There’s been debate over Saquon Barkley ever since the Giants made him the second overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. Back then, it was whether it was wise to use a plum pick on a running back. Now, it’s about whether Barkley, extremely dangerous when healthy, should be back with Big Blue next season.
It’s hard to think of that offense without the free agent, but he’ll cost the franchise tag of around $12.4 million or whatever the two sides agree on if they negotiate a multi-year deal. Meanwhile, the internet is crawling with nightmare scenarios for Giants fans to dread – Barkley in Dallas, Barkley in Philadelphia or Barkley as the finishing offensive piece to a real Super Bowl contender.
Let’s look at whether Barkley should stay or go...
Why Barkley should return
When he is healthy, Barkley is a mega-threat running the ball or coming out of the backfield in the passing game and the Giants were not a big scoring threat last season when they were 6-11. Barkley scored six of their 10 rushing touchdowns and four of their 15 receiving touchdowns. That’s 40 percent of their offensive touchdowns. When he had big games, they won – he scored two touchdowns in four different games and the Giants won them all.
Who’s replacing that? No one currently on the roster, that seems certain.
He also ran for 962 yards – more than half of the team’s rushing output. With just 38 yards more, he would’ve had his fourth career 1,000-yard season in his sixth year in the league. When Barkley is on the field, teams must be hyper-aware of where he is at all times, so he can have an impact even if he’s not the target of a particular play. Without him, there’s a much lower chance for a special moment on offense.
While Barkley and the Giants have endured some uncomfortable moments recently because of the franchise tag that could be a possibility again this offseason, he’s also said repeatedly that he’d be happy to be a Giant for life. That could be worthwhile, especially if Barkley, who turns 27 next month, stays healthy and productive going forward.
It’s not a reason to keep him – the production is. But it’s a good narrative for a good player and, by many accounts, a terrific teammate. Shouldn’t franchises cherish players like that, especially if they come with the potential for the spectacular?
Why Barkley shouldn’t be back
The Giants might not be very good next season and a star running back could qualify as a luxury that a team with so many other problems cannot afford. If they let Barkley depart, they could plow the savings into another area of need, such as the offensive line or the pursuit of a No. 1 wide receiver.
There are plenty of big brains in the NFL who believe teams don’t need to invest heavily in a running back, and that there are plenty of cheap, effective ones available. Barkley’s career timing is off – he came along just when this trendy idea was blooming in the NFL.
Then there’s this: The Giants have played 101 games over the span of Barkley’s career, including the two playoff games after the 2022 season. Barkley has played in 76 of those, or 75.2 percent. Obviously, he’s dealt with injuries, including missing three games last season with a high ankle sprain. As running backs age and endure more wear and tear, health only becomes more of a potential concern.
And as much impact as Barkley had on the Giant offense last season, he still only averaged 3.9 yards per carry, nearly half a yard below his career mark.
Not an easy call, since it makes football sense both to keep Barkley for his explosiveness or dump Barkley to try to fix other roster holes. Heck, maybe he’d like to go elsewhere, particularly to a team that has a competent offensive line. The Giants have been re-tooling theirs since the days of leather helmets, or it at least seems that way. How good would Barkley be if he were running behind a blocking powerhouse?
It’s just difficult to imagine the Giant offense without him. Big Blue scored just 15.6 points per game last year, 30th in the NFL. Barkley is an exciting player, capable of “Wow” plays. The rest of the offense? Eh. When Barkley missed Weeks 3-5, the Giants lost all three games.
With Daniel Jones, a quarterback who still has so much to prove after an injury-filled year of regression, likely the starter when healthy, the Giants need weapons. A reunion with Barkley would give them at least one. Whether that’s for one year on the franchise tag or otherwise, we’ll see.