The CEO receives a shocking and unambiguous message from Tyrod Taylor: “I want to suffer.”

Joe Schoen was sitting alone in his office last week when the good news was delivered. The NFL salary cap had exploded to $255.4 million. It was nearly $15 million more than the “conservative” estimate the New York Giants were using to make their offseason plans.Giants' WR group has potential, but clearly still needs a star - Big Blue View

So when the Giants general manager opened up that email from the league, he also opened up a very big door.

Suddenly, the return of Saquon Barkley seemed a lot more possible than it did before. The “franchise tag” was an option for the running back again, Schoen said. They even had a little more room to maneuver if they wanted to sign him to a new contract, too.

But that last part might really be up to Barkley, who has said over and over that he wants to be a “Giant for life.” Because while the Giants’ cap situation has changed, the value of running backs in the NFL hasn’t.

And if Barkley doesn’t finally accept that, there might not be a deal to make.

“I wouldn’t say his value has changed, especially in the organization,” Schoen said on Tuesday at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. “He’s a captain, he’s a leader, he’s a hard worker. I think the world of Saquon and I still think he can play. So, my value for Saquon really hasn’t changed.

“I think we’ve all grown — Saquon myself, the organization — through the last 12, 13, 14 months. Saquon may be in a different place now than he was then in terms of understanding the market and the business side of it.”

Surely Barkley understands the reality of the business better after enduring several rounds of negotiations over a nine-month period in 2022-23 and still not coming to a long-term deal with the Giants. Their best offer to him would have guaranteed him about $23 million over the 2023 and 2024 seasons — about the equivalent of two “franchise tags.” He passed and played on a renegotiated franchise tag deal last season, earning about $11 million so he could try again at a bigger payday now.

Barkley has said he wants a deal that’s “fair.” But what’s fair for him may be too expensive for the Giants. He is surely looking at the three-year, $42 million extension the Indianapolis Colts gave running back Jonathan Taylor during last season — though even that deal only included about $25 million in guarantees. But that deal is also an outlier in a running back market that has been increasingly depressed in recent years.

In that environment, it would be hard for Schoen to argue that he should increase his last, best offer from last July, because it’s not like Barkley’s value has gone up since then. He missed three games with a sprained ankle last season — the fourth time in six NFL seasons he’s missed at least that many. He ran for just 962 yards on 3.9 yards per carry and caught only 41 passes for 280 yards.

And though it was hardly his fault, the Giants had the third-worst offense in the NFL, ranked just 23rd in rushing, and were 6-8 even when Barkley was able to stay on the field.

Now, not only is he a year older (he turned 27 on Feb. 9), Barkley also has to deal with the fact that the running back market is flooded with free agents. Josh Jacobs, Derrick Henry, Austin Ekeler and D’Andre Swift, are all currently scheduled to be available when the market opens in two weeks. And there’s a strong second tier too, with J.K. Dobbins, Devin Singletary, A.J. Dillon and Zach Moss, who could be bargains for somebody’s backfield, likely on one-year deals.

Maybe none of them are as good as, or as valuable to the Giants as Barkley. But surely the Giants could find someone in that group who could match the 75.8 rushing yards per game he’s had over the last two seasons — and probably for a lot less guaranteed money, too.

“I know he says he wants a fair deal and I appreciate that,” Schoen said. “Ultimately, we’ve got to do what’s best for the franchise short term and long term. We’ll take all those things into account.”

There is no doubt the Giants are better with Barkley — and they know it. He’s not just their most popular player and a strong leader in their young locker room, but he’s been their best player when he’s healthy. A shifty, explosive running back like him changes what they do on offense. His presence even enhanced the danger of quarterback Daniel Jones — especially back in 2022 — giving defenses something else to worry about before they tried to figure out whether Jones planned to drop back and throw or run.

But “what’s best for the franchise” may not mean bringing back their best player. Even with the unexpected increase in the salary cap, the Giants are only projected to have a little over $30 million in cap room. They’ll need a good chunk of that to either re-sign safety Xavier McKinney (who might get $13-15 million per year) or replace him to give new defensive coordinator Shane Bowen the safeties he needs to run his scheme. They’ll need to re-sign Tyrod Taylor or another veteran quarterback, which is critically important with Jones rehabbing a torn ACL and uncertain for Opening Day.

More importantly, they need offensive line help — lots and lots of help. They probably need to add at least one veteran starter, and several others for depth. Add in a receiver, a corner to replace free agent Adoree’ Jackson, and … well, even they can make cuts to add another $10 million to their cap space, that $40 million will go fast.

Schoen said the $12.1 million franchise take is “not off the table” for Barkley, though he added that “In a perfect world, we don’t want to do that again.” Ideally, he’d re-sign Barkley to a deal that lowers that number at least for 2024.

He plans to meet with Barkley’s agent — Ed Berry of Creative Artists Agency — in Indianapolis this week to see if that’s possible. Schoen will tell him again how important Barkley is to his team, to his locker room, and why the Giants are willing to pay more to him than they would be to any other running back on the market.

“That’s why you go to a player like that and you try to extend him,” Schoen said, “and you stretch and you stretch and you stretch …”

Left unsaid is that Schoen and the Giants stretched about as far as they were willing to reach last July and still it wasn’t enough to get Barkley to re-sign what would’ve only been a two-year deal. He chose to take his chances again this offseason, to show the Giants he was more valuable than they thought.

But he’s just not. Not in this market. Not at his age, with his injury history. Not with this many good running backs in the free-agent pool.

Maybe there is a team out there — like, perhaps the Los Angeles Chargers — who’ll give Barkley a contract he believes is “fair.” The Giants, though, have almost certainly already given Barkley their best shot. They love Barkley. But when it comes to a 27-year-old, injury-prone running back, they know their limits.

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