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Guaranteed money remains likely sticking point between Giants, Saquon Barkley

The date is barreling toward Saquon Barkley like a downhill linebacker, daring the shifty runner to spin, hurdle or cut his way to pay dirt. 

As the NFL-imposed July 17 deadline for Barkley and the Giants to reach a multiyear contract extension moved inside 50 days away, the two sides were no closer than ever on an agreement.

The second week of voluntary OTAs was scheduled to begin Tuesday without Barkley, who is prohibited from participating because he hasn’t signed his franchise tag. 

The Giants returned to the negotiating table after the NFL draft talking about a smaller figure than the $13 million per year annually that Barkley previously rejected before the running-back market tanked, sources told The Post.

Prior to the draft, the Giants took the unusual step of pulling their last offer so there was none to accept in a case of reconsideration

The unknown in all the reported offers thus far — including the initial one made last season — is the amount of guaranteed money included.

Saquon Barkley
Corey Sipkin for the NY Post

Barkley is guaranteed to make $22.2 million over the next two years if he plays on the franchise tag this season ($10.1 million) and is tagged again next season at a 120 percent salary increase ($12.1 million), so most agents would use that total as the basement for guarantees. 

Sure, it is no certainty that Barkley would be tagged again in 2024 — if he gets injured or underperforms relative to his 1,312 rushing yards last season, or a teammate like safety Xavier McKinney commands the tag — but fear of the worst is not how NFL business is conducted. 

“If the assumption is that only his first two years are guaranteed for just $22 million, there’s no deal to be made then,” NFL contracts expert Joel Corry of told The Post. “I would counter with the last time a running back was franchise tagged and got a long-term deal, the Titans didn’t do Derrick Henry that way. They gave him $25.5 million guaranteed over two.” 

Corry, a former NFL agent, said Barkley could gain some “public sympathy” if it turns out that the Giants are backloading an offer with essentially non-guaranteed “options” after the first two years.

The Browns signed Nick Chubb to a three-year, $36.6 million extension that included two-thirds of the salary plus bonuses being paid through two years. 

“You could deal with that guarantee if the cash flow through those first two years was at least $26.5 million,” Corry said. 

Saquon Barkley takes a handoff from Daniel Jones during the Giants-Vikings game on Dec. 24, 2022.
Charles Wenzelberg/NY Post

It is believed that guaranteed money is a primary sticking point.

If average annual salary mattered most, Barkley and the Giants likely could have come up with a lipstick offer similar to how the Saints’ Alvin Kamara can boast that he is the second-highest paid running back ($15 million per year) but his heavily backloaded five-year, $75 million deal included a non-guaranteed $22.4 million salary in 2025 that Kamara is unlikely ever to see. 

One issue for Barkley is that his easiest path to regaining the leverage lost under the tag will not materialize until after July 17, at which point he only can play on the tag because further negotiations are prohibited.

An unsigned Barkley cannot be fined $50,000 per day for skipping mandatory minicamp (June 13-15) or training camp, when what appears to be forgotten could again become obvious during contact practices and preseason games. 

The Giants’ offense could struggle mightily without Barkley — and there would be nothing he can do to capitalize until after the season. 

“Daniel Jones is not as effective as a runner if he is doing RPOs with the other running backs they have; they don’t pose the same threat, obviously,” an NFL defensive coach said. “And Jones needs to be able to keep you honest with the run, even with all the receivers they added.” 

Would Barkley push his absence all the way into the regular season?

Those who know him believe he cares too much about his teammates, winning and leaving a legacy to go that far. 

But it’s less of a stretch to think he could join teammates in early September — and, if he has a sense of humor, turn around the faulty logic used against him and joke about how it’s no big deal since anyone can be a running back. 

History isn’t in his favor: Le’Veon Bell sat out 2018 because of a contract dispute with the Steelers and Melvin Gordon sat out the first four games of 2019 before caving on his demands.

Neither was ever the same player, though Bell, unlike Gordon, eventually got his big money (from the Jets). 

Austin Ekeler — who has led the NFL in touchdowns each of the last two seasons — tried to force a trade from the Chargers earlier this offseason but ended his holdout threat by settling for $1.75 million in added incentives.

Saquon Barkley
Getty Images

He still won’t make as much as Barkley on the tag. 

The number of $12 million per year (or more) running backs is dwindling — a miscalculation by Barkley’s side. 

The Cowboys cut Ezekiel Elliott and the Vikings reportedly could follow suit with Dalvin Cook — to save around $6 million on his $14.1 million cap hit — after seeing the running-back market crash in free agency.

The surprisingly small contracts signed by Miles Sanders (Panthers) and others seem to have emboldened general manager Joe Schoen to recalculate Barkley’s worth. 

None of those teams are as reliant on their running back as the Giants, however.

The clock is ticking toward the Giants’ best player feeling devalued all season unless Barkley has another creative move up his sleeve or the team throws him a lifeline to avoid a collision.