LAS VEGAS — In the case of Saquon Barkley and the Giants, the most complex of contract negotiations has the simplest solution.
The Giants should take Barkley at his word and let the free-agent market determine his value, with the handshake agreement that he will bring his best offer back to the table before signing elsewhere. Put an end to haggling over whether he is worth approximately $23 million guaranteed on a three-year contract, as the Giants offered at their max, or slightly more, as Barkley sought, per sources.
That means no second franchise tag before the March 5 deadline to keep Barkley from negotiating with other teams. No debilitating $12.1 million charge on the Giants’ salary cap. No more tension if the sides cannot agree on a multiyear contract when they meet later this month.
“I wouldn’t be against that,” Barkley told The Post when pitched the hypothetical scenario during an exclusive interview at Super Bowl LVIII. “That’s fair.”
As long as the Giants trust Barkley, the ultimate decision still would rest with Joe Schoen and Brian Daboll in a pivotal year: Retain the best playmaker in the NFL’s third-lowest scoring offense or move on from a running back with an injury history who turned 27 years old Friday because analytics suggest a decline is coming.
“They know where I want to be,” Barkley said. “Ownership said they want me to be a Giant for life, too. Last year, we tried our best at the end. Business happened, and we didn’t get it done.”
If Barkley is right about what he is worth, the Giants can match or top his best offer and manipulate the salary-cap charge to be less than the tag in 2024 — or let Barkley walk, say he was out of their price range and try the alternative method of a rotation of young, cheap backs as the money is redirected to other pressing needs.
If Barkley is wrong, the Giants could re-sign him for less than imagined.
“I’m not hard to work with. I know sources came out to try to make it seem like I’m greedy, but it’s not even close to being like that,” Barkley said. “They know where my heart is. If it doesn’t work, I get it. Hey, it’s not like my football career is over.”
Barkley’s annual appearance on Super Bowl Radio Row and seeing an elite running back in the game — the 49ers’ Christian McCaffrey — offered a reminder of what’s important in the back half of his career.
“I want to win a Super Bowl,” Barkley said. “No matter what, from here on out, I just want to be competitive, whether it’s with the Giants or somewhere else.
“There’s so much more good football inside of me. Christian is a year older than me, and I think he is the best running back in the NFL, but I think I’m just as talented. Hopefully, I can continue to show that.”
The Giants have missed the playoffs in five of Barkley’s six seasons. The exception was Barkley’s career-best year, which led to the tag after he rejected an early offer with a higher annual average but less guaranteed money than where talks ended.
“I don’t think I made any decisions wrong,” Barkley said. “Once they tagged me, the conversation switched, which is expected because they had all the leverage.”
Barkley’s leverage could be the Giants’ need to bounce back fast from a 5-12 season.
“Can we continue adding pieces? Of course. Every team can,” Barkley said. “I think Dabes is a great coach. Last year didn’t go our way at all, but I believe the Giants can continue to be a contender.”
Let the market determine if he is a part of it.