National Football League
Saquon Barkley made a huge bet on himself. Time will tell if it pays off
National Football League

Saquon Barkley made a huge bet on himself. Time will tell if it pays off

Published Jul. 27, 2023 4:47 p.m. ET

Saquon Barkley admitted he was "disappointed" that he didn't get a long-term deal from the Giants. He sounded frustrated that he had no leverage to get it, and angry at the way his position has been devalued in the NFL.

Still, when he looked back at the Giants' final offer — one a source said included more than $22 million in guaranteed money — he said he had no regrets about turning it down.

But he should. And in time, he will.

Barkley's principled stance might be admirable, and his decision not to hold out and cause a summer-long distraction for his team should be commended, but his reality is that the Giants' final offer is very likely the best offer he'll ever see. He's naïve to believe that his situation is going to improve, or that the value of running backs in the league is suddenly going to stop its downward spiral.


Read more: Giants make priorities crystal-clear with extensions — and in Barkley's case, lack thereof

He might believe the Giants' final offer "didn't make sense" because it was not "respectable". But he could have the year of his life in 2023 and the offer isn't going to get any better. In fact, it'll probably get worse. Barkley had a tremendous year last season and the Giants still weren't willing to go a few more million dollars to keep him. They seemed to be willing to invest in everyone around him, but not him.

Why would that change next year, when he's a year older and taken a few hundred more hits?

"If I felt like it was something respectable I would've took it," Barkley said on Thursday, in his first comments since signing a renegotiated franchise tag that included $10.1 million in guaranteed salary and $900,000 in incentives. "I looked at my mom, my dad, my team, my family, and I didn't agree with it, so I didn't take it."

That's fine, and that's his right. But if he and his agents looked around the league and somehow decided he'd have better luck getting more money by punting negotiations to next year, they all made a grave miscalculation. It's not a fluke that three top running backs got a franchise tag from their teams this year, rather than long-term contracts. It wasn't a blip that the biggest running back contract in free agency — the one Carolina gave Miles Sanders after a 1,269-yard, 11-touchdown season — only included $13 million guaranteed.

This is the way teams think of running backs now. Right or wrong, it's just a fact. Teams see them as disposable or interchangeable. They look back at big contracts given to Christian McCaffrey (four years, $64 million with $30 million guaranteed from Carolina in 2020) and Ezekiel Elliott (six years, $90 million with $50 million guaranteed from Dallas in 2019) and see them as bad investments. They look at how often running backs get injured, and how quickly they get old and see their skills diminish, and they decide they want to spend their money elsewhere.

There are real reasons why that's happening, including some that are systematic. But there really is nothing Barkley can do to change all that.

"There are a lot of running backs out here that are pivotal, key points to helping teams have success in this league," Barkley said. "The way that we are getting devalued, it's not fair at all.

"The only way that I feel like that's going to change is someone has to make it change. God willing, hopefully, I can be one of the people to do it."

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Joy Taylor, LeSean McCoy, Ric Bucher and T. J. Houshmandzadeh react to Saquon Barkley's one-year, $11 million deal with the New York Giants.

It's a nice thought, but let's say Barkley goes out and has a career season and hits all the incentives in his new deal — 1,350 rushing yards, 11 touchdowns and 65 catches. The Giants valued that so much that they were only willing to give him $900,000 extra for all of that — and only if the team makes the playoffs, too. That's not much. It's certainly not an indication they place a high financial value on his production.

Barkley turned down a deal worth $13 million per season that included almost $20 million guaranteed, according to a source, in the middle of the nearly 10-month-long negotiations his agents held with the team. And while the Giants' final offer averaged closer to $11 million per season, the guarantee actually topped the $22.2 million Barkley would get if the Giants used the tag on him in back-to-back years.

The two sides were pretty close when that final offer was made, but that was the Giants' unbreakable limit. And that came after a season in which Barkley proved he could stay relatively healthy, had a career-high 1,312 rushing yards, 10 touchdowns and 57 catches, and he helped the Giants make the playoffs. If he does that again, or even exceeds it, they're not suddenly going to offer much more, especially not when they can just franchise him again for $12.1 million, plus (probably) incentives.

But he's not even guaranteed that. The Giants could let him hit the market, where there might not be a whole lot more waiting for him in a league filled with running back skeptics. And of course, there's always the risk that he doesn't have a career season, or that he gets hurt — like when he sprained his ankle, tore his ACL, hurt his shoulder, etc., etc. — hurting his value even more.

In other words, when he turned down a guaranteed $22 million-plus, he had to know there was a pretty good chance that he'd never see that much money in a contract offer again.

Reactions after Saquon Barkley reports to Giants training camp | THE CARTON SHOW

The New York Giants have effectively short changed Saquon Barkley, after getting him to agree to what is basically an adjusted franchise tag ahead of training camp. Now, Barkley has reported to practice, and Victor Cruz breaks down to Craig Carton why this deal is an affront to the running back's talent. Plus, the crew decides whether they believe Barkley will return to play for the Giants next season.

"I can't see the future," Barkley said. "I wish I could. All that I can focus on is now. If a certain situation comes up like this again next year, which obviously everyone's aware that can happen, I'll deal with it when that happens. But right now, I can't focus on if this happens, if that (happens).

"Like I said, I feel like with everything that's going on in the running back market and everything that's going on with me being tagged, the only thing that is going to change that is by one of us going out there and making a change."

Barkley actually seriously considered a much more aggressive approach to fighting for change. He insisted that up until a few days ago he was planning to sit out training camp. He said he was seriously considering sitting out the season, too.

But that was before he had an "epiphany" and "changed my mind".

"I kind of just followed my heart," he said. "And then you've got to look at it from a business view. I felt like, what's the best thing that I can do? Some people may agree or disagree with this, to sit out or sit in. I feel like for this year specifically, the best thing that I can do for myself would be coming back, going out there and play the game that I love."

That's great. And he's right, returning to camp was his only play. A holdout of any length — especially into the season — wasn't going to increase his value. It might have even had the opposite effect. The only move he had was to come back and do what he could to prove the Giants that he was worth more.

Unfortunately, he really needed to have that epiphany earlier in the offseason, before the July 17 deadline for franchised players to sign long-term contracts. Maybe it was his own stubborn pride. Maybe it was bad advice. Or maybe he really was making a principled stand for running backs all over the world.

But the truth then is the truth now and likely will still be the truth in 2024. The Giants offered Barkley more than most teams are willing to offer running backs nowadays. Now that's off the table. And it's unlikely anything like it will end up back on his table again.

Ralph Vacchiano is the NFC East reporter for FOX Sports, covering the Washington Commanders, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. He spent the previous six years covering the Giants and Jets for SNY TV in New York, and before that, 16 years covering the Giants and the NFL for the New York Daily News. Follow him Twitter at @RalphVacchiano.

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