Bears

Saquon Barkley talks contract ahead of NFL free agency

Bears

New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley could potentially hit free agency this offseason, but even after arguably the best season of his career, he’s saying he’s “realistic” about the contract he could be seeking, which could be music to the ears of the Chicago Bears. 

Barkley, the second-overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, is set to become an unrestricted free agent after the Giants picked up his fifth-year option for the 2022 season. 

He is among a large contingent of potential free agents at the running back position, and with his career having been impacted by injuries, he knows that he has to keep his expectations in check for his next payday. 

“I’m not really too concerned with resetting any markets,” he said during his exit interviews this week. “I’m realistic. I know what I was on pace to do, but having two years of injuries doesn’t help. But I think I was able to show the caliber of player I am.” 

Barkley played in 16 games during the 2022 season, with 1,312 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns. He also had 57 catches for 338 yards for the Giants, who reached the Divisional Round before falling to the Philadelphia Eagles on Saturday. 

Even with those strong numbers, he has run into injury issues the last two seasons, playing a combined 15 games in 2020 and 2021. He tore his ACL in a game against the Chicago Bears in Week 2 of the 2020 campaign, and then he dealt with an ankle injury and a stint on the COVID list during the 2021 season, costing him a total of four games. 

 

The Giants do have several options with Barkley, with the franchise tag a possibility (though he told the New York Post he would be “upset” if the team were to use that tool), or a long-term extension of their own. The Giants have a little more than $45 million in cap space heading into the offseason according to Spotrac, but both of their options of retaining Barkley could be challenging. 

The team also has to decide what to do with quarterback Daniel Jones, who is set to hit free agency after the team declined his fifth-year option. That could eat significantly into their available cap space, and though they could make some room with other roster moves, it would remain a challenge. 

Using the franchise tag on Barkley would come with a guaranteed cap hit of $10.1 million for the 2023 season. 

According to Spotrac, only five NFL running backs are currently slated to earn more than $10 million in base salary next season, headlined by 49ers back Christian McCaffrey at $11.8 million. 

Packers running back Aaron Jones is set to have the highest cap hit of any back in the league at just over $20 million, while he also will collect the most cash at $16 million. 

Eight backs have a cap hit of $10 million or more next season, with Ezekiel Elliott, Derrick Henry and Alvin Kamara all checking in at more than $16 million. 
Making things even more interesting are the slew of running backs that could hit the market, including Barkley, Jamaal Williams, Josh Jacobs, Miles Sanders, David Montgomery, Tony Pollard, Rashaad Penny and Devin Singletary, among others. 

Montgomery’s inclusion on that list poses an interesting conundrum for the Bears, who got 801 rushing yards and five touchdowns out of the back in 16 games this season.  

The team could of course look to retain his services, pairing him once again with Khalil Herbert, but the idea of adding a dynamic player like Barkley, especially with the boatload of cap space that the team has to work with, could be an enticing option to give Justin Fields another bonafide weapon in both the run and passing games. 
His health history could be a question mark for the Bears, as could his age, as he’ll be 26 years old heading into the 2023 season. 

At any rate, Barkley saying he’s “realistic” about a contract could prove to be enticing to the Bears should he hit the market, and they’ll have plenty of opportunities to address the running back spot during free agency. 

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