EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — As Saquon Barkley, the Giants’ star running back, jogged from the huddle during a drill Wednesday at a training camp practice, the couple hundred fans in attendance chanted his name in rhythmic cadence.
He did not seem to react, simply trotting to his position in the backfield.
Their jubilation was shared by teammates who felt a measure of relief that Barkley had even shown up. After nearly a year of negotiations, the Giants and Barkley failed to reach a long-term deal by the July 17 deadline, prompting speculation that Barkley might sit out part or all of training camp and the regular season in protest.
The stalemate was temporarily resolved Tuesday, the first day Giants veterans could report to camp, when the team signed Barkley to a one-year contract reportedly worth $11 million, along with a $2 million signing bonus. With more upfront money and incentives, the deal was a marginal improvement over his prospects playing under the franchise tag, the average salary of the top five players at that player’s position. The tag would have paid him $10.09 million had Barkley not declined it.
“It makes a difference when he’s out there,” Giants quarterback Daniel Jones said in a news conference. “He makes a difference with his play and how it feels and his leadership, his communication and bringing guys along.”
Last season, the Giants’ surprising 9-7-1 record and their first playoff berth since the 2016 season depended heavily on their rushing attack: The team recorded the N.F.L.’s fourth-most rushing yards (led by Barkley’s 1,312) in 2022. The ground game allowed Jones to thrive with play-action passes and efficient short throws after struggling with turnovers earlier in his career.
Jones was rewarded in March with a four-year contract extension that included $82 million in guaranteed money. Andrew Thomas, the offensive tackle who serviceably protects Jones and creates holes for Barkley, signed a five-year deal on Wednesday with a reported $65 million in guaranteed money.
But the future of Barkley, who accounted for 27.7 percent of the team’s yards from scrimmage last season, remains unsettled.
“We came to kind of a landing spot and they came to a landing spot and we couldn’t bridge the gap,” General Manager Joe Schoen said Wednesday.
Schoen added: “He’s a very good player. He’s a good teammate. He’s somebody that we tried hard and long to get a deal done with but we’re a better football team with Saquon here to start training camp.”
Despite the absence of a long-term deal, Barkley’s availability for at least the 2023 season allows the Giants to build upon the success they established last year, in Coach Brian Daboll’s first season and without a No. 1 receiving threat. The team in March traded a third-round draft pick for the former Pro Bowl tight end Darren Waller, who made a juggling catch between two defenders for a touchdown on Wednesday, flashing his agility and his effectiveness near the goal line.
The Giants also selected receiver Jalin Hyatt in the third round of the 2023 draft, hoping his and Waller’s additions will give Jones more receiving options and enable the offense to attack downfield more frequently.
“His job is to make good decisions and lead the team down to score points regardless of a new contract or anything like that,” Daboll said of Jones in a news conference. “That’s his job. So he has to focus on continual improvement just like everybody else does.”
A more varied passing game should also create more rushing lanes for Barkley, who will again angle for a long-term deal from the Giants or another suitor.
If Barkley performs well this season, the Giants could offer him a longer deal or again offer him the franchise tag, which Barkley would almost certainly decline. The team could also allow him to walk as an unrestricted free agent, opening the possibility for him to play for a team other than the Giants, who drafted him No. 2 overall pick in 2018.
Barkley, a two-time Pro Bowl selection, played in 16 regular season games in 2022, an important improvement after he had missed 21 games from 2019 through 2021 with ankle and knee injuries after winning the offensive rookie of the year. His contract gridlock aligns with a leaguewide trend: a depressed appetite for highly paid running backs as offenses shift to a rusher-by-committee approach.
Barkley added Ed Perry of Creative Arts Agency to his negotiation team with Kim Miale of Roc Nation, his agent since his rookie year, to assist in contract talks with the Giants.
Barkley did not speak to the news media on Wednesday, but spent time after practice taking photos with fans and signing autographs in an area shaded from the glaring sun.
Jones said he had not seen any change in Barkley’s demeanor despite the prickly negotiations.
“He’s excited to be here,” Jones said. “He’s come to work. He’s the same leader, the same presence in the locker room and just who he is and how important the team is to him. He understands his role on it, and how impactful he can be on other guys.”