Giants GM: Higher cap means Saquon Barkley tag still possible

INDIANAPOLIS -- Although it might be unlikely that the New York Giants will use the franchise tag on running back Saquon Barkley, that option is not completely off the table, according to general manager Joe Schoen.

The NFL salary cap surprisingly coming in at $255.4 million has altered the Giants' thinking. New York was previous conservatively planning around a salary cap in the range of $241 million to $243 million.

"I wouldn't say the franchise tag is off the table," Schoen said. "I think the new number, if we were going to franchise somebody for the first time at that position, is like 11.9 [million dollars]. The salary cap changes your philosophy and how you're going to attack things. So, that's not off the table."

A second straight tag for Barkley would be $12.1 million. But it also wouldn't be openly embraced. Barkley has been adamant over the past 18 months about not wanting to be tagged.

The team is expected to speak with Barkley's agent, CAA's Ed Berry, later this week at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis.

That was always the plan.

"In a perfect world, we don't want to [franchise Barkley] again," Schoen said. "But again, we're going to have conversations, we're going to talk through it, and I know he says he wants a fair deal. And I appreciate that. But we have to do what is best for the franchise long term and short term and take all those things into account."

ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Monday that the Giants were going to explore a deal with Barkley and that it was "unlikely" they would use the tag. That still seems to be the case.

Schoen mentioned that there were a lot of notable veteran running backs expected to hit the market. It is expected to be a strong free agent class at a position that has seen its value crater in recent years.

The Giants are looking at Barkley's worth through the prism of "running back market value" over what he brings to the team, according to Schoen. Barkley remains their best offensive player after rushing for 962 yards and six touchdowns last season.

If they can find common ground, which didn't happen despite months of talks last year, Schoen still wants Barkley to return.

"He's a guy we would like to have back," he said.

The same holds true for safety Xavier McKinney, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent. A tag -- maybe even the transition tag -- remains an option for him as well.

"Xavier is another player we'd like to have back," Schoen said. "He's 24 years old. He's a captain. He played 100% of the snaps. We think a lot of X and look forward to get in the negotiating period here later this week."

Schoen said that he has spoken to McKinney in recent weeks but that the two sides had not yet begun contract negotiations.

Schoen also said that quarterback Daniel Jones has progressed to stationary throwing as he rehabs off a torn ACL in his right knee. He could even be back on the field practicing in the spring.

"He is on track," Schoen said. "He is doing everything he can to get back. We're optimistic where he is. There is some talk in the spring that he may be able to go through -- whether it's 7-on-7, individual or throwing routes on air -- that he'll be able to do that stuff. We probably won't expose him to team activities, but every patient responds differently to surgery.

"But knock on wood, we haven't had any setbacks, he hasn't had any setbacks, and if he continues on that pace, he should be ready for the start of training camp."

It still seems likely that Jones will be the Giants' starting quarterback in Week 1, regardless of how they address the position in free agency or the draft.

"I have faith in Daniel," Schoen said. "I have faith in Daniel as our starting quarterback."