Saquon Barkley: A Giant for Life? Don’t Count on It

Saquon Barkley
NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE - SEPTEMBER 11: Running back Saquon Barkley #26 of the New York Giants celebrates after his team's 21-20 victory against the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium on September 11, 2022 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

If you google “antonyms for loyalty” on your computer  one of the first choices that pops up is the term “ Franchise Tag.” Saquon Barkley knows this all too well.

A  franchise tag is a tool used by NFL teams can use to keep their players from leaving in free agency, but it’s viewed as a slight by most players because it’s only a one year team option tender and doesn’t provide the security the player is usually looking for while preventing him from testing the free agent market.  

Former Penn State star and Giants running back Saquon Barkley got an immediate lesson that the NFL is a business first when he was asked about the possibility of playing for another team recently. 

“I mean it never crossed my mind until last year after I got tagged,” Barkley told Complex. “Up until that moment, I really believed that I was gonna finish my career as a New York Giant, be a Giant for Life.  You know, that was a goal of mine. And that’s still in play. I have so much respect for the Mara family and the Tisch family and everyone in the Giants organization.”

Well, it doesn’t look like the former Nittany Lions stud is going to get to achieve that goal because apparently the Giants are not going to place a franchise tag on their star running back.

Saquon Barkley at Giants Crossroads

Last year the Giants signed their marginal-at-best “franchise” quarterback Daniel Jones to a four year $160 million dollar contract after going 9-7-1, throwing for 15 touchdowns, which is something Tom Brady used to do often in five or six game stretches, and winning one playoff game by playing well against a historically bad Viking defense.  

So, here’s where the “next man up” NFL philosophy that you hear players say all the time apparently doesn’t apply. 

Because the Giants obviously didn’t want to let the face of their organization hit free agency but they also weren’t interested in offering him a long term market-setting deal so they offered Saquon a two-year contract for $23 million which he flatly turned down. So the Giants, not willing to budge,  then decided to place the franchise tag on him which meant a one year tender worth 10.091 million.  But again, number 26 was insulted and clearly felt was slapped in the face, so he turned it down.

Could anyone blame him? 

After all, the second overall pick by New York in 2018 had just put up career high numbers by rushing for 1312 yards, scoring 10 TDs and catching 57 passes for 338 yards.  

But to everyone’s surprise he showed up to camp and announced that he ended up agreeing to a one year deal with a $2 million up-front signing bonus and had $1 million available in incentives in a contract that could reach up to $11 million. But he did not get any guarantees the team would not use the franchise tag again next year.

This year if the Giants hung a tag on their star running back right they’d have to pay him in the neighborhood of 12 million and it doesn’t look like Giants GM Joe Schoen wants to allocate that kind of coin for one running back based on what Barkley did last season.  Barkley missed three games with a high ankle sprain in 2023 and rushed for a disappointing 962 yards in an abysmal 6-11 season.  The 2022 season was the first time Barkley was healthy for the entire year since his rookie campaign back in 2018.  

The Giants analytics department shows that running backs trend downward after they hit 26.  Sequon turned 27 on February 9 and does have a history of missing games due to injuries.

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What does Saquon’s Future Hold?

The G-men could still sign Barkley when he hits the free agent market but it seems unlikely that he’ll see the numbers and years he desires from his home team

It’s also a pretty heavily weighted free agent running back market this year as the Titans’ Derrick Henry, the Raiders Josh Jacobs, the Cowboys’ Tony Pollard, the Packers’ A.J. Dillon, the Eagles’ D’Andre Swift, the Colts’ Zack Moss, the Chargers’ Austin Ekeler and Houston’s Devin Singletary are all slated to hit the free agent market on March 13.

The Giants will still probably make Barkley a token offer but it remains to be seen if he would accept it or feel slighted enough to seek a better deal out there.

“Saquon’s honestly had up and down production during his career,” an AFC Scouting Director told FanBuzz Senior NFL Insider Matt Lombardo. “He’s an explosive and talented three-down player, but I wouldn’t sign him to big money.”

