Packers Landing Spot for 2-Time Pro Bowl RB, Former No. 2 Pick

The Green Bay Packers will be in a the market for at least one running back — if not two — when free agency rolls around in March, and they could be in play for one of the game’s best.

Saquon Barkley, Giants

Green Bay showed real interest in dealing for, and paying, 25-year-old Jonathan Taylor of the Indianapolis Colts at the beginning of the 2023 campaign. That trade never happened and Taylor stayed put, signing an extension with the team that drafted him.

The circumstances that led to the Packers’ interest in Taylor haven’t changed, as a 29-year-old and oft-injured Aaron Jones enters the final year of his contract in 2024 and backup running back AJ Dillon heads to the free-agent market in just shy of six weeks coming off his worst season in the last three years.

Green Bay’s offense was the youngest in the league in 2023, but it also trended toward elite down the stretch of the regular season and into the playoffs under first-year starter Jordan Love. A reliable and resilient running game will be an important complement as Love develops, hopefully into the Packers’ third consecutive Hall of Fame quarterback.

As such, the franchise figures to be on the hunt for a blockbuster talent this offseason, particularly if that player can be had at a reasonable price. Enter New York Giants running back and pending free agent Saquon Barkley.

Saquon Barkley Offers Packers Affordable Alternative to Aaron Jones

New contract projection for Giants RB Saquon Barkley ahead of NFL free agency.

Gary Davenport of Bleacher Report on Tuesday, January 30, authored the case for why Barkley won’t be back with the Giants in 2024. The former No. 2 overall pick in 2018 pushed for a new contract last offseason, though New York ultimately applied the franchise tag to keep him for one year at the price of $10.1 million.

Barkley is one of the better running backs in the NFL when healthy. But he missed three games in 2023, his numbers were down relative to his Pro Bowl season in 2022, and last season’s implosion demonstrated that the Giants’ problems are too extensive to pay big-time money at, arguably, the most devalued position in the NFL.

The Penn State product is an excellent running back, and he’s still just 26. He could be an outstanding complementary piece for a contender. But he’s not a foundational player. No running back is. Paying one big bucks is a luxury, not a necessity. And right now, Barkley is a luxury the Giants cannot afford.

Spotrac projects Barkley’s market value at $9.9 million annually over a new three-year deal. Considering the downturn in annual average salary and guaranteed contract years for running backs over the last several seasons, that projection actually makes Barkley fairly affordable for the level of production a team like Green Bay could reasonably expect from the six-year veteran.

Barkley has earned two Pro-Bowl nods during his NFL career, tallying 5,211 rushing yards and 35 TDs on a career 4.3 yards per carry average across 74 games played, per Pro Football Reference. He has also caught 288 passes for 2,100 receiving yards and 12 TDs.

Aaron Jones Was Awesome During Playoff Run, but May Still Depart Green Bay This Offseason

A.J. Dillon

Jones showed the world that he still has it, rushing for at least 108 rushing yards in five straight games, including Green Bay’s road playoff contests against the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers.

Despite Jones’ late-year resurgence, the seven-year veteran suffered two lower body injuries that forced him out of six regular-season games. The 29-year-old is also entering the final season of a four-year, $48 million deal that carries an onerous $17.6 million salary cap hit. Green Bay can clear $11.3 million off the books by cutting or trading Jones after June 1, which is a meaningful number for a franchise with an estimated $350,000 in available 2024 cap space as of Wednesday.

Of course, the Packers will inevitably clear more cap room. That can be accomplished by various contract restructurings or by parting ways with tentpole players like left tackle David Bakhtiari, who has been great during his tenure in Green Bay but has been healthy enough to play only 13 games over the past three regular seasons.

In any case, the Packers will have more cap room come the official start of free agency on March 13. The team has also shown an interest in getting younger at the running back position, if not necessarily cheaper, and Barkley will likely be available on the market. It’s far from a guarantee that the team and player will unite, but the Giants running back is a player to watch over the comings weeks — particularly where Green Bay is concerned.

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