The world isn’t flat, Napoleon Bonaparte wasn’t that short, and it’s not always foolish to re-sign a running back to a big contract.
Some narratives are repeated so frequently that they get accepted as truth even in the face of more accurate, newer information.
The Giants can’t risk an outdated view of Saquon Barkley’s value. It would be a mistake to let him test free agency, counting on a low-ball market created by an oversupply of running backs or his often-stated desire to remain in New York to work to their advantage.
Every recycled tidbit about the injury-related shortcomings of the Rams’ Todd Gurley, the Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott and then-Panthers’ Christian McCaffrey after they signed big extensions ignores that more recently the Vikings’ Dalvin Cook, Titans’ Derrick Henry, Browns’ Nick Chubb, Packers’ Aaron Jones and Bengals’ Joe Mixon all had career-high season rushing totals after signing extensions.
Those five running backs have average annual salaries between $12 million and $12.6 million — the third-highest through eighth-highest at the position — on deals signed in either 2020 or 2021. With the salary cap rising to $224.8 million in 2023, re-signing Barkley at $14 million per year would account for about the same pre-inflation 6.3 percent allotment, though the Giants are holding firm on the $12.5 million offer that he rejected in October.
Why shouldn’t they? Teams that pay running backs never win, critics say, citing another page of the Myth Playbook.
The often-regurgitated stat that the past 14 Super Bowl winners paid their leading rusher an average salary of $1.06 million in that championship season is twisted to rely on the team-building philosophies around Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes, neither of whom is joining the Giants.
It discounts that during Super Bowl-winning seasons, the Ravens’ Ray Rice was paid $17 million ($15 million bonus) and the Seahawks’ Marshawn Lynch was paid $7 million (but outgained in rushing yards by receiver Percy Harvin in the final game). It ignores that in 2021, Jones and Henry were part of No. 1-seeded teams in each conference, and Mixon helped the Bengals reach the Super Bowl.
Barkley, 26, already sacrificed some of his leverage when he acknowledged he is not looking to reset the market above McCaffrey’s $16 million per year. He tugged at ownership’s heartstrings speaking with reverence about earning a place in the Giants’ Ring of Honor and an NFL Man of the Year Award.
Could other negotiation hold-ups — the Giants’ preference for a three-year extension versus Barkley’s desire for four, and the total amount and distribution timeline of guaranteed money — be lessened by giving Barkley the respect he is due for overcoming two injury-plagued seasons to lead a return to the playoffs? If, in the Giants’ eyes, Barkley is no longer “touched by the hand of God,” he’s still certainly more than “a good player.” General manager Joe Schoen’s direct call to Barkley last offseason to clarify misinformation circulating about his trade availability fostered mutual appreciation.
Because Daniel Jones is believed to have communicated a desire for at least $40 million per year before the agency CAA terminated its relationship with the free-agent quarterback prior to opening negotiations with the Giants, the franchise tag is needed as a placeholder to secure Jones at $32.4 million while talks continue. Without the tag as leverage for Barkley, however, the Giants must decide whether to enhance their offer or let him walk away.
If it sounds easy not to pay a running back, picture the Giants next season with Jones playing on a second straight prove-it year, but without Barkley and his team-highs of 1,650 yards from scrimmage and 10 touchdowns to share the burden. Instead, Jones’ go-to playmaker would be … top free-agent receiver Jakobi Meyers or No. 25-overall draft pick Quentin Johnston. He would be handing off to … a combination of Devin Singletary and a mid-round rookie.
The claim that running backs grow on trees — even in what is expected to be a deep 2023 draft class — is overstated. For every Cook, Henry, Chubb and Mixon, there is a similarly drafted Ronald Jones, Kerryon Johnson, Cam Akers or Clyde Edwards-Helaire who cannot carry the load.
The past six receivers drafted between picks No. 20 and No. 30 are Kadarius Toney, Rashod Bateman, Jalen Reagor, Justin Jefferson, Brandon Aiyuk and Marquise Brown. Replacing an elite running back with an elite receiver like Jefferson makes sense in the pass-happy NFL, but the other five swaps would be a talent downgrade, so consider it a “love the star you are with” warning.
With increased expectations next season, the Giants minus Barkley would be the ones in danger of falling flat and short.