Forecasts of Saquon Barkley becoming the highest-paid running back in the NFL after this season always included one caveat.
If he stays healthy.
The long-term implications of Barkley’s season-ending torn ACL include a more complex contract-extension dance than likely would have taken place if he finished his third season atop the rushing leaders and headed to the Pro Bowl. In fact, the mostly likely scenario is the negotiation is shelved for a year.
“Unfortunately I think you have to play out your fourth year,” a prominent agent told The Post. “I don’t know how the Giants could do a market-value deal for Barkley. Other than his great commercials, he’s got a great rookie year. What else?”
The Giants must decide whether to exercise Barkley’s fully guaranteed fifth-year option for 2022 (a no-brainer) before he plays another snap. But the extension frequently estimated at about $70 million over four years to top the Panthers’ Christian McCaffrey is on hold.
“I thought if he could have a year not necessarily as good as his rookie year but that showed he’s that guy, then they would’ve made him the highest-paid running back in the league,” said CBS Sports analyst Joel Corry, a former agent. “He now may never become the highest-paid running back in the league. But, if it’s going to happen, he’s going to have a really good 2021 season.”
Another route is for the Giants to try for a bargain by offering a discounted deal while Barkley is recovering. If he returns to top form, they will look shrewd. If he does not, — durability is a question after he missed three games with a high ankle sprain in 2019 — they will have overcommitted.
“A knee injury isn’t a kiss of death like it was a generation ago,” Corry said. “It might be smart to take a run at stealing him and see if he is nervous about the knee injury. As Saquon’s agent, I dismiss that as fast as it comes out of their mouth. Bet on yourself: I know what I can be when healthy and I’ll prove it and it will take care of itself.”
Because Barkley is the face of the franchise and because the future of general manager Dave Gettleman — Barkley’s biggest advocate — is uncertain beyond 2020, it’s not cut and dry.
“I don’t think the team can risk alienating the player with a low offer,” a longtime team executive said.
Barkley can afford to be patient because his first contract (four years, $31.1 million) provided security that some of his peers did not have as lower-round draft picks. Christian McCaffrey, Joe Mixon, Dalvin Cook and Alvin Kamara all received extensions this offseason, following the third-year trend established by Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliott.
“In this particular case, it would have benefitted Saquon immensely if he just played this year, the Giants sucked and he got his 1,000 yards,” the agent said. “But without playing, off an ACL, if I’m Saquon, do I want a deal? What’s he going to get, $8 million a year? That would be an amazing offer, given his situation. I don’t see any angle where a deal gets done.”
The Giants could take a proactive approach knowing their star is upset.
“Go to Saquon’s representation,” the agent said, “and say ‘Look, I don’t think you want to negotiate a deal right now. We just want you to know we love him, we’re rooting for him, but I don’t see how the timing would work for you to do a deal right now, based on his body of work at this point.’ ”