The question Saquon Barkley was asked on Wednesday, five days before the Giants’ season opener against the Cowboys at MetLife Stadium, had been asked of the franchise running back and will continue to be asked.
Do you want to be a giant for life?
It’s a question rightly asked, because Barkley embodies everything it means to be a giant in New York…and to be a giant for life.
The idea of being a one-team player is romantic. That’s what almost every NFL player wants. But those who stay on a team for an entire career, history has shown, are an anomaly. Even franchise generational players are moving on, because ultimately it’s cold business.
For a time this offseason, it looked like Barkley would be forced to move on, as he and the Giants spent months unsuccessfully trying to negotiate a new contract after four years together.
Barkley, not wanting to miss training camp, which would have benefited neither him nor the team, eventually relented and signed a one-year, $11 million contract with $2 million paid in cash. advance instead of playing for the $10.091 million franchise tender.
Although Barkley hardly plays for rent — his contract ranks third among running backs in the NFL — it’s not the security of the type of long-term deal he wanted.
He’s coming off a strong 2022 season, in which he rushed for 1,312 yards on 295 carries (two career highs), rushed for 10 touchdowns and caught 57 passes for 338 yards. But that obviously wasn’t enough to show Giants general manager Joe Schoen that he was worth a long-term deal. So perhaps an even more productive, albeit prolific, season in head coach Brian Daboll’s second year of offense will convince Schoen to open the checkbook.
“I want to be able to take it to another level and be special,” Barkley said Wednesday after practice. “Everyone is always talking about the legacy and the names on those walls in that locker room and in the indoor facilities, and that’s what I want to be a part of. So hopefully I can start off on the right foot and can continue on a high note in Week 1.”
Sunday night at MetLife would be the right time and place to kick off a new contract campaign for Barkley, who hasn’t had much success against the Cowboys. He played them eight times (all losses) and averaged 58 rushing yards, with two 100-yard games and just two touchdowns.
Barkley has repeatedly insisted that there are no “hard feelings” between him and Giants management over the contract. But human nature can be a mighty beast.
“I’m back against the wall again,” Barkley said. “I have to go out there and prove it, play hard, compete at a high level and do what I do best, not only for myself but also for my teammates.”
His teammates revere him as the captain and emotional leader that he is.
“He’s a humble guy who puts the team first when, for someone in his position, it would be very easy to be selfish and aloof,” wide receiver Darius Slayton told the Post. “From the day he was drafted, he became the face of one of the biggest franchises on the planet. He’s done a great job representing this franchise since he’s been here – on and off the field.
“That’s why it feels like – obviously not the same level – but it’s like Eli Manning and the Giants. They are synonymous together. You say “Eli Manning” and you think “Giants”. You say “Saquon Barkley” and you think “Giants”. ”
Left tackle Andrew Thomas told the Post that Barkley playing in a uniform other than Giants blue is “something that’s hard to think about,” adding, “I hope he’s with us (forever). But he’s with us for this season, so I’m excited to see him this year.
That’s exactly how Barkley — who told The Post’s Paul Schwartz on Aug. 27 of his desire to be a giant for life, saying, “They know how I feel” — approaches 2023.
“I think I would be doing myself a disservice by being too preoccupied with my future and worrying about what’s going to happen and being a giant for life,” he said. “I have to live in the moment, I have to live in the moment and…let the rest take care of itself.”
It will begin Sunday night at MetLife.