Well let’s define what big money looks like for top NFL compensated running backs.

Here are the top five highest paid NFL dashers per annum.

1. Christian McCaffrey, SanFrancisco 49ers    – $16,015,875

2. Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints               – $15,000,000

3. Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts           – $14,000,000

4. Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns                    – $12,200,000

5. Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers                 – $12,000,000

I think Mara INC. is probably seeing the situation with clear eyes. 

I don’t think it’s a money issue as much as I think it is a value issue. 

“Saquon’s honestly had up and down production during his career,” an AFC Scouting Director told FanBuzz NFL Insider Matt Lombardo. “He’s an explosive and talented three-down player, but I wouldn’t sign him to big money.”

Barkley’s injury history would probably make most NFL GMs think twice about giving him big money over several years.  And even if the Giants tagged him this year, the one year money would put him among the top five highest paid running backs in the league at $12 million, albeit for one year.

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Saquon Barkley’s Best Fits

I think Saquon will end up on a team that either has money to spend, or a team looking to make a Super Bowl run next year.

Don’t be surprised if Barkley hits the Houston ground running.  The Texans have a superlative quarterback in C.J. Stroud, who’s still playing on a rookie deal for the next three years and a team trending upward.  Singletary is going away and when healthy, Saquon can still get to the outside and is a very reliable pass catching back.

Another place where I think Barkley would fit in nicely would be in Los Angeles with the Chargers. With run-happy Jim Harbaugh now at the helm and run-first offensive coordinator Greg Roman, Barkley could help get the “other” L.A. team get to the next level.

“This one’s easy. It’s the Dallas Cowboys,” Former NFL GM and current ESPN analyst Mike Tannenbaum said on Get Up. “Tony Pollard was mildly disappointing replacing Zeke Elliott. His production went down by about 25 percent …Trust me, the last thing the New York Giants want to see, if Saquon Barkley graduates this year, is him with a star on the side of his helmet. Can you imagine the first time Dallas rolls into town with Saquon as a Cowboy?…Barkley would be ‘perfect’ for the Cowboys. He can catch. He can run. I think his pass protection has actually gotten better…Based on the way Tony Pollard played I actually think he would improve that position for the 2024 Cowboys.”

I’m pretty sure that former Penn State star and Cowboys Linebacker Micah Parsons would be a pretty effective sales tool as well to bring brother Saquon to Big D.

Now, for all you Philly fans out there don’t expect Saquon to be wearing kelly green next year.  Behind an offensive line that will probably send two to the Hall of Fame, the Birds just went back-to- back years with two different running backs (Miles Sanders and D’Andre Swift).  I doubt the Eagles will offer Saquon the big money and extra years he probably is looking for.  Stay tuned.  

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Saquon Barkley

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Joe Staszak
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Joe Staszak

A proud graduate of Villanova University, Staszak’s first gig in the industry was with PRISM sports in 1989, covering the four local home teams, the Flyers, 76ers and Phillies while also covering the Randall Cunningham-led Philadelphia Eagles. It was at PRISM where Staszak produced live games and began his career as an on-air reporter. After a couple of brief stints with CBS-3, WB-17 and WGAL-8 in Lancaster, PA, Staszak began a 12 year stretch at FOX 29 where he became the lead sportscaster in 2007. It was there that Staszak found himself in the middle of Philadelphia Phillies World Series Championship coverage that earned him an Emmy nomination for best sports reporter in 2008. It was one of five Emmy nominations that Staszak earned over the course of his career. All told Staszak covered three World Series, two Stanley Cup Finals, an NBA Finals and one Super Bowl during his television run. Staszak left the TV business for 97.5 The Fanatic in 2013, where he enjoyed eight years bloviating his beliefs on how a professional football team should be run. In 2018 when he fortunate enough to be the first sports talk host in the city, along with cohort Zach Gelb, to provide post-game coverage of the first Super Bowl Championship for the city’s beloved Philadelphia Eagles. Staszak was also a writer for 97.5 The Fanatic along with 4 Philly Sports and now covers Penn State athletics for NittanyCentral.com.