Giants Can't Be Fooled into Re-signing Saquon Barkley Regardless of 2022 Performance

Brad Gagnon@@Brad_GagnonFeatured Columnist IVOctober 7, 2022

EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY - OCTOBER 02: Saquon Barkley #26 of the New York Giants carries the ball during the game against the Chicago Bears at MetLife Stadium on October 02, 2022 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Saquon Barkley is back, and his resurgence thus far in 2022 is the primary driver behind the New York Giants' 3-1 mark. The 2018 No. 2 overall pick leads the NFL with 463 rushing yards and 570 scrimmage yards.

No other player in football has hit the 500-yard mark in that metric.

The good news for the Giants is Barkley is doing that at a reasonable cost of $7.2 million for 2022. The bad news for the Giants is they can't expect that in 2023 or beyond.

Even if the 25-year-old remains relatively healthy and super productive for the remainder of the season, re-signing him to what would be a lucrative long-term deal at the conclusion of his five-year rookie contract would be a mistake.

Why? Well, for starters, precedents indicate that even if Barkley keeps this up in 2022, it won't be enough for a team like the Giants to make a deep playoff run. If that doesn't happen with a dominant back at his best, what's the point in repeating that? Even the best running backs are rarely difference-makers in this era, and at least one desperate team would surely give Barkley difference-maker-level money next offseason.

That desperate team might be willing to sacrifice the long-term future and might see a player like Barkley as the final piece to a Super Bowl puzzle. Fine, but the Giants aren't even on the brink of being in a position like that. It's all relative.

EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY - SEPTEMBER 26: (NEW YORK DAILIES OUT)  Saquon Barkley #26 of the New York Giants celebrates his touchdown against the Dallas Cowboys at MetLife Stadium on September 26, 2022 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Cowboys defeated the Giants 23-16. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

But even if Barkley continues to crush it this year and the G-Men decide he can help them win a Super Bowl in 2023, 2024 or beyond, the odds are against that happening simply because he'll be a running back in his late-20s who could not remain healthy for much of his first four seasons in the NFL.

It was an ankle in 2019, a torn ACL in 2020 and another ankle injury in 2021. Altogether, 21 games lost. And he rarely looked like his 2018 Offensive Rookie of the Year self in those three seasons.

Right now, he's finally healthy enough to shine again, but the odds are stacked against him long term.

Of course, with five seasons under his belt, that would be the case regardless of his injury history. It's no secret that running backs don't often hold up in this era.

Just look at recent standout backs. Le'Veon Bell peaked at 24 and 25 years old. Ditto for Todd Gurley. Chris Johnson faded after his All-Pro age-24 campaign, and Maurice Jones-Drew pretty much disappeared beyond his age-26 season. It's increasingly likely that Derrick Henry's best season came at age 26, while Dalvin Cook's top performance came at 25.

And of course, there's the case of Ezekiel Elliott, who tore up the league in his first three professional seasons, signed a six-year, $90 million contract with more than $50 million guaranteed at the beginning of year four, and has since averaged just 4.2 yards per carry while earning just one Pro Bowl nod over a three-plus-year span.

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 11: Ezekiel Elliott #21 of the Dallas Cowboys warms up against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at AT&T Stadium on September 11, 2022 in Arlington, TX. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)
Cooper Neill/Getty Images

Now, the Cowboys surely regret the decision to extend Elliott, who by many measures has become less productive than his "backup," Tony Pollard.

With these cautionary tales in place, the Giants should be prepared to move on from Barkley at the conclusion of the 2022 season—if not sooner. If general manager Joe Schoen receives a decent offer for his prized back ahead of the trade deadline on Nov. 1, he oughta consider pulling the trigger now.

That would put a damper on a strong start, but the Giants have to be realistic. This is a one-dimensional, low-ceiling team that remains in the bottom 10 in the league in DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) at Football Outsiders.

The Giants will almost certainly have to focus on their quarterback situation next offseason, and key defenders Dexter Lawrence, Leonard Williams and Adoree' Jackson will be entering contract years. Barkley's return to awesomeness has certainly been present, but the Giants can't let that tempt them into making what would almost definitely be a mistake.