Saquon Barkley does not receive franchise tag from Giants, will test free agent market

Barkley had long been seeking an extension to stay with the franchise

Saquon Barkley's days with the Giants appear numbered as the club declined to use the franchise tag on him. (Eric Hartline/USA TODAY Sports)

The New York Giants did not place the franchise tag on Saquon Barkley ahead of Tuesday's 4 p.m. ET deadline. The decision paves the way for the 27-year-old running back to test free agency.

Had the Giants tagged Barkley it would have cost $12.1 million, but the second overall pick from the 2018 NFL Draft has long been seeking an extension to stay with the franchise.

Barkley signed a one-year deal worth $10.1 million in July plus $900,000 in incentives after declining to sign the franchise tag that was going to be worth slightly less money. After seeing some of the contracts handed out to running backs the past few seasons, he was hoping it was his time to cash in. Instead, the Giants opened their checkbook for Daniel Jones, giving the quarterback a $160 million deal ($82 million guaranteed).

Last week at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, Giants general manager Joe Schoen said that using the franchise tag on Barkley was not "off the table" due to the rise in the NFL salary cap to $255.4 million. An extension, however, was what both sides sought.

"In a perfect world, we don't want to [use the franchise tag] again," Schoen said. "But again, we're going to have conversations, we're going to talk through it, and I know he says he wants a fair deal. And I appreciate that. But we have to do what is best for the franchise long-term and short-term and take all those things into account."

Saquon Barkley headshot
Saquon Barkley
RB - PHI - #26
2023 - 2024 season

Barkley rushed for 962 yards and six touchdowns last season, while also catching 41 balls for 280 yards and four touchdowns in 14 games. He missed four games in 2023, which caused his production to drop from the 1,312 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns from the 2022 season.

While he has stated his desire to stay with the Giants on multiple occasions, he has also said that while frustrating, he understands the business of football and that "loyalty means nothing."

“I’ve mentioned before that I wanted to be a Giant for life,” Barkley said in January. “That was a goal of mine when I got drafted. I wanted to leave a legacy here, but it’s out of my control. I truly have no say. It’s really up to those guys upstairs. . . . Me sitting here saying I want to be a Giant for life like I did last year doesn’t help or doesn’t hurt, so I’ll just leave it up to those guys.”

Barkley could join crowded running back market

The increase in the NFL salary cap by $30 million will have teams adjusting their offseason strategies. The Giants could still bring Barkley back in the fold if he doesn't like what he sees out on the free-agent market.

But if Barkley does end up leaving, Schoen will have option to replace the two-time Pro Bowler and 2018 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Among the running backs expected to hit the open market include Austin Ekeler, Derrick Henry, Josh Jacobs, Tony Pollard and D'Andre Swift.

The Giants were 6-11 last season in the NFC East and Schoen will have plenty of work to do if he's to help guide the franchise back to the postseason.