The Giants can’t afford to let Saquon Barkley get away now

Saquon Barkley is a very good football player and the Giants don’t have nearly enough of them. In fact, they have three men on the roster with the talent to be the best in the world at what they do.

Barkley is one. Dexter Lawrence and Andrew Thomas are the others.

So it wouldn’t make sense for Barkley, who will be just 26 on Opening Day in September, to go spend the rest of his prime with someone else. He’s the most talented playmaker on the team, including Daniel Jones, and yet, while conducting his postseason autopsy Monday, general manager Joe Schoen was more definitive in his desire and intent to bring back his quarterback.

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The GM essentially booked Jones for a return trip to the top spot saying “we’re happy Daniel’s going to be here” and stating the Giants’ goal is “to build a team around him where he can lead us to victory a Super Bowl.”

It’s also reasonable. Jones earned a new nine-figure contract the hard way and deserves whatever money he can get in free agency. He plays a position far more critical to a team’s success than a running back, and so it goes.

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But that doesn’t mean Barkley shouldn’t sign his own multi-year deal at a salary that won’t even equal half of Jones’ final salary. And yet, when asked about restarting one of the Giants’ two all-NFC players — Lawrence, as voted by the Professional Football Writers of America — Schoen did a tap dance he didn’t do when the subject turned to Mr. Jones .

Saquon Barkley walks off the field after the Giants’ loss to the Eagles on Sunday.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

Schoen started talking about how the 2022 Giants were a special team and how he’d like to have everyone back, and how there’s a business side to it, and how there are salary cap rules that he has to follow, and how he liked to know Barkley … before we finally got around to saying, ‘He’s a guy we’d like to have back.’ Schoen then quickly turned to the upcoming meetings and the need to take a step back and remove all emotion from the roster and subsequent evaluations.

“We’d love to get Saquon back,” he reiterated before adding, “if he makes it.”

It has to work. The Giants got a lot of bang for their marketing buck with their “Our Way” campaign, built around the franchise’s touted foundations of intelligence, toughness, reliability and selflessness.

If Barkley doesn’t embody those traits, who the hell does?

The guy just traded against him — on camera — saying he’s not interested in establishing a new salary scale for the running back, and when he reminded everyone that injuries ruined the middle of his five-year career with the Giants, a fact he admitted he “didn’t ” Don’t help’ his cause. Barkley called himself a “realist” before falling just short of his career-high 1,312 carries and 10 touchdowns this year.

“I think I was able to show the caliber of player I am,” he said. “That was my goal this year. I managed to achieve it.”

That means Barkley is accountable, even if it cost him some money and ruined his agent’s day.

During the bye week, the Giants tried to reach a deal with their pending free agent and made an offer that was on the low side of fair. It’s believed the offer came in around three to four years at $12 million – $12.5 million a pop, and Barkley decided he was worth more than that.

“We were disappointed about the value,” Schoen said.

“We weren’t that close.”

Saquon Barkley
Corey Shipkin

Now is the time for the Giants and Barkley to come together and renew their vows. The running back returned to Pro Bowl form, proved he could stay healthy for a full season and finished as one of three NFL players to lead his team in rushing yards and receptions.

Barkley isn’t going to top Christian McCaffrey’s $16 million league average, and that’s fine by him. But the Giants should offer him $14 million a year and try to shut this thing down.

For an organization that cares about its image and markets its new culture, Barkley is a perfect fit. He will never, ever embarrass the franchise. Like Eli Manning before him, Barkley is desperate to be a Giant for life. He studies the history of the game like precious few and understands what it would mean to his legacy to spend his entire career in big city blue.

Of course, in the modern NFL, no executive is terribly willing to pay a current top dollar. Only Barkley isn’t just defined by his position. He is a versatile playmaker and global role model, and no doubt his friend Jones’ consistent public support has helped the quarterback survive the dark times and find the light.

No, Barkley does not deserve a franchise tag and a $10.1 million annual payment. He’ll be angry and hurt if he goes down like that, a friend confirmed.

But the Giants shouldn’t let it come to that, not when Saquon Barkley represents the best of everything this storied franchise is about. He’s the Frank Gifford of his day and it’s about time he got paid.