Bears, Falcons, and Lions Loom as Free Agent Suitors

Bears, Falcons, and Lions Loom as Free Agent Suitors

The 2023 NFL the offseason is going to bring a lot of rumors between free agency and the NFL Draft. A team with several key free agents who have to make costly decisions is the New York Giants. Quarterback Daniel Jones and running back Saquon Barkley are up for multi-year extensions.

The Giants, coming off a surprising 9-7-1 season where first-year head coach Brian Daboll led the franchise to their first playoff win since 2011, are in a tough spot. New York enters the offseason with the fourth-most capped space before restructurings and veteran cuts, but Jones alone could eat up more than half of their $46.9 million space. Paying another big chunk to Barkley may severely limit what the team can do this offseason.

We dive into potential landing spots for Barkley if neither do the Giants franchise label and trade Barkley or allow the fullback to walk free agency. Although there are nine teams with at least $14 million in cap space, not every team needs a running back. Nonetheless, we might see some surprise suitors emerge after the cuts.

Saquon Barkley contract value

Barkley recovered as an elite in 2022 after injuries limited his availability and explosiveness in 2020 and 2021. He played in 15 games in those two years, producing just 627 rushing yards, 323 receiving yards and four total touchdowns. The Giants picked up his fifth-year option as a single flier to see if he would return to his pre-injury form.

It’s safe to say he took the opportunity. Between his bouncy body and the addition of Daboll, Barkley was a true workhorse who should have earned MVP consideration. He was the star of an offense that lacked star talent at quarterback and receiver.

MORE: Ranking of free running back agencies 2023

With 352 touches for 1,650 yards and 10 touchdowns, Barkley is clearly in the top five again. He just turned 26, and it’s fair to project even better effectiveness if he plays with a more talented surrounding cast.

Ralph Vacchiano of Fox Sports reported the Giants offered their $12 million per year lead this season, but Barkley is looking to close in on the top-end money at $16 million per year. It was encouraging that Barkley said he was “realisticabout his salary and not necessarily trying to reset the RB market.

Teams can get creative to help lower that cap hit in Year 1, giving teams that are short of the cap the viability to compete for Barkley.

5 teams that should trade or sign Saquon Barkley

Chicago Bears

It’s hard not to speculate that the Bears are involved with all the top free agents. They have nearly $100 million in open space and an abysmal roster. Their best offensive playmaker besides quarterback Justin Fields is running back David Montgomery, who is also a free agent. Swapping Montgomery for Barkley would be a no-brainer in terms of talent.

Chicago’s heavy approach could lead to massive numbers for Barkley while helping Fields reach his peak as a passer. The Bears finished 2022 with the most rushing yards and the highest yards per carry, thanks in large part to Fields’ historic rushing season. But they need to take the pressure off their third-year QB as soon as possible before he gets hurt or slows his development.

Barkley’s addition as a wide receiver is also notable for offense. The Bears can also handle Barkley’s biggest contract hits upfront, a unique advantage few teams can offer. This means they could theoretically offer a priority deal with an early exit after Barkley turns 28 and is more likely to decline.

Atlanta Falcons

The only team with more rushing attempts than Chicago in 2022 was Atlanta. They also have the second most cap space in the league and lack a star rusher. Because in addition to rookie Tyler Allgeier, Barkley can also be a decoy for a star QB.

The stars must line up for Barkley to partner with a veteran passer like Lamar Jackson or Geno Smith. Otherwise, Atlanta would be spending big on a position they pulled off a big production from with Allgeier, 31-year-old Cordarrelle Patterson and Caleb Huntley.

MORE: Lamar Jackson Landing Spots – Who Could Trade For The Star QB?

It’s justifiable because the franchise needs a star shake. If they don’t trade for a quarterback, they’ll likely consider drafting one in the first round.

But it’s fair to say that Atlanta should also avoid investing in a player who is more of a luxury than a need. Still, it’s possible that Barkley and Jackson’s pairing with high-end deals will be attractive enough for everyone to team up in Atlanta.

Washington Commanders

Washington may be this offseason’s sneaky candidate for a big move. The Commanders will have over $30 million in cap after cutting Carson Wentz, and their only notable free agent is defensive tackle Daron Payne. They can easily make up to $40 million in space even after scoring Payne in the franchise.

Adding Barkley to an offense with two decent but forgettable backs in Brian Robinson and Antonio Gibson would boost unit efficiency. Robinson passed for just 3.9 yards per carry and Gibson was at 3.7. Washington has yet to figure out who the quarterback is now and in the future, but if it’s Sam Howell, he’ll need some help to pull it off.

Barkley will help mask some of the offensive line issues and force defenses to respect his presence. It also fits Ron Rivera’s story of featuring a dominant back in his offense. Barkley’s presence would also help overlook the team’s lack of quality inside blocking as the biggest problem for their running game issues. It wouldn’t be a bad choice for Barkley, but it would be another example of Washington misidentifying the problem.

Detroit Lions

I don’t want to take anything away from NFL-leading Jamaal Williams’ 17 rushing touchdowns, his career high in rushing yards in 2022, or the way D’Andre Swift averaged an absurd 5.5 yards per race. But neither compare to Barkley in terms of talent or efficiency.

With Williams set to hit free agency and Swift again missing a significant chunk of games throughout 2022, the Lions can swing big to run this offseason. Barkley can maximize the spacing that Detroit offensive coordinator Ben Johnson creates with his plan and also improves one of the best offensive lines in the league.

Detroit needs to consider such a massive talent upgrade because they have the rare opportunity to rely more on strength. The Lions have a ton of cap flexibility, and only DJ Chark is a notable free agent.

The likely restructurings and cuts may push them to more than $50 million in cap space, easily justifying a deal with Barkley to maximize their earning power now. It would also eliminate any chance of the Lions using one of their two first-round picks on Bijan Robinson or Jahmyr Gibbs.

Miami Dolphins

Miami feels like a stalker when it comes to hunting down more big names to add to its roster.

The Dolphins can quickly gain tons of cap space with restructures of their top players and a June 1 exit of cornerback Byron Jones. Having quarterback Tua Tagovailoa on his rookie contract would allow for another spending offseason before it wraps up. With Barkley possibly open to taking less than the best possible deal, Miami may be a contender.

MORE: The NFL’s 100 Best Free Agents in 2023

The Dolphins’ rushing game was effective when head coach Mike McDaniel remembered to use it in 2022. Giving him Barkley would help keep the offense from getting too happy. The gap between Barkley, Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr. – two free agents – is incredibly wide. I think the impact would be as big as it was for San Francisco to land Christian McCaffrey mid-season last year.

Signing Barkley would cost some opportunities to upgrade the roster elsewhere. Nonetheless, Miami needs to lean hard for offense with Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen and Joe Burrow still looming. Adding Vic Fangio to bolster their defense could be a notable enough upgrade to put that side of the ball on the back burner.

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