Should the New York Giants give Saquon Barkley a big-money extension? It’s complicated

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley had just limped off the field in Week 5, his left ankle the size of a beach ball before he plopped on the end of the bench at AT&T Stadium. The disgust from stepping on the foot of Dallas Cowboys cornerback Jourdan Lewis was oozing from every pore.

Barkley was pounding his thigh pads with his fists as if he was trying to punch a hole in them. The realization the injury would mean more time on the sideline while his teammates tried to fight out of an early-season hole was too frustrating to hold in.

Barkley had a high ankle sprain that marred his 2019 season and a torn ACL in his right knee that ended his 2020 season in Week 2. He had to know this latest injury would further affect his ability to land a second contract.

“What would go through your guys’ minds if you just rehabbed for 10 or 11 months to get back on the field and then you got hurt by rolling your ankle by stepping on someone else’s foot?” Barkley said several days after the game. “You’re going to be frustrated. You’re going to be exhausted. You’re human. I’m human.”

Fast-forward six weeks, and Barkley still has not made it back on the field. He has missed 18 of the past 23 games, and the Giants (3-6) are a long shot to make the playoffs heading into Monday night’s matchup with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8:15 ET, ESPN).

Barkley is expected to play against the Bucs (6-4), but his injuries have complicated the answer to a looming question facing the organization: Should they re-sign him to a long-term extension?

The answer once seemed a formality. The 2018 season — when he finished with 2,028 yards from scrimmage, 15 touchdowns and was named Offensive Rookie of the Year — suggested greatness. Since his promising debut, he has totaled 1,860 yards from scrimmage over parts of three injury-riddled seasons.

“All the things that I want to attain are still out there for me to attain. I live by that,” Barkley said. “There are going to be setbacks. There is going to be adversity, not just as a football player but in anything you do in life.

“Just because you have a little adversity or setbacks doesn’t mean you have to start listening to all the noise. … Keep working. Have faith, have belief that all the hard work you’ve put in is going to come to life.”

Injuries leave Giants in a predicament

Barkley, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2018 NFL draft out of Penn State, is in the fourth year of his rookie deal making $4.7 million. The team picked up the fifth-year option in his contract back in April, guaranteeing him $7.2 million for 2022. That remains a reasonable number for a running back of his ability, even with his injury history.

Comparing Barkley to the eight running backs with the highest average annual value (AAV) in their contracts (all average at least $12 million), he ranks fifth in scrimmage yards per game (108.0) and yards per touch (5.4) for his career, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

The problem for Barkley is he has played the lowest percentage of his team’s games among that bunch at 63% (36 of a possible 57) and has averaged the second-fewest games per season (10.3) of any first-round running back drafted from 2015 to 2020.

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