EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – In his locker after practice on Wednesday, Saquon Barkley was focused on three things.
The New York Giants star was gearing up to face the Dallas Cowboys, who will host the Giants on “Sunday Night Football” this week. He thought about his five-year-old daughter Jada, who would start school this year. How had she grown up so quickly? And Barkley was devising a strategy for coaching youth football, even accepting tips.
What Barkley wasn’t focused on: his contract status.
The second overall selection of the 2018 NFL Draft will play for a franchise title this season after failing to reach a long-term deal with the Giants before the July 17 negotiation deadline. Barkley held out through OTAs, mini-camps, and near training camps as his dissatisfaction with the negotiations grew.
Ultimately, the Giants agreed to enrich its $10.1 million franchise title with approximately $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 season in a row due to an expiring deal.
He wants 2023 to show how productive he can be and how much profile he has left. But he insists finances are not at the top of the agenda.
“Obviously my contract stuff and everything was public and talked about,” Barkley said. “When I turned on the TV, I saw that people were talking about myself. But for me, that’s all in the past. Like I said, once I develop the mindset to come here, you have to be mature about it. No hard feelings about it.
So now my back is against the wall again. I have to go out and prove it. I go out and play with my heart and soul, compete at a high level and do what I do best, not only for myself, but also 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, adding another 338 yards in the receiving game. The 1,650 all-purpose yards were Barkley’s best finish since his rookie year; 4.4 yards per carry, his most efficient mark since 2019. And just as importantly, Barkley was healthy enough to play all season—again, something he hadn’t managed since 2018.
He believes he recovered his role and ceiling as a pro last year.
“I look at last year a bit like a rookie year where I get back on the scene and show what I’m capable of,” Barkley said. “Now how can I take it to another level? Whether that’s between tackles, outside tackles, catching the ball, runs.
“I want to take it to the next level and be special.”
The Giants believe Barkley is well positioned to improve on his game from last year. Not only will the group become familiar with Daboll’s principles for the first time, but the Giants have also upgraded their armory this season. Tight end Darren Waller, who could serve as their No. 1 receiving target, highlights an off-season acquisition group that also includes Free Agent Parris Campbell and third-round rookie Jalin Hyatt. Speed was an emphasis. Barkley believes that the defenses that have focused their attention so strongly on his path for the past five years are now watching at their peril.
It’s too soon to know if Barkley will feel the impact of that offensive poise more through open lanes or diminished opportunities. The question is equally whether even a third Pro Bowl season can land him the contract he’s been looking for.
The chaotic RB market will be on display when Giants host Cowboys
The running back market has descended into chaos this offseason, with Josh Jacobs of the Las Vegas Raiders and Jonathan Taylor of the Indianapolis Colts being among those who did not participate in training camp due to contract disputes.
Jacobs eventually followed Barkley’s lead, refusing to sign the franchise label and eventually reaching a reworked one-year deal worth up to $12 million on August 26. Taylor, who is entering the final year of his rookie deal, disagreed with the Colts refusing to even offer him an extension, going so far as to get him cleared to seek an appeal in August. No trading partner presented a deal that tempted the Colts, and Taylor will now miss at least the first four weeks of the season while listed as physically unable to perform.
Barkley said he “didn’t really follow Taylor’s dispute that closely, to be honest.” He is “well aware of everything that is happening in the league… but for me I just stay focused on my own job.”
Closer to that job this week will be the franchise running back taking on Barkley’s Giants on “Sunday Night Football”, with Tony Pollard, the lone one, tapping back to sign his deal without a fuss. Pollard had less clout than his counterparts, due to a post-season broken leg and a rookie contract that saw him trail Ezekiel Elliott on the depth chart. And yet its efficiency was outstanding.
Pollard averaged 5.2 yards per carry last season and amassed 1,378 all-purpose yards and 12 total touchdowns. That was of Elliott received 248 touches. What can Pollard do as a top defender?
“I think ‘evolve’ is the word to go for,” quarterback Dak Prescott, working with Lowe’s Home Team, told Yahoo Sports. “He has done a great job leading the core running backs all through the offseason and into training camp. And I’m excited.
“Obviously he has an injury and I am sure there is a lot of doubt. But by understanding the way he approached his rehabilitation and understanding the player that he is, who takes care of his body and cares deeply about the game and his teammates, he will have a great year.”
That is also Barkley’s goal: to win the season and every step of it, hoping that in the end that will be enough to get him his payday. He spoke more publicly this summer about his frustration with the Giants’ appreciation for him. But as the season rolls on, he plans to compartmentalize his long-term goals.
“I think I would be doing myself a disservice if I got too caught up in my future and worried about what’s going to happen and was a giant for life,” said Barkley. “I have to live in the moment. I have to live in the now.
“Let the rest take care of itself.”