Injuries can change the course of careers. Major injuries often lead to detours.
Saquon Barkley is coming off a major injury, currently rehabbing after an October 30 surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. While daunting and emotionally draining to the athlete, these are, by and large, routine procedures in this day and age and players often make full recoveries. Still, Barkley is a running back with tree-trunk legs and uncommon speed and agility. The Giants are eager to see how their star looks in the spring and on into the summer.
Heading into his fourth NFL season, this would be the time for Barkley, 24, to negotiate a new deal, as he is on the back end of his four-year, $31.1 million rookie contract. The injury, though, more than complicates his financial future and makes coming to an agreement on a new deal prior to this season next to impossible. How can the Giants place a market value on a player coming off surgery? And how can Barkley ask for top-dollar when he has yet to prove he is back to what he once was?
The Giants must determine by May 3 if they will pick up Barkley’s fifth-year option. It is not a financial burden to do so. With the salary cap for 2021 officially set on Wednesday at $182.5 million per team, the fifth-year option for Barkley — given that he was selected for one Pro Bowl in his career — is set at $7.2 million for the 2022 season. That money is fully guaranteed, regardless of injury. It is a bargain rate for a star player — if Barkley again emerges as a star player, that is — and seemingly is an easy move for the Giants to make. There is no reason for them not to pick up the option. It keeps the No. 2 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft under team control for the next two years.
Barkley counts $10 million on the 2021 cap, meaning the fifth-year option in 2022 would actually be a decrease on the cap for the Giants. Depending on how Barkley returns and performs this season, the Giants could – and probably would – work out a new deal for Barkley so that he does not play on the fifth-year option contract.
Clearly, Barkley’s injury complicates a long-term deal any time soon.
“Well, I think that’s part of the discussion and obviously we’re going to have to make a decision in the spring on whether we pick up his fifth-year option or not,’’ general manager Dave Gettleman said. “You know, again, it comes back to that medical question. It’s unknown and what you have to do is get your trainer and your doctors involved and make your best decision.’’
Gettleman in the second week of March did not have to make his intentions known as far as what comes next with Barkley. To even hear that there is a “decision’’ to be made as to the fifth-year option could be noteworthy, but it is probably just posturing and caution. Sure enough, the Giants will get Barkley in the building sometime this spring, and their medical personnel will check out the progress he has made coming off reconstructive surgery.
After a sensational rookie season — 1,307 rushing yards, 91 receptions for 721 yards and a total of 15 touchdowns scored — Barkley battled a high ankle sprain in 2019 that dropped his production (1,003 rushing yards, 52 receptions for 438 yards and a total of eight touchdowns). Barkley went down in Week 2 last season and the Giants proceeded to become one of the most ineffective offenses in the league, finishing 31st in scoring.
“Every team needs playmakers, let’s be honest,’’ Gettleman said. “Good Lord willing, Saquon will be 100 percent and obviously he’ll make a huge difference. A healthy Saquon obviously makes a big difference.’