seasons, including a 1,650-yard, 10-touchdown 2022.
How can we determine what that’s worth?
Brown’s response to a question that wasn’t framed around Barkley offers the most clarity.
When asked what he learned this offseason from extending Jones and defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence, the Giants’ assistant general manager preached patience first.
“Being patient, being open to listen, not being stubborn and understanding what the market is,” Brown said.
Patience dictates remembering that, as of Tuesday’s minicamp practice, 34 days remain until the franchise tag negotiating window closes.
Listening may force difficult conversations about Barkley’s injury history that includes a 2019 sprained ankle, a 2020 ACL tear and a 2021 ankle injury. While Barkley’s 2022 clean bill of health is encouraging, he nonetheless has missed 21 games due to injury in the last four years.
Not being stubborn? Conventional wisdom urges the Giants to seek protection against future Barkley injuries, proposing reduced guarantees and heavier emphasis on performance-driven incentives. Conventional wisdom also urges Barkley to maximize his earnings in an industry with short-lived careers.
And the market? That’s where Barkley has lost the most ground since the Giants tendered their initial offer.
Giants benefit from trend ‘outside our control’
The most lucrative free-agent deal a running back was awarded this spring was the Carolina Panthers’ four-year, $25 million contract to Miles Sanders. In both average annual value ($6.35 million) and guarantees ($13 million) the deal substantially trailed previous markets. While league, team and player trends complicate apples-to-apples contract comparisons, the Dallas Cowboys awarded Ezekiel Elliott a six-year deal worth $15 million per year with $50 million guaranteed in 2019. As recently as 2021, the Cleveland Browns gave Nick Chubb $12.2 million per year including $20 million in guarantees, per OverTheCap.com.
Sanders’ deal nets less than half Chubb’s on those metrics, despite Sanders coming off a rising salary cap and a 1,347-yard, 11-touchdown 2022 season.
Barkley believes this landscape is skewed because the franchise tag was placed not only on him but also on Cowboys Pro Bowl running back Tony Pollard and Las Vegas Raiders running back Josh Jacobs, the league’s defending rushing champion.
“They tagged the top three guys,” Barkley said. “We didn’t get a chance to hit the open market. So when we don’t get a chance to hit the open market, it hurts a guy like Miles. It hurts all those other guys.”
It helps team cases for lower offers.
“Precedent sets the market,” Brown said. “And that’s something we don’t control. We don’t. What we do is we try to forecast and react. So that’s what we’ve done and the market is the market, but precedent dictates where it sits.”
This offseason’s precedent has trended more toward releasing high-priced running backs than rewarding them. The Cowboys cut Elliott in March after a 968-yard, 12-touchdown season in which he maintained productivity but declined in efficiency. The Minnesota Vikings cut Dalvin Cook on Friday after he amassed 10 touchdowns and 1,468 yards from scrimmage, his fourth straight year with over 1,300 yards and at least 4.8 yards per touch. Neither back has yet landed with another team.
“The market, surplus, scarcity dictates a lot of things on how you want to make decisions,” Brown said. “Also being able to agree to disagree at times and get back to the table. That’s really the biggest thing in learning is knowing things don’t just happen overnight.”
Barkley wants the Giants to take into account how heavily they lean on him as the face of the franchise, a core team leader whose minicamp absence teammates say feels weird, and an offensive weapon who attracts sufficient attention to create opportunities for fellow weapons.
Barkley will argue – and has demonstrated – that he is more than just another running back, and not only because he’s caught 247 career passes for 1,820 receiving yards. He will remind the Giants how much they need him and how much he plans to deliver on any investment they make.
“Every team is not the Eagles,” Barkley said Sunday. “Every team don’t have that much talent. And when you come to my situation, when you come to me personally, I feel like I help our team a lot. I feel like not only on the field but off the field. I feel like, as a leader.
“I have a lot of respect in this league. And I think that’s how I should be viewed.”