715 days. That is how long it has been since we have seen New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley be SAQUON BARKLEY, unstoppable, do-everything freak-of-nature superstar.
On that day nearly two full years ago, 11 months and 14 days to be exact, Barkley was better than he has ever been. He carried the ball 22 times for 189 yards, 8.59 yards per carry. He had four receptions for 90 yards and a touchdown, ending up with 279 yards of total offense and two touchdowns against the Washington Redskins (yes, they were the Redskins at the time).
Barkley had a 67-yard touchdown run. He had a 33-yard touchdown reception. He had a 52-yard reception. He had runs of 33 and 20 yards.
In the ‘Kudos & Wet Willies’ after that performance I wrote that Barkley was “Explosive, decisive, impossible for a single defender to bring down in the open field.”
Barkley is averaging 3.6 yards per carry this season. Football Outsiders has Barkley for -29 Yards Above Replacement, a DYAR (Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement) of +2 and a DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value over Average) of -7.8 percent.
In two games since returning from his Week 5 ankle injury, Barkley has carried 19 times for 65 yards (3.4 yards per carry).
After Sunday’s game against the Eagles, in which he did have a 32-yard run despite gaining only 40 yards on 13 carries, Barkley was asked if he needed that explosive run to prove to himself he still had that ability.
The running back bristled.
“I know I can do it. I already know I can do it. A win is a win, but I know I’m going to continue to get better and better each week and each day. Continue to trust myself, trust my body, but I know it’s not like – what’s the Space Jam monster’s name – it’s not like something came and just took everything away from him. I’ve still got it,” Barkley said. “I’ve just got to do it more. I’ve got to be more productive in the run game for us. We’ve got to be more productive in the run game as a whole.”
I have come to refer to the pre-2018 high-ankle sprain version of Barkley as the ALL CAPS version of Barkley. He stood out. He was almost always the best player on the field.
Now would be a good time for that version of Barkley to make an appearance. If, of course, ALL CAPS Barkley still exists after three straight seasons of dealing with leg injuries.
The Giants will be without quarterback Daniel Jones today. The Giants average only 18.4 points per game (26th in the NFL) with their quarterback and second-leading rusher. Veteran Mike Glennon is 6-21 as an NFL starter and his 109 career rushing yards are less than half the 298 Jones has this season. So, the Giants won’t have the quarterback run game without Jones.
The Dolphins have won four straight games. They have surrendered only 11.5 points per game during that stretch. They boast a ridiculously aggressive defense that blitzes on 38.4 percent of passing downs, per ProFootballReference, second only to Tampa Bay’s 38.8 percent blitz rate.
While that means they can wreak havoc in the backfield, that all-out aggression can create opportunities for the Giants, as well.
“They’re playing really well,” Glennon said this week in regards to the Miami defense. “They create challenges obviously with their pressure looks. That’s something that we know that we’re going to have to do a good job of if we want to win this game. Obviously, it’s been something that we’ve spent a lot of time on this week, and I think we have a good plan and how to attack it.”
It would be nice for the Giants to see Barkley pop a few runs through a blitzing Miami defense and then work some magic in a secondary with fewer defenders to handle him due to the blitz.
Giants running backs coach Burton Burns thinks Barkley is “still the same guy” he has always been.
“He’s just had these little bumps in the road with the injuries. Just gotta overcome those to get back on track,” Burns said. “I think he’s like anybody else who’s had these injuries. He came back from the knee injury making great progress, he had a temporary setback with the ankle injury. I think the way he works through these things,
“I don’t even know what the chart is – where he should be, where he shouldn’t be. I know one thing about the guy – his attitude is good, he’s ready to work every day. I don’t know how you judge how many yards he gets or he doesn’t get, if he’s healthy or not healthy. I just think he’s making great progress in all this.”
Have the injuries taken something from Barkley? Is he not as explosive as he was back in the seemingly long-ago days of 2018?
“I don’t know that. I just see him every day, I see him working and I see him being explosive enough … I just see what I see every day. He is that guy. He’s got a lot of ability,” Burns said.
The Giants need that ability to show itself on Sunday.
There are also long-term implications.
The subject of Barkley’s long-term future with the Giants is also out there — call it the elephant in the room if you wish.
Barkley will almost certainly be a Giant next season. His fifth-year option has been picked up. Beyond that, though, is anyone’s guess. While co-owners John Mara and Steve Tisch may hope Barkley is a career-long Giant, the head coach and probably the general manager involved in the decision won’t be the ones who were on board when the Giants drafted Barkley No. 2 overall in 2018.
The New England Patriots way has been rarely, if ever, to overpay players. Or, pay for past performance when the future in uncertain. Judge, of course, is steeped in that Patriot way. There is speculation that a potential replacement for Dave Gettleman could possess a similar background.
There is also plenty of evidence that there is a good chance a big second contract for a running back will be money poorly spent. ESPN’s Bill Barnwell recently took a look at the hits and misses of eight running backs who recently got big second contracts. [Insider only]
Here is part of what Barnwell wrote:
So, should teams not pay running backs?
I don’t think it’s as simple as saying that paying any running back is a bad idea. We’ve seen some deals work out, like the four-year, $24.5 million pact Ekeler signed with the Chargers. The Seahawks were thrilled with the first contract they gave Marshawn Lynch, which was for four years and $30 million in 2012. That would be the equivalent of a four-year, $45 million deal on today’s cap. Good results do happen. Teams also want to keep their locker rooms happy, and refusing to incentivize backs who play well with extensions might hurt in the big picture, although I think this effect is probably overstated. The Steelers didn’t fall apart, as an example, when they failed to come to terms on a deal with Bell.
What we do see, though, is that teams probably want to be more patient and creative with running back deals than they are at other positions. The extensions handed out to first-round picks after three years for Gurley, Elliott and McCaffrey have been middling or worse. If those teams had gone year-to-year, I’m not sure any of those players would have received a meaningful second contract. Organizations feel more pressure to pay players taken later in the draft after year three because their contracts expire after four seasons, but we’ve seen teams wait and get an extra year of production, like the Titans did with Henry.
We’re also seeing an effect where players drafted in the first round have friendlier fifth-year options than we would see at other positions. Barkley’s fifth-year option in 2022, as an example, costs only $7.2 million. That’s actually a pay cut from the $7.8 million Barkley averaged on the first four years of his rookie deal. That extra season makes it easier for a team to go year-to-year and also creates more leverage when it comes to negotiating extensions.
Right now, it’s hard to imagine the Giants doing anything other than going year-to-year with Barkley. To change that, he needs some of those ALL CAPS performances the remainder of this season and next season.