EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – After practice on Wednesday, Saquon Barkley focused on three things at his locker.
The New York Giants’ star running back was preparing for the Dallas Cowboys, who host the Giants this week on “Sunday Night Football.” He thought about the fact that his five-year-old daughter, Jada, would be going to school for the first time this year. How had she grown up so quickly? And Barkley considered how to coach youth soccer and even took tips.
What Barkley didn’t focus on: his contract status.
The second overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft will play as a franchise player this season after failing to reach a long-term deal with the Giants by the July 17 negotiation deadline. Barkley stayed away from OTAs, minicamps and near-training camps as his dissatisfaction with negotiations grew.
Ultimately, the Giants agreed to bolster his $10.1 million franchise with roughly $1 million in incentives and a $2 million signing bonus, according to multiple reports. Barkley reported to camp and is now preparing for his second straight season with an expiring contract.
He wants 2023 to show how productive he can be and how much profile he still has left. But he insists finances are not the priority.
“Obviously my contract stuff and everything else was public and talked about,” Barkley said. “I would turn on the TV and see myself being talked about. But for me this is all a thing of the past. Like I said, once I get the mindset to come here, you have to be ready for it. No hard feelings about it.
“So now I have my back against the wall again. I have to go out there and prove it. I’m going to go out there and do my best, compete at a high level and do what I do best, not only for myself but for my teammates.”
Can Saquon Barkley get the Giants deal he wants?
Barkley did what he does best at a high level last year in the Giants’ first season under head coach Brian Daboll. The two-time Pro Bowler rushed for 1,312 yards and 10 touchdowns and added another 338 yards in receiving. The 1,650 all-purpose yards were Barkley’s best mark since his rookie year; 4.4 yards per carry, his most efficient mark since 2019. More importantly, Barkley was healthy enough to play the entire season – something he had failed to do again since 2018.
He believes he reestablished his role and ceiling as a pro last year.
“I kind of look at last year as a rookie year, getting back out there and showing what I’m capable of,” Barkley said. “Now how can I take it to another level? Whether between the tackles, outside the tackles, catching the ball or running routes.
“I want to be able to reach a new level and be special.”
The Giants believe Barkley is well-positioned to improve his game compared to last year. Not only is the group being introduced to Daboll’s principles for the first time, but the Giants have also upgraded their weapons inventory this offseason. Tight end Darren Waller, who could serve as their first receiving target, highlights an offseason acquisition group that also includes free-agent signing Parris Campbell and third-round rookie Jalin Hyatt. Speed was the priority. Barkley believes that the defense, which has so distorted its attention his way over the past five years, is now loading the box at its own peril.
It’s too early to tell whether Barkley will feel the impact of this offensive balance more through open lanes or fewer opportunities. It is also questionable whether a third Pro Bowl season can earn him the contract he is seeking.
The chaotic RB market will be on display when the Giants host the Cowboys
The running back market has been thrown into chaos this offseason. Josh Jacobs of the Las Vegas Raiders and Jonathan Taylor of the Indianapolis Colts did not participate in training camp due to contract disputes.
Jacobs eventually followed Barkley’s lead, refusing to sign the franchise agreement and ultimately agreeing to a revised one-year contract worth up to $12 million on August 26. Taylor, who is entering the final year of his rookie contract, objected to the Colts declining to offer him an extension and even received permission to pursue a trade in August. No trade partner came forward with a deal that enticed the Colts, and Taylor will now miss at least the first four weeks of the season while on the physically unable to perform list.
Barkley said he “didn’t really follow Taylor’s argument closely, to be honest.” He’s “aware of everything that’s going on in the league… but I’m just focused on my own lane.”
Closer to that track will be the franchise running back this week as he takes on Barkley’s Giants on “Sunday Night Football.” Tony Pollard, the only one, has come back to sign his contract without much fanfare. Pollard had less impact than his peers due to suffering a broken leg after the season and being on a rookie contract that placed him behind Ezekiel Elliott on the depth chart. And yet his efficiency was outstanding.
Pollard averaged 5.2 yards per carry last season and had 1,378 all-purpose yards and 12 total touchdowns. That was with Elliott received 248 touches. What can Pollard do as a top defenseman?
“I think just ‘developing’ is the right word,” quarterback Dak Prescott, working with Lowe’s Home Team, told Yahoo Sports. “He did a great job leading the core of running backs throughout the offseason and into training camp. And I’m excited.
“Obviously he’s coming off an injury and I’m sure there are a lot of doubts. But if he knows how he approached his rehab and that he’s the player that takes care of his body and cares deeply about the game and his teammates, he’s going to have a heck of a year.”
That’s Barkley’s goal, too: to win the season and every step of the way in the hopes that it will ultimately be enough to get him his payday. Over the summer, he became more public about his frustration with how the Giants evaluated him. But as the season begins, he plans to split his long-term goals.
“I think I would be doing myself a disservice if I got too invested in my future and worried about what was going to happen and be a giant for life,” Barkley said. “I have to live in the moment. I have to live in the now.
“Let the rest take care of itself.”