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Why Giants Must Prioritize Daniel Jones over Saquon Barkley in 2023 NFL Offseason


Giants QB Daniel Jones

Giants QB Daniel JonesMitchell Leff/Getty Images

As the start of NFL free agency on March 15 draws near, the New York Giants are faced with a couple of tough decisions. Specifically, New York must determine if and how it can retain both quarterback Daniel Jones and running back Saquon Barkley.

At first blush, keeping both seems reasonable. The Giants have an estimated $43.3 million in cap space, a playoff-caliber roster and a solid collection of draft picks—including an extra third-rounder—with which to reload other positions.

However, recent developments involving Jones’ contract talks could force the Giants to pick between one of their two biggest stars before free agency begins. And should it come down to that, fans should brace themselves for Barkley’s departure.

Why the Giants Have a Looming Decision

Given New York’s salary capital, fitting Barkley and Jones into the financial plans seems doable. Barkley has a projected annual market value of $12.3 million, while Jones comes in at $26.2 million.

New York’s issue stems from the fact that the quarterback appears unwilling to accept what might be considered fair market value. Jones recently changed agents—from CAA to Athletes First—and according to ProFootballTalk’s Mike Florio, the switch is because he isn’t willing to take what the Giants are offering:

“So what does Jones want? There are two possibilities. One, he’s willing to do a deal for less than CAA was willing to accept. Two, he wants more than CAA was able to get. As one source explained it, it’s the latter. Jones wants more than the Giants have offered. Possibly as much as $45 million per year, or more.”

Is Jones worth $45-plus million? That’s certainly debatable. The Duke product had a very good first year under rookie head coach Brian Daboll in 2022, but he hasn’t established himself as an elite signal-caller.

At the same time, $45 million has become the going rate for a quality starter—Kyler Murray signed a deal worth $46.1 million annually last offseason, and he has yet to deliver a playoff win—and Jones has every right to maximize his earnings.

The contractual impasse at which Jones and the Giants appear to find themselves will likely lead to the franchise tag, which teams can begin applying on Tuesday. Using the non-exclusive franchise tag—which would allow another team to sign away Jones at the price of two first-round draft picks—would cost New York $32.4 million in 2023.

It’s a fair price, and it would give the Giants another year to evaluate Jones and for him to prove that his 2022 campaign was no fluke. However, it would leave New York with less than $11 million in cap space.

This could put the Giants out of the market for Barkley, especially if they hope to address their underwhelming receiving corps or 27th-ranked run defense before April’s draft.

New York cannot franchise tag both players, so it ultimately may end up only keeping one.

Why It’s Not an Easy Decision

If we could look at Jones in Barkley in a positional vacuum, the Giants’ decision should be simple. A reliable, above-average starting quarterback is more valuable than a Pro Bowl-caliber running back.

Teams simply don’t win the Super Bowl with budget journeyman quarterbacks in today’s NFL. However, winning with a mid-level running back is far more common in the modern era.

WTF Stats @WTFstats

Since 2009, only once has the leading rusher on the winning team of the Super Bowl made over $2M base salary. pic.twitter.com/UrnVPdo6jk

Jones and Barkley cannot be examined in a vacuum, though.

Barkley is not just another Pro Bowl ball-carrier. He’s a legitimate dual threat who can be truly special at 100 percent. He topped 2,000 scrimmage yards as a rookie in 2018 and logged 1,650 scrimmage yards with 10 touchdowns this past season.

Jones, meanwhile, has never been labeled as elite. Nonetheless, he had a great first year under Daboll, finishing with a career-high 67.2 percent completion rate, a career-high 92.5 passer rating, 15 touchdowns, five interceptions, 708 rushing yards and seven rushing scores.

It’s not hard to envision Jones taking more positive steps in Year 2 under Daboll, especially if New York can upgrade his receiving corps—a unit that saw only one player, Darius Slayton, top 600 receiving yards in 2022.

Yet, Jones still has to prove that he has yet to reach his ceiling. New York showed that it could win with Jones this past season, but recent Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks—Patrick Mahomes, Matthew Stafford and Tom Brady—were far more established and a tier (or two) above where Jones was this past season.

We also have to consider that while Daboll deserves a ton of credit for getting more out of Jones than his predecessors did, a healthy Barkley also played a role. The 26-year-old back is a great outlet option in the passing game, he’ll keep a defense honest and his presence allowed Jones to settle in as a game manager.

If the Giants plan to make Jones earn a long-term, big-money deal in 2023, they’ll be doing him no favors by taking away his most consistent playmaker.

