IT WAS OCT. 20, two days before the Week 7 matchup with the Washington Commanders, and Saquon Barkley was participating in a walk-though. The New York Giants running back had just taken the field at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center when he noticed coach Brian Daboll and general manager Joe Schoen heading his direction.
Barkley had fielded questions the day before about the possibility of being moved before Tuesday’s trade deadline.
“Yeah, that’s not happening,” Daboll told his two-time Pro Bowler.
The Giants (2-5) let Barkley know they intended to keep him despite their slow start, but that doesn’t mean it’s written in stone.
Wide receiver Kadarius Toney was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs last year, months after Schoen insisted he wasn’t shopping him, and Odell Beckham Jr. was dealt to the Cleveland Browns by the previous regime after then-GM Dave Gettleman insisted he didn’t sign him to trade him.
“I don’t think it made me feel any better or any worse,” Barkley told ESPN of his conversation with Daboll and Schoen. “It wasn’t like I was too overly concerned about it, to be honest. And I never even thought about it until the question was brought up. I didn’t even realize when the trade deadline was.”
If Barkley isn’t traded, he’ll become a free agent or get tagged for the second straight year after failing to reach an agreement on a new deal.
The first contract offer the Giants made to Barkley came last November during the Week 9 bye. It was believed to be in the range of $12 million per year, not exactly the Christian McCaffrey stratosphere but in the range of Cleveland’s Nick Chubb and Tennessee‘s Derrick Henry, who were among the comps the Giants used. But those initial offers had mechanisms that made it undesirable for Barkley, including $1 million per season in per-game roster bonuses — meaning he wouldn’t get it if he didn’t play.
Several league sources said that’s an unusually high amount tied to such a bonus and one that would make players leery of such a deal. Ultimately, Barkley decided the amount of guaranteed money wasn’t enough, so talks were put aside until the offseason.
Barkley was six minutes from free agency ahead of the March 7 franchise tag deadline, and his agents were confident there was at least one willing suitor who would pay market value to get into negotiations with the Giants for his services. But he never got there.
Barkley was guaranteed $10.1 million on the franchise tag for this season. The Giants have the potential to use another franchise tag next year for $12.1 million. That would be $22.2 million for the two seasons, which is often used as a baseline for the negotiations.
The Giants didn’t get there until the bitter end, according to a source. The July 17 deadline passed without a deal.
Barkley took the risk and bypassed the slightly more than $22 million guaranteed. He shunned the advice of many in his camp and accepted an adjusted franchise tag that included a $2 million upfront signing bonus and had close to $1 million in difficult-to-reach incentives.
Barkley was there on the first day of training camp, unwilling to miss it or jeopardize his desire to be a “Giant for life.”
“I want to create a legacy, and the way you do that is by continuing to stay with a team through your whole career,” Barkley said. “As I see the NFL and realize the business, you know, it’s less likely for that to happen for players. But if you’re able to accomplish that, it’s special.”
SEVERAL OF THE NFL’s top running backs participated in a Zoom call this summer to discuss how their position was unfairly compensated. Barkley and Indianapolis Colts star Jonathan Taylor were among the participants.
Taylor requested a trade three days after the July 22 call because the Colts refused to extend his contact. Taylor did not participate in team drills during the summer or training camp due to lingering effects from right ankle surgery, but after an often bitter and public feud, the sides reached a three-year, $42 million extension on Oct. 7.
Barkley, meanwhile, didn’t miss a single day of training camp after skipping the offseason workout program.
“Jonathan Taylor did a really good job,” Barkley said. “You know, sticking to his word, doing what he wanted to do, and he got a deal done.”
As far as what he learned from how Taylor handled the process, Barkley laughed and said: “I think I did it wrong. I learned a lot.”
But Barkley said he doesn’t regret how he handled his situation and doesn’t agree with the perception he caved by signing the tag. He said he was advised by his team — he added CAA agent Ed Berry in the spring — to handle things differently, which included not signing his franchise tag until later in the summer and deeper into training camp.
“[I] said, ‘You know what? I’m going to keep quiet — hopefully, you know, just show up, put a smile on my face, work hard, do the things the right way,'” Barkley said. “‘Things going to get taken care of.’
“And sadly, it didn’t. But you also could learn from the way Jonathan Taylor did it. At the end of the day, all you want is to be able to say you set yourself up, and get a long-term deal, and get money that you deserve — to help for security of your family. And, hats off to him.”
ALIBAY BARKLEY WILL be at MetLife on Sunday to cheer on his son, though he’ll be sporting a New York Jets tattoo. Alibay raised his son to be a Jets fan.
In Barkley’s first matchup against the Jets in 2019, Alibay was watching as a Jets fan.
“Finally for the first time — I mean, it’s only my second time playing them — but he told me that he hopes we win,” Barkley said.
From the moment Barkley was drafted No. 2 overall in 2018, he was a hit in New York. Barkley exploded onto the scene with a record-breaking season that earned him Offensive Rookie of the Year. He set the Giants rookie rushing record with 1,307 yards, led the NFL with 2,028 yards from scrimmage and had seven 40-plus and six 50-plus yard runs.
Barkley was adamant last week about not wanting to be traded. He still feels a certain way for the organization and has a life and family who feels at home in New Jersey. The spotlight of New York and the marketing and business opportunities have helped make this his desired destination.
“Why do I feel like I’m such a good fit here? I just feel that I try to be myself,” he said. “Be real, be authentic. And I feel like a lot of people could relate to that, especially from this area.
“I was born in [the Bronx], raised in Pennsylvania. But my whole family is from New York. So I kind of was raised with a New York mindset. “
And that mindset isn’t one that tolerates losing. It’s necessary because the Giants haven’t done much winning since Barkley arrived. Last year was the first time in his career they’ve had a winning record or made the playoffs.
It hasn’t stopped Barkley from seeing this out to the end. When asked about the team considering deals at the trade deadline, he called that “the mindset of a loser,” despite their current record.
The Giants are in the second year of the Schoen/Daboll regime and Barkley believes the past two weeks show they are back on the right track.
“That shows you who he is as a person,” wide receiver Sterling Shepard said. “A lot of people are going to chase the money or whatever, he’s in it for the right reasons.”
This season, Barkley’s already been hampered by injury as a high right ankle sprain cost him three games. He averages 3.8 yards per carry, which is tied for 30th, and has one rushing touchdown. But the Giants offense has been significantly better with him on the field, averaging 321 total yards compared to 222 without him.
“I know how special it would be to help bring the glory to this city. And that’s something I want to do,” he said. “So even though there hasn’t been that much winning, I don’t believe in just giving up and quitting. That’s not how I was raised. I believe in sticking through it, and fighting through it. And you have that mindset and it’s going to change around, and I think we’re starting to see that.”
Barkley knows it’s not ideal playing on a one-year deal with the potential for another franchise tag.
As one league executive explained, if Barkley had the best season of his career, he would be looked at as having added significantly more miles on his body, not ideal for a soon-to-be 27-year-old running back entering Year 7.
“I know they say, you know, when you’re 28 or 29, 30 — I don’t believe in that,” Barkley said. “I feel like back in the day those backs used to play forever. Used to play to in their 30s, play 10 to 13 years. And that’s something I want to do.”
Whether he’ll be playing for the Giants in his 30s could depend on the remaining 10 games, and how things play out in the offseason.