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Should the Seahawks consider making a trade for Saquon Barkley?

Dallas Cowboys v New York Giants Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

There has been speculation the past few weeks that the New York Giants would be willing to trade running back Saquon Barkley - speculation that was confirmed by the Giants’ new GM, Joe Schoen, a few days ago:

Saquon Barkley is not untouchable. The New York Giants are at least willing to entertain phone calls on the talented running back, new general manager Joe Schoen said Tuesday at the NFL scouting combine.

“We’re still working through that, but I’m open to everything,” Schoen said.

ESPN followed that up with an article on Saturday that dug into what the Giants might get in return for the former #2 overall pick and ... it isn’t much.

One general manager suggested a fourth-round pick. That was the best of the projected compensation for the player the Giants drafted second overall in the 2018 NFL draft.

Another executive said a fifth-round pick.

“If you’re lucky,” he added.

Maybe two fifths, another source estimated.

Why only a Day 3 pick?

One of the issues the Giants face is Barkley’s $7.217M salary this year, which is fully guaranteed due to their decision to exercise his 5th-year option. For a team that’s currently $5,841,002 over the $208.2M salary cap for 2022 (per Spotrac), shedding Barkley’s guaranteed salary makes sense. Unfortunately, there probably aren’t too many teams looking to spend $7.2M for a running back right now.

Note: Barkley is currently slated to be the 8th-highest paid running back in 2022. That may change once the free agency period opens but odds are that Barkley will still be in the top-10.

The bigger issue is that Barkley has missed 21 games over the past 3 seasons.

And Barkley’s production is also a concern.

Barkley’s career-to-date

Saquon Barkley took the league by storm in 2018, rushing for 1,307 yards with 11 touchdowns and adding another 721 yards and 4 more touchdowns as a receiver. That performance earned him a Pro Bowl invitation and the NFL’s Rookie of the Year award.

In 2019, Barkley topped the 1,000-yard mark again, albeit barely (1,003). He added 438 receiving yards and had a total of 8 touchdowns (6 on the ground). He missed 3 games that year though (due to a high ankle sprain he suffered against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and wasn’t anywhere close to 100% when he returned.

In 2020, Barkley suffered an ACL injury in Week 2 which makes his meager stats (19 carries for 34 yards, 6 receptions for 60 yards, 0 TDs) an afterthought in some respects. However, he was fully healthy in Week 1 and his season total of less than 100 yards from scrimmage was almost 2:1 receiving over rushing so 2020 shouldn’t be completely dismissed.

Last season, Barkley appeared in 13 games and produced 593 rushing yards, 263 receiving yards, and 4 total touchdowns (2 each, rushing and receiving). A Week 5 ankle injury (versus the Dallas Cowboys) ended up costing him 4 games and, despite his denial, clearly affected Barkley’s play the rest of the season.

Barkley will be fully healthy heading into the 2022 season and expects to return to his 2018 form. The question is, “Will he?”

Barkley vs. Carson vs. Penny

From an injury / missed time perspective, Barkley’s 21 absences place him in between Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny with Carson having missed 18 games and Penny having missed 26 games from 2019 to 2021.

Likewise, Barkley’s production falls in between Seattle’s 2 primary backs the past 3 seasons:

  • Carson: 2,725 total yards (2,143 rushing + 582 receiving), 21 touchdowns
  • Barkley: 2,391 total yards (1,630 rushing + 761 receiving), 12 total touchdowns
  • Penny: 1,284 total yards (1,153 rushing + 131 receiving), 10 total touchdowns

Interestingly, over the past 3 seasons, both Penny (5.9) and Carson (4.5) have a higher average yards per carry than Barkley (4.1). And their career averages are higher as well - 5.6 for Penny, 4.6 for Carson, 4.5 for Barkley.

Should Seattle consider making a trade?

Taken at face value, a trade for Saquon Barkley doesn’t appear to make a lot of sense.

Reason #1:

Chris Carson has been more productive and missed fewer games than Barkley over the past 3 seasons. And that’s still somewhat the case if we include Barkley’s award-winning rookie season in 2018:

  • Carson: 3,861 total yards (3,116 rushing + 745 receiving), 30 touchdowns
  • Barkley: 4,419 total yards (2,937 rushing + 1,482 receiving), 27 touchdowns

Barkley is clearly the more productive back from a receiving standpoint, but Carson tops him as a running back.

And, for some context on the receiving yards ...

  • Carson: 100 receptions on 123 targets (7.45 yards per reception)
  • Barkley: 190 receptions on 260 targets (7.8 yards per reception)

Reason #2:

Penny was the league’s best running back over the last part of the 2021 season. In Seattle’s final 5 games, Penny rushed for 671 yards on 92 carries (7.3 average) and scored 6 touchdowns.

Projected over a full 17-game season, that level of production would equate to an otherworldly 2,281 yards.

The NFL record is 2,105.

That’s not to say that Penny will break the record in 2022; just that he’s got the talent to do so if everything goes his way.

Fun Fact #1: Rashaad Penny’s 6.3 yards per carry in 2021 was an NFL-best among backs with at least 100 carries.

Fun Fact #2: Penny’s 11 runs of 20+ yards were #3 league-wide, despite his having played in 4 fewer games than the #2 back (Nick Chubb, 12 runs) and 7 fewer games than the #1 back (Jonathan Taylor, 14 runs).

Reason #3:

It is debatable whether there are enough touches in Seattle’s offense to keep 3 productive running backs happy without completely disenchanting Russell Wilson and his highly paid / soon-to-be highly paid receivers (Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf, respectively).

On the flipside of the coin ...

Chris Carson underwent neck surgery in November and Rashaad Penny is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in less than 2 weeks.

If the Seahawks have ANY concerns about Carson being fully healthy and/or if Seattle is uncertain that they’ll be able to re-sign Penny then sending a Day 3 pick to the Giants for Saquon Barkley makes a great deal of sense.

Theoretically ...

From a financial perspective, the Seahawks could afford to have Carson, Penny, and Barkley on the 2022 roster if they were so-inclined.

As noted, Barkley is guaranteed $7.217M this season on his 5th-year option. A new contract could drop that number, but even at $7.217M, it’s not completely egregious.

Chris Carson is under contract in 2022 with a current cap hit of $6.425M.

Penny’s market is expected to be in the $3M range.

Add all of that up and Seattle would be looking at a running back trio with a combined 2022 cap hit of roughly $16.7M - which might sound like a lot, but ...

The combined cost for Barkley + Carson + Penny would be:

  1. About $1.5M less than Ezekiel Elliott will cost the Dallas Cowboys this season ($18.22M); and
  2. Only about $2M more than Derrick Henry will cost the Tennessee Titans ($15M), Alvin Kamara will cost the New Orleans Saints ($14.5M), and Christian McCaffrey will cost the Carolina Panthers ($14.31M)

Bottom line

I firmly believe that Seattle’s intention is to “run it back” with Carson and Penny as their top 2 backs in 2022. If so, Barkley would be an incredibly expensive “insurance policy” against potential injuries to either (or both) of them.

That said, Barkley would be a heck of an upgrade over Alex Collins at RB3.