Is Saquon Barkley’s Option Fair for the Player?

The Giants announced they have picked up the $7.217 million fifth year option on running back Saquon Barkley today. I guess that is somewhat noteworthy but not really that interesting in the grand scheme of things, but the number caught my eye as something I had not really paid attention to before. The number illustrates a bit of an oversight in the CBA that the NFL and NFLPA really should aim to fix.

The current CBA does a better job than the prior one in calculating the fifth year option number with four possible tiers depending on playing time and honors. Barkley fits into one of the top tier categories due to his Pro Bowl selection in 2018. Yet his salary cap number will drop from $10.02 million to $7.217 million. That doesn’t seem right.

Barkley’s option number is supposed to be tied to the transition tag which is the average of the top 10 salaries at the position over the past few years. Between the fact that the salary cap crashed this year and he plays the least valuable position in the NFL that number is low. Even the franchise tag would only have been $8.655 million.

However the NFLPA always had protection for their highly compensated players in the event of this by having the tender be worth no less than 120% of their prior year salary. For Barkley that would be $12 million in 2022 based off his 2021 cap number. But instead of a 20% raise, Barkley will take a 28% loss despite reaching one of the top tier levels.

How far off is Barkley’s number from everyone else?  Here are the first round picks at their current option levels and their 2021 cap numbers.

PlayerTeam2021 Cap NumberOption NumberChange
Baker MayfieldBrowns$10,569,130$18,858,00078.4%
Saquon BarkleyGiants$10,025,602$7,217,000-28.0%
Sam DarnoldPanthers$9,794,266*$18,858,00092.5%
Denzel WardBrowns$9,449,886$13,294,00040.7%
Bradley ChubbBroncos$8,847,213$12,716,00043.7%
Quenton NelsonColts$7,771,018$13,754,00077.0%
Josh AllenBills$6,910,056$23,106,000234.4%
Roquan SmithBears$6,049,098$9,735,00060.9%
Mike McGlinchey49ers$6,006,052$10,880,00081.2%
Minkah FitzpatrickSteelers$5,233,381*$10,612,000102.8%
Vita VeaBuccaneers$4,716,803$7,638,00061.9%
Da’Ron PayneFootball Team$4,587,660$8,529,00085.9%
Marcus DavenportSaints$4,372,423$9,553,000118.5%
Tremaine EdmundsBills$4,028,037$12,716,000215.7%
Derwin JamesChargers$3,941,939$9,052,000129.6%
Jaire AlexanderPackers$3,834,325$13,294,000246.7%
Leighton Vander EschCowboys$3,769,750$9,145,000142.6%
Frank RagnowLions$3,748,226$12,657,000237.7%
Billy PriceBengals$3,726,702$10,413,000179.4%
Rashaan EvansTitans$3,683,652$9,735,000164.3%
Isaiah WynnPatriots$3,640,608$10,413,000186.0%
D.J. MoorePanthers$3,554,509$11,116,000212.7%
Hayden HurstFalcons$3,511,465*$5,428,00054.6%
Calvin RidleyFalcons$3,468,415$11,116,000220.5%
Rashaad PennySeahawks$3,425,366$4,523,00032.0%
Terrell EdmundsSteelers$3,403,842$6,753,00098.4%
Taven BryanJaguars$3,231,122$7,638,000136.4%
Mike HughesVikings$3,139,654$9,577,000205.0%
Sony MichelPatriots$3,063,039$4,523,00047.7%
Lamar JacksonRavens$3,013,708$23,106,000666.7%

The average increase was 128% if we take out Barkley’s number and Lamar Jackson’s astronomical raise. No other player is under a 32% raise  and that number is for a player who hasn’t even hit 20% playtime in his first three years.  Barkley is at -28%.

Clearly this is not the intent of the rule and it is one that should be fixed. While this has impacted some players in the past to some extent (Ezekiel Elliott would not have gotten a 20% raise for example) all would get a raise. Most likely this will impact highly drafted running backs but could also impact the occasional safety or defensive tackle who might be drafted near the top.

I think if I were Barkley I would file a grievance about it and see if there is a chance to change the interpretation of the CBA. While the CBA does state that the option shall equal the transition tender that applies in the 4th year of the contract perhaps he can argue that the transition tender in his case should equal a 120% raise which is supposed to supersede the transition number when the transition tag is calculated to be below a players current salary. He probably doesn’t have anything to lose if he does challenge it.

In any event this is one of those minor things that sometimes we don’t really think about until it happens and something the two sides could agree to fix in a side letter, if they have not done so already, so it does not hurt another player in the future.    

Questions about this article? Reach Jason Fitzgerald on Twitter at @Jason_OTC