What’s next for Saquon Barkley and the Giants in free agency?

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The New York Giants will not use the franchise tag on Saquon Barkley for a second straight year, sources told ESPN Tuesday, leaving the running back free to test his value as a free agent.

The franchise tag would have been worth $12.1 million.

The move sets in motion a likely departure from New York, where Barkley has said he would prefer to remain his entire career to create a legacy and have a post-playing career on par with the likes of Eli Manning and Michael Strahan. The Giants now seem likely to lose their best offensive skill player, a massive risk considering their lack of All Pro-type players on the roster.

Regardless, Barkley wanted to avoid a second straight franchise tag. It would have meant playing out the four years of his rookie deal, a fifth-year option and two years on the franchise tag without ever becoming a true free agent.

The Giants were adamant that Barkley was not available at this past season’s trade deadline. General manager Joe Schoen then described the tag as “a tool we have at our disposal” at his end-of-year news conference.

It left open the possibility of another go-around.

“They did it last year. I’m numb to it,” Barkley said of the franchise tag after the season. “I really have no feelings towards that at all.”

Now, free agency is finally on the horizon after six seasons with the team that drafted him No. 2 overall out of Penn State in 2018. The Giants had a losing record in five of those six years.

When the idea that Barkley was on the verge of hitting free agency was presented to a source close to the running back recently, it was met with little more than eyeball emojis.

This is what they wanted. It at least gives Barkley choices and will determine the two-time Pro Bowler’s value. There will be no more what-ifs.

None of this completely rules out a return to the Giants. The most likely scenario for Barkley to return is that free agency doesn’t prove to be as fruitful as he expects and the Giants decide to match an offer (likely under $10 million per season).

“They don’t see the value in paying a running back $10 million,” one source who spoke with the Giants last week said.

Barkley, 27, turned down a final deal last offseason that sources have said offered close to $23 million guaranteed. He made $10.1 million last year on an adjusted franchise tag and anything over $13 million guaranteed in a new contract will ultimately be to his financial benefit, in terms of guaranteed money and years.

The only problem is the running back market has been depressed in recent years. It’s hard for players at the position to get paid, especially after the Kansas City Chiefs won a Super Bowl for the second straight year with a seventh-round pick as their lead running back.

An NFL general manager predicted to ESPN that Barkley would get in the $8 million-per-year range on a new contract in a tough offseason for free agents. Another thought it would be closer to $10 million per season. That was the general feeling from close to a dozen executives, scouts and agents with experience in running back negotiations.

Only one agent suggested the $12-14 million range per season based on Barkley’s name value and the projection of what he could do on a better team with a more competent supporting cast. That would be more in line with the $24-25 million guaranteed that a source close to the situation believes would have gotten a deal done with the Giants last year.

This year the free agent running back class is loaded. It already has the likes of Derrick Henry, Josh Jacobs, Austin Ekeler and Tony Pollard. That is going to make this difficult for Barkley.

“I mean, there’s some good names there. … It’s a little bit of a saturated market,” Schoen said last week at the NFL scouting combine.

But it’s more than that for the Giants. This move — and Barkley’s likely exit — has more to do with the value of the position than anything else. Especially considering Barkley is 27 years old with an injury history and rushed for under 1,000 yards this past season.

When Schoen was asked directly last week about whether the Barkley negotiations were more about running back market value or what he does for the team, the general manager didn’t hesitate.

“Running back market value,” he said.

And the $12.1 million franchise tag is expected to be above market value.

First appeared on www.espn.com

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