Saquon Barkley didn’t want the franchise tag, but the New York Giants gave him no choice. General manager Joe Schoen is trying to make the best of an awkward situation, but he’s admitted there currently isn’t a long-term contract on the table for Barkley.
It means the Giants need an alternative to Barkley, either now, or a season from now. That need puts an interesting perspective on the Giants meeting Tulane’s “electric” Tyjae Spears during the running back’s pro day, per The Draft Network’s Ryan Fowler:
Fowler’s endorsement of Spears’ talents is encouraging for the Giants, who have declined to recruit a veteran replacement for Barkley during 2023 NFL free agency. Instead, Schoen tagged Barkley and brought his deputy, Matt Breida, back on a one-year deal.
Drafting Spears would give the Giants a potential Barkley successor possessing breakaway speed, good hands and scheme versatility. All the things that would make Spears a bargain outside the first round.
Tulane Star a Great Value Pick for Giants
Barkley gives the Giants a big-play threat on the ground, something Spears would replicate. He averaged 6.8 yards per carry during four years at Tulane, according to Sports Reference.
Spears showed off his ability to stretch the field with this 60-yard touchdown run against UCF back in December:
Another run, this one against Cincinnati and highlighted by Nick Falato of SB Nation’s Big Blue View, showed how sudden and elusive Spears is in traffic:
Both of these plays offer a clear blueprint for how the Giants might operate a running game led by Spears. He’s run out of the pistol formation on read-option-style plays.
The same design suits the Giants as long as mobile quarterback Daniel Jones is taking the snap from center. His own rushing threat, amply proved by a career-high 708 yards and seven scores last season, keeps defenses guessing when combined with a dynamic running back.
Speed and subtle moves define Spears as a runner, but he’s also a useful receiver. Soft hands and nifty moves after the catch were evident on this grab and run against USC, highlighted by Anthony Rivardo of Empire Sports Media:
A prolific backfield receiver is an essential part of the Giants’ offense on the watch of head coach Brian Daboll and coordinator Mike Kafka. They designed plays to help Barkley tie for the team lead with 57 receptions last season.
Barkley was the focal point of Daboll and Kafka’s playbook as a true bell-cow back. Spears doesn’t fit the traditional profile of a workhorse, but the 5’10”, 190-pounder would initially thrive as a change-of-pace and third-down option to complement Barkley.
This selective workload would help prepare Spears if he’s needed to replace Barkley as the featured back a year from now.
Saquon Barkley’s Future Remains Uncertain
Barkley is slated to remain on the books for at least another season, but all that means is the Giants have put off the issue about his future for a year. Team president, CEO and co-owner John Mara knows Barkley isn’t “thrilled about being tagged. But he’s a professional. He understands the business,” per Michael Eisen of Giants.com.
Mara spoke at the annual NFL owners meeting, where Schoen also revealed “there’s no outstanding offer right now,” per Fox Sports’ Ralph Vacchiano:
As Vacchiano noted, Schoen’s stance leaves Barkley having to make peace with playing on the tag. Doing so would give him the chance to play himself into a more lucrative contract with his performances this season.
The best reason for believing Barkley can do just that comes from his 295 carries and 1,312 yards last season. Both are career-best totals, but not enough to convince the Giants to pay up ahead of giving Jones a four-year deal worth $160 million.
Schoen won’t have to make a similar choice next offseason, but if he doesn’t want to pay Barkley on a par with the $16 million annually earned by Christian McCaffrey of the San Francisco 49ers, drafting a possible replacement now makes the most sense.