Could the Giants franchise tag Saquon Barkley for the second offseason in a row?

New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley
Kevin R. Wexler / USA TODAY NETWORKCredit: Kevin R. Wexler / USA TODAY NETWORK

New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley is headed toward free agency again this offseason after signing a one-year deal with the team prior to last season. Despite Barkley’s desire to be a “Giant for life,” his future in New York remains uncertain.

The franchise tag is a tool at the Giants’ disposal that they could utilize for the second year in a row to keep Barkley off the open market. However, such a move may leave the star rusher more disgruntled than ever and it could also sacrifice another one of the team’s key players.

Could Saquon Barkley hit the open market this offseason?

Barkley has never been a free agent in his career. After completing his rookie contract last year, Barkley was tagged by the Giants, preventing him from entering the free agency market and negotiating with other teams. The two sides eventually came to terms on a one-year contract, a sort of revised franchise tag. However, Barkley’s chances of hitting the open market this offseason seem greater than ever.

ESPN’s Jordan Raanan recently speculated that Barkley could be headed for free agency this offseason.

If the Giants want to tag Barkley again this offseason, the tag value will be worth $12.1 million. This tactic would keep Barkley off the open market, but with a $12.1 million salary cap hit. An extension would be preferable for both parties as Barkley would get his long-term security and the Giants would get to have their star rusher at a lower cap hit.

However, if both sides are unable to come to terms on a long-term extension, Barkley will be an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career. After rushing for 962 yards and six touchdowns in 2023, Barkley is still considered to be a great running back, but some feel as though he has lost a step.

Instead of paying Barkley, the Giants could pivot their attention toward retaining another one of their top players who is set to hit free agency.

Should the Giants tag Barkley or Xavier McKinney?

Barkley is not the Giants’ only high-profile free agent this offseason. Xavier McKinney is an impending free agent, coming off the best season of his career in 2023. McKinney totaled a career-high 116 combined tackles to go along with 11 passes defended and three interceptions. He established himself as a player the Giants can’t afford to lose this offseason.

If the Giants do franchise tag Barkley, they run the risk of losing McKinney in free agency. McKinney is due for a big payday this offseason and has expressed interest in testing the open market. The franchise tag would be New York’s way to prevent that from happening. Tagging McKinney would cost the Giants an estimated $16.2 million, however.

The Giants must decide who they value more: Barkley or McKinney. Both players are tremendous leaders in the locker room in addition to being some of the best players in the league at their respective positions. Signing both players to long-term contracts would be a difficult task and it is likely that one of the two stars get hit with the franchise tag. Big Blue just needs to decide which player is more important to retain.

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