Ryan Dunleavy @rydunleavy

My early read: If #Giants tag Daniel Jones, it’s good for Saquon Barkley. Takes $10M tag out of play. An extension w/ Barkley could create more cap space, needed with Jones eating up $32M. Can’t see another prove-it year for DJ without best weapon and few WR upgrades available

We’ve all seen Barkley be great without Jones under center. The Giants don’t know if Jones can be great without Barkley. One possible solution would be to sign Barkley to a back-loaded contract that is relatively team-friendly in 2023.

The problem is that general manager Joe Schoen and Barkley don’t appear close to a contract resolution either, according to ESPN’s Jordan Raanan:

“Schoen noted the two sides were ‘not close’ on a deal when they talked during the bye week in November. They’ve reengaged after the season, but not much seems to have changed. The deal Barkley turned down during the bye week was for more than $12 million per year, according to league and team sources.”

Barkley has even less reason than Jones to accept a deal with which he is uncomfortable. Running backs have shorter career spans than quarterbacks, and Barkley is entitled to as much up-front money as he can possibly get.

And even a back-loaded contract could create problems. Unless Jones flops in 2023, he’s eventually going to get a long-term contract.

A second franchise tag would guarantee him a minimum of 120 percent of the 2023 tag, or roughly $38.9 million in 2024. At that price, giving Jones his desired $45-plus million could make more sense than another one-year rental. Regardless, Barkley’s contract would likely be a problem a year from now, even if it’s affordable next season.

So, while tagging Jones and extending Barkley may seem like an easy answer, it isn’t. It would be a short-term solution at best and a looming cap crisis at its worst.

Why Jones Has to Be the No. 1 Offseason Priority

If the Giants were close to getting a deal done with Jones, then re-signing him and tagging Barkley would be entirely logical—though that proverbial ship has likely sailed.

New York now has no choice but to tag Jones, and there are a couple of reasons why. The first—and most obvious—is that the Giants know they can be a playoff team with him at the helm. They created a foundation in 2022 to build upon, and starting over at quarterback could potentially put New York right back in the NFC basement.

Are there alternatives? Sure, but they’re limited. Derek Carr is the top free-agent quarterback and has already met with the Jets.

If the Giants end up in a bidding war for Carr, his asking price could quickly outpace Jones’.

Veterans like Jimmy Garoppolo or Jacoby Brissett could serve as serviceable starters, but neither possesses the youth or the physical upside of the 25-year-old Jones.

Aaron Rodgers? New York should avoid that route entirely. While acquiring Rodgers in a post-June 1 deal would only cost $15.8 million in 2023 cap space, it would likely cost the Giants multiple high draft picks and any semblance of future quarterback certainty.

Rodgers is a 39-year-old with declining skills who might provide an answer for a year or two, at most. While New York is good enough to start seriously building toward title contention, it’s not ready to go all-in on the 2023 season.

Chasing a quarterback in April’s draft would also be a total gamble. Prospects like Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud, Alabama’s Bryce Young, Florida’s Anthony Richardson and Kentucky’s Will Levis have intriguing potential but are completely unproven. With the Giants holding the 26th overall pick, it’s unlikely they could land one of them anyway.

Barring some sort of tag-and-trade deal for Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, keeping Jones is the best option for New York. And if that means losing Barkley, it should be viewed as an acceptable risk.

As great as Barkley is when healthy, he’s still a 26-year-old running back limited by injuries in three of his five seasons. Finding an adequate, if unequal, replacement for him will be easier than replacing Jones.

The Giants might not be willing to pay another Pro Bowl running back like Josh Jacobs, Tony Pollard or Miles Sanders in free agency. However, if they reach the market, their presence will drive down the price of other quality starters like D’Onta Foreman, Damien Harris, Jamaal Williams and Raheem Mostert.

New York may be picking too low to draft Texas’ Bijan Robinson—a prospect Tim Bielik of Cleveland.com called “the most talented running back to enter an NFL draft since Barkley.”

However, a rookie like Alabama’s Jahmyr Gibbs could step in and start immediately for New York.

“Few other running backs in this class can even sniff his ability to ruin tackling angles and turn routine runs into chunk plays,” Derrik Klassen of the Bleacher Report Scouting Department wrote.

While the Giants might not be able to find another Barkley this offseason, they don’t need to. What they need to do is identify and secure a quarterback who can be their starter for the next decade-plus.

New York owes it to itself to find out if Jones can be that quarterback, even if it means letting a generational running back finish his career elsewhere.

*Cap and contract information via Spotrac.

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