Does latest injury put Saquon Barkley’s long-term future with Giants in jeopardy?
ARLINGTON, Texas — Saquon Barkley rose from the bench and immediately shook his head. He knew this feeling — his legs betraying him again, and now at the worst possible time. He sat back down and waited for the cart.
Another season, another early injury for Barkley, the Giants’ star running back. This one was obvious from the moment Giants trainers removed his left cleat and a TV camera caught Barkley’s ankle swelling to softball size.
The former Penn State standout didn’t return to Sunday’s costly 44-20 loss at the Cowboys, during which the Giants also lost quarterback Daniel Jones (concussion) and wide receiver Kenny Golladay (knee). And there’s no telling when we’ll see Barkley again, as his comeback/contract year stalls.
The durability issues aren’t Barkley’s fault, but they are issues nonetheless, as the Giants decide whether he’s actually worth a long-term, lucrative contract next offseason.
Recent history shows that giving a running back a monster second contract is already a risky move. But what about a running back who can’t stay on the field?
Even when Barkley returns, you have to wonder how much he’ll be impacted. Remember, in 2019, Barkley suffered a high right ankle sprain in Week 3. He played through it and still appeared in 13 games, but wasn’t as dominant as his rookie season of 2018.
Last season, Barkley suffered a serious right knee injury, including a torn ACL, in Week 2. He returned in time for Week 1 this season — and was just beginning to find rhythm and show flashes of his big-play ability. But he couldn’t make it through Week 5 healthy.
Barkley got hurt with 6:13 remaining in the first quarter Sunday. He limped off, was examined by trainers on the bench, tried testing his ankle, and grimaced at what he felt. A couple minutes later, he was carted to the locker room, as he waved away a TV camera in frustration.
This has to be getting old for Barkley, all these early season injuries, big and small. He knows what this season meant, and perhaps still means — his chance to show he can thrive again, to show he deserves millions more dollars, instead of playing 2022 on the fifth-year option in his rookie contract. Barkley’s four-year, $31.1 million contract expires after this season.
There’s another factor: Who will be the Giants’ general manager? Barkley was Dave Gettleman’s controversial pick, and if there’s a new GM after this season— more likely with every loss — the new front office might not share Gettleman’s view of throwing a lot of money at a feature running back, especially when the Giants likely will have a slew of needs.
A big-money second contract for a running back can work. The Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott is playing well this season, after a down year in 2020. The Titans’ Derrick Henry has more than justified his second contract. But for every Elliott and Henry, there is a Le’Veon Bell, Todd Gurley or Devonta Freeman. They all failed on a second contract.
The reality is, if Barkley had a fully healthy comeback season in 2021 and played reasonably well, the Giants probably would hand him a large new deal next offseason. But now what, after this latest early season injury, one that might not just disappear when he returns?
There’s also this fact: Entering Sunday, the Giants were 9-26 in games Barkley played, and 7-10 in games he didn’t. So they haven’t completely bottomed out with him on the sideline. And now that’s a challenge they face yet again this season, at 1-4.