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Why Saquon Barkley agreed to Giants’ deal

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — As the New York Giants’ veterans reported to training camp on Tuesday, there was a surprise awaiting them as star running back Saquon Barkley was in the building before 8 a.m. Many didn’t expect to see him until September.

Barkley had agreed to a one-year deal instead of playing on the $10.091 million franchise tender. He got a $2 million up-front signing bonus and has $1 million available in incentives in a contract that can reach up to $11 million. But he did not get any guarantees the team would not use the franchise tag again next year.

The $11 million cash value on Barkley’s new contract ranks third among running backs in 2023 behind only the Tennessee Titans’ Derrick Henry ($16.4M) and the Cleveland Browns’ Nick Chubb ($14.9M), according to ESPN Stats & Information.

After nine months of negotiations, this was where they landed. Probably not where either side expected this to go when they began talking about a new contract during the bye week last year. Probably not what Barkley’s running back brethren wanted to see as they fight for a more lucrative market at the position.

Why did the deal happen now? And did Barkley cave? Giants reporter Jordan Raanan and national NFL reporter Dan Graziano answered five compelling questions surrounding the deal.

Why did this happen now?

Raanan: It seems pretty clear Barkley wanted to get this out of the way and report to training camp. Heck, he didn’t even fight until the bitter end for the elimination of the franchise tag next year.

But Barkley is a player who is very conscious of his image. That was evident when he said at his AMPT football camp last month that he didn’t like how the negotiations were being portrayed publicly. He said the coverage made him look “greedy.” Barkley preaches being a team-first guy who prioritizes winning. Whatever it takes. Getting this out of the way now allows for the cloud that was about to cast over training camp to be removed.

Did Barkley cave by agreeing to this deal?

Graziano: Yes. This is a Secretariat-at-the-Belmont-level win for the Giants. Barkley could have insisted on a clause that prohibited the Giants from franchising him again next year, but he didn’t. He could have sat out training camp and taken this deal a month from now, but he didn’t. He could have at least sat out ONE SINGLE DAY of training camp and taken this deal Wednesday, but he didn’t.

Barkley agreeing to this deal tells us he knew he was beaten, that all of his leverage went out the window once a long-term deal wasn’t done by the July 17 deadline. He gets the ability to make $900,000 in incentives, and he gets a chunk of the money up front, but there’s no real material win here for Barkley, whose best-case scenario is him going through all of this again next offseason.

What impact will it have on other running backs looking for deals?

Graziano: Yeah, it’s tough to imagine Barkley being invited onto the next running back Zoom call, right? This doesn’t help anybody. Sure, it provides a framework for the Las Vegas Raiders and Josh Jacobs to find a solution to their identical problem, but there’s no reason to assume the Raiders want to offer Jacobs anything more than the tag, and there’s no reason to assume Jacobs is as ready to surrender as was Barkley.

If you’re Jonathan Taylor looking for an extension from the Indianapolis Colts, this is no help. If you’re Dalvin Cook, Ezekiel Elliott, Leonard Fournette or Kareem Hunt — all free agents looking for homes — this is no help. But neither was Joe Mixon taking a roughly 50% pay cut a couple of weeks ago to avoid being released by the Cincinnati Bengals, or Austin Ekeler’s meager resolution to his dispute with the Los Angeles Chargers.

The facts are the facts, and right now the fact is that no one — NO ONE — wants to pay a running back or even feels like they need to. In the real-world picture of the current market, this is the absolute best that Barkley could do, and that’s a shame for all of them.

What does it mean for Barkley’s future with the Giants?

Raanan: This isn’t going to eliminate any bad taste left in Barkley’s mouth from the difficult negotiations. The Giants didn’t give up a ton here. They still have the franchise tag to use or hang over his head next year. Barkley wants to stick with the Giants, and he has said repeatedly he wants to remain a “Giant for life.” But this doesn’t change the fact that general manager Joe Schoen has his limits on what he believes Barkley is worth.

One executive told me recently that even if Barkley has another great season, his value likely decreases in 2024 because he’s a year older with more wear and tear on his body.

How important for the Giants’ offense was getting the deal done now?

Raanan: There is a benefit to having Barkley in camp. It allows him to be in football shape for the start of the season and get his timing down with the offensive line. The Giants also made a lot of changes to the receiving core this offseason, and really, the offense as a whole is expected to look different. Having him in the building and on the field (even if his workload is likely limited) can only help work out some of the kinks.

But the biggest benefit might be that Barkley’s teammates don’t have to answer questions about his absence all summer and deal with the potential distractions that come along with that. Instead, it could be a relatively drama-free camp.

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