Saquon Barkley and Giants Agree on a Contract

About a week ago the Giants and star RB Saquon Barkley could not come to terms on a long term contract setting off a bit of a firestorm among running backs, fans, and media about the system being unfair to their position. At the time Barkley indicated he would not show up until the start of training camp, but with reality setting in Barkley quickly signed a slightly modified franchise tag that has him reporting to camp on time and back with the Giants.

The way the franchise tag works is that a player has until July 15th (or the Monday after the 15th is that falls on a weekend) to sign a long term contract. However it does not lock the player into a franchise tag, just a one year contract. The base value of Barkley’s new contract is still $10.091 million but he will get $2 million up front in the form of a signing bonus which is a positive for the player. He also has $909,000 million in high end incentives which would only be earned if the team qualified for the playoffs and he rushed for 1,350 yards, had 65 receptions, and 11 touchdowns (each is earned individually as 1/3 of the total). These will be difficult to earn as Barkley has only once had the yardage and touchdown total.

The incentives while difficult to earn, are a nice touch. This is something rarely done for a franchise player and I don’t believe has been done since the mid 2000’s. It is a typical mechanism, however, that teams have used with players under contract who are unhappy with their current contract as a way to pacify the situation and give the player a chance, no matter how difficult to earn the incentives.

On the negative side Barkley did not get a no franchise/transition tag designation for 2024. That means he is eligible to tagged next year at either $12.109 million or the running back franchise/transition tag number, whichever is greater. If it is the $12.109 million number the incentives would also carry over into the new contract with a slim chance they could have a higher threshold (it would depend on some technical language the Giants use in the contract about how to classify/modify the incentives) giving it a max value of $13 million. For Barkley to agree to the offer so quickly his agents must have been convinced that under no circumstance would the Giants give him a no tag provision for 2024.

While this contract certainly makes the most of a bad situation it is hard to spin this in any way as a good contract for Barkley. Whether Barkley fell victim to emotions, bad advice, or a desire to help the running back market, this is close to the worst outcome. All of the negatives that apply to being franchised are well known to every player and agency around the NFL. Similarly all equally know the difficulties that face running backs. This is not a position where you can up your value by “balling out” on the tag. All that does is invite another tag.

The Giants still have the ability to tag Barkley two more times if they want to. The cost of two tags would be $22.2 million for 2023 and 2024 and if they use a third tag it would bring the total to $36.731 million for three years. To use three tags and have this type of value apply one would need to be a transition tag, which would likely be the third tag that was used. These numbers were all known when contract talks were ongoing.

The Giants reportedly had an offer on the table paying $26 million over two years with I believe $22 million guaranteed. The average of the contract was $13 million a year which likely means the three year would have been close to 36 million. This was the offer the Giants seemed to indicate would be pulled if they franchised him. Later reports had the Giants offers around $20 million in guarantees once the tag was applied.

The initial offer, while probably a few million too low, certainly could have been worked with and given Barkley said he wanted to get a deal done, this number should have been one they could have worked with prior to the tag period. Maybe it was a miscalculation about the tag on Barkley’s side making the assumption that the Giants would have to use the tag on QB Daniel Jones and that Barkley would have been clear to be a free agent.

If that is the case then it was a bad assumption. Teams historically will bend over backwards to get a QB deal done and it is always a risk to assume the team will not get it done, especially when the contract is for a mid grade QB who could lose out on tens of millions if he fails in the regular season. For a QB like Jones there may be more incentive to sign than play a one year deal out. Secondly there is no guarantee free agency will be good for Barkley. It has been a disaster for almost every running back over the last decade.

A $13 million a year contract offer with $26 million in the first two years was workable in the current market. Even if it is not the best outcome Barkley hoped for, working from that would have at least gotten Barkley more guarantees and likely a better payout than the two tags he could play on. To go from that to this one year deal is not good.

For this to work out for Barkley he has to go out and has a great injury free season and have an owner that decides to get involved next offseason and push his own front office to “do the right thing” and get a deal done even knowing that it could be a negative in 2024 and/or 2025. Maybe the Giants are that team, but Barkley is taking an unnecessary risk by having to play out this season on this contract when there were clear alternatives that were better during the offseason.