EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley is exhausting his last available play in his quest for a new long-term contract.
Phase one of New York’s offseason program begins Monday and he’s not showing up for the start of the team’s voluntary offseason program in an attempt to gain leverage in his contract dispute.
Barkley has yet to sign the $10.1 million franchise tag the Giants placed on him after inking quarterback Daniel Jones to a monster deal last month. He doesn’t intend to sign anytime soon, either. That leaves open the possibility of skipping the entire spring, mandatory minicamp and potentially training camp. He would not be subject to fines because he hasn’t signed the tag.
Barkley is “unhappy” with the tag, a team source told ESPN in recent weeks. That is not likely to change unless there is an agreement on a lucrative long-term deal that pays him among the top running backs.
The Giants have said they want Barkley around long-term. They want him to be a Giant for life.
“You just go through these negotiations with your better players. It's not the first time we've been through it,” co-owner John Mara said last month. “I'm still hopeful at some point we'll be able to get something done."
Mara admitted even mentioning to Barkley that there was a benefit to spending his entire career in New York -- that it could open other off-field avenues, a la Michael Strahan, Eli Manning and Tiki Barber.
Barkley has insisted on several occasions he would like to spend his entire career with the Giants, but he also wants to get paid what he feels he’s worth.
His hope is that staying away from the offseason program, and perhaps more, could make the organization blink. Giants ownership is cognizant of public discontent, especially from a team captain and the face of their franchise. They have to be careful playing hardball with perhaps the most respected player in their locker room. An unhappy Barkley, a captain since 2019, can have negative repercussions throughout the locker room.
Barkley also isn’t the only significant Giants player who will not be with the team Monday when coach Brian Daboll addresses the new group for the first time. Defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence also will not be attending the start of the voluntary offseason program because of a contract disagreement, sources confirmed to ESPN.
Lawrence’s situation is different in that the Giants have been negotiating with him in recent weeks. Getting a long-term deal done with him has been among their plans to create more cap space this season. It seems way more likely to eventually get done.
Lawrence currently counts $12.4 million against the cap on the fifth-year option of his rookie contract. The Giants could lower that number in the first year of a long-term deal. Lawrence also plays a position that holds significantly more value than running back around the league. Defensive linemen Jeffery Simmons and Daron Payne both signed new deals this offseason worth over $22 million per season. Lawrence is expected to come in that range as well.
But the Giants don’t really need to do anything with Barkley and aren’t overly motivated to get a deal done.
"Where we are with him on the franchise tag, we're fine with that," Giants general manager Joe Schoen said at the NFL annual league meetings. "I mean, where does that rank him among the running backs in the league?"
Seven running backs (Christian McCaffrey, Alvin Kamara, Aaron Jones, Dalvin Cook, Nick Chubb, Derrick Henry and Joe Mixon) are currently scheduled to make more than Barkley this season. Is he the eighth best running back in the league considering he was fourth in the NFL in rushing last season, led all backs playing 80.5% of his team’s offensive snaps and tied for the team lead in receptions?
Maybe that thought process changes after the NFL draft at the end of this month, but the franchise tag is a good proposition for the Giants from a business standpoint. They have their top playmaker, who just so happens to have an extensive injury history, on a reasonable one-year franchise-tag deal.
This was always the expected outcome once Jones got his contract and the tag became available. Barkley and his team should have known this. They needed to have something signed before Jones’ deal was consummated or else this option was too enticing for the team to pass up.
It’s not as if the Giants didn’t make any offers. They negotiated during the bye week and again after the season. There was a three-year deal in the $13 million per season range on the table earlier this offseason, sources have told ESPN. It could have reached close to $14 million with incentives.
The sticking point was the guaranteed money in the deal, which did not satisfy Barkley. Now, it seems unlikely in a year when the running back market was depressed in free agency that Barkley can get that type of money.
Schoen has even said that deal is no longer on the table. The situation changed once Jones signed his deal and the running back market proved to be what it was. Dallas’ Tony Pollard and Las Vegas’ Josh Jacobs are also on the franchise tag and the Chargers’ Austin Ekeler is exploring trades after his contract negotiations stalled.
It’s not looking great for Barkley in his quest for a new deal, hence the exhausting of the last bit of leverage at his disposal.