Thoughts on Saquon Barkley’s Contract Situation

Giants running back Saquon Barkley’s name made the rounds today when a report by Dianna Russini indicated that he would hold out into the regular season if the Giants did not sign him to a long term contract.

Barkley is in a difficult position when it comes to the franchise tag and makes for a great example of some of the problems related to the current CBA. Barkley’s current salary for the year is $10.091 million, a number that really should have been much higher had the CBA been modified for a bad oversight on the application of the option year salary. Barkley’s total compensation (this includes bonus proration) in 2021 was $10.02 million. Under almost any other tender the league calls for a minimum of a 20% raise from the prior year salary but I don’t think anyone ever did the math to realize that the higher end options, which are pegged to the transition and franchise tags, did not call for a 20% raise. Barkley’s compensation dropped in 2022 to $7.2 million rather than rising to $12 million and subsequently having a franchise tag in 2023 worth $14.4 million. His predicament is also a major example of why rookie contracts need to be shorter in length as too many players lose their main earning years under the threat of the franchise tag.

Holding out into the regular season (holding out of the preseason makes sense) for Barkley serves almost zero purpose. For each game he misses he forfeits $560,611 in salary. Sitting out for the full year does not guarantee him free agency either. The Giants still would have the right to tag Barkley again. While the compensation would no longer be two first round picks it would still be too high for another team to sign him. To guarantee free agency he would need to sit for two years.

It would also do almost nothing to help this year. The period for franchise players to sign long term deals is this upcoming Monday, July 17th. The reason for this date is to basically end any drama going into training camp and strip the players of any leverage that they might obtain by holding out. While holding out could get him a slight raise for this year or a no tag provision my opinion is that a regular season holdout would have little impact on that.

We are no longer in the days of the NFL where an owner/GM is going to see Emmitt Smith on the sidelines, see his team 0-2 and completely flip the script. If Daniel Jones doesn’t play well and the team is 0-2 or 0-3, the front office isn’t going to panic and think they can salvage the season with Barkley. I’d argue in most scenarios Barkley would gain no leverage for this years salary with a holdout. His only  real leverage at all would be in the preseason but again we are not talking major contract changes at that point.

The Giants do still have the right to rescind the tag but that would make little sense. It would be a PR nightmare for them to do that and they would receive no compensation when he signed elsewhere. For Barkley’s side it would be doubtful that he would receive an offer that would match the franchise tag but if the Giants actually threatened it I would give it little chance of happening.

Barkley is likely stuck between wanting the old high end market (Christian McCaffrey, Todd Gurley, Ezekial Elliot, David Johnson, etc…) which was a disaster for all the teams that signed the player and the current market which is more reflective of the importance of and the risk related to the running back position. According to PFT, Barkley turned down a contract that would have paid him $26M over the first two years of the contract which would average $13 million a year. That is clearly in line with the current market.

Here is the breakdown of the older high end deals

PlayerYear 1Year 2Year 3Year 4
Christian McCaffrey$27,863,412$39,863,412$51,863,412$64,063,412
Ezekiel Elliott$24,700,000$37,100,000$48,000,000$58,000,000
Todd Gurley$28,050,022$37,050,022$47,050,022$58,500,000
David Johnson$18,750,000$30,000,000$39,000,000FA

Now here are the contracts that are more representative of the market.

PlayerYear 1Year 2Year 3Year 4
Alvin Kamara$15,700,000$27,200,000$38,200,000$50,000,000
Derrick Henry$15,000,000$25,500,000$37,500,000$50,000,000
Nick Chubb$13,550,000$24,400,000$36,600,000FA
Joe Mixon$18,816,795$27,516,795$37,616,795$48,000,000
Aaron Jones$14,250,000$20,000,000$36,000,000$48,000,000

You can see the massive discrepancy between the players who were on those legitimate massive running back contracts and those in the $12 million type range.

Is $26 million over two years a fair offer from the Giants?  I’d say it’s more of a starting point then what seems to be described as a take it or leave it offer. My assumption is they simply pegged the number to the Henry deal, but there is no reason why he should not be above the Kamara/Mixon numbers. Still those numbers are a massive departure from the CMC and Zeke numbers that are $37-$39M paid in the same timeframe. That’s a deep divide and one you aren’t going to negotiate around if you have no leverage.

If Barkley were guaranteed free agency next year it would still be hard to make an argument that he would earn back what he would be giving up this year. Free agency has been a disaster for running backs but Barkley is unique so I can’t say for certain that he would get that same treatment. Still the only running back to move the needle in free agency was Le’Veon Bell who sat out a second tag worth $14.5 million and wound up signing with the Jets for the same $14.5 million salary the following season but they did fully guarantee him $27 million. The Jets were bidding against themselves on that deal and Barkley could lock in that same number right now.

Ultimately it is just hard to make a case that turning down a Giants deal makes sense for him even if it is well under what the players were earning a few years ago. I can understand turning it down on emotions but the rules are heavily weighed against the players in situations like this. It is the best of all his options that include playing on the tag or sitting out the tag only to face the same situation next year or the total disaster scenario of sitting out two years.