The New York Giants are "cautiously optimistic" that they can reach long-term deals with quarterback Daniel Jones and running back Saquon Barkley, who are both set to become free agents and are also candidates for the franchise tag.
Barkley's future remains more uncertain, but Giants general manager Joe Schoen reiterated Tuesday that Jones will return in some capacity -- whether under a new deal or the tag.
The Giants admittedly weren't close with Barkley when the sides discussed a new deal last year. A source told ESPN said that the Giants offered the 2018 No. 2 draft pick a deal worth between $12 million and $13 million annually.
Schoen believes, however, that the Giants and Barkley have made some progress since those negotiations.
"We haven't totally bridged [the difference]. We're a little bit closer," Schoen said at the NFL scouting combine. "There's still a gap, [otherwise] would've done it. We'll still work through that. We're working with Roc Nation and [agent] Kim [Miale]. We have a great relationship with them and her."
Barkley, 26, just completed his first fully healthy season since his rookie year and finished as the NFL's fourth-leading rusher with 1,310 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns.
Working against Barkley are the widespread anticipation of a strong group of running backs available in free agency and an equally strong group of incoming rookies at the position. While the Giants appear willing to go all-out to assure that Jones returns, the same doesn't seem to be the case with Barkley -- in part because of the position he plays.
"Again, you have to draw a line in the sand -- like we're not going any further," Schoen said. "And if it goes past this [line], alright, let's shift to Plan B. Again, hopefully we don't get to all that but we went through all these plans."
The Giants are hoping to have more clarity by the start of free agency on March 15. The deadline to use their franchise tag is the previous week on March 7. Negotiations remain ongoing, and the Giants' brass is expected to meet with representatives for both Jones and Barkley this week at the combine.
"We've had productive conversations with both of their representatives, and the goal is to hopefully get something done," Schoen said.
Jones, who switched agents from CAA to Athletes First earlier this offseason, could be seeking $45 million or more per season, according to a recent report by ProFootballTalk.
Schoen was asked about that specific number.
"I'm not going to get into that," he responded. "I don't want to get any divide on that stuff. We're going to keep the negotiations between the two parties, and I think it's best to do it that way."
If $45 million annually is in fact the range that Jones is looking for in his new deal, the franchise tag seems the Giants' most likely option even if it's not their first choice. The non-exclusive franchise tag for a quarterback is $32.4 million.
The Giants are approximately $50 million under the salary cap after informing wide receiver Kenny Golladay of his release earlier Tuesday. Allocating just over $30 million on Jones under the tag would undoubtedly limit their flexibility.
"Yeah, it's going to limit the resources that you can use from outside the building," Schoen said. "[The unrestricted free agents] you like, it's going to limit the price point or tier of player that you're going to be able to get. It's definitely going to affect it from that standpoint. You're going to have to draft and try to supplement the roster around him with young talent."