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Saquon Barkley’s epiphany: ‘I can show ‘em better than I can tell ‘em’

Barkley loves to play, and he knew that playing was the only way he could really show the value of a star running back

New York Giants Training Camp
Saquon Barkley
Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley admitted on Thursday that there was a point where he thought he would sit out training camp and perhaps games in his contract dispute with the team.

In the end, though, Barkley said he “followed my heart.”

“I had an epiphany,” said Barkley, who used that word four times in a nearly 13-minute long session with media after the team’s second practice of training camp.

“If I sat out this year and we didn’t have a good record, you think that’s gonna make another team in free agency, or the Giants, want to have me come back the next year after I sat out a whole year and be like, ‘oh, we want to give you $15 million a year now.’ I don’t think that’s how it’s gonna work.”

The reality is that Barkley, jaded by the business side of the game, having dealt with a major leg injury, having had outsiders criticize his running style, having endured barbs from some that he was greedy or misguided for turning down contract offers from the Giants, simply loves the game.

He want to play. He wants to be with his teammates. He wants to build on last year when the Giants made the playoffs for the first time in his five-year career. He also understood that he couldn’t do anything to change the depressed value of the running back market if he wasn’t on the field.

“I’m doing what I love. I’m out there playing football. I’m happy,” Barkley said. “After having conversations and really breaking it down, when you sit there and you break it down like that, the only way that I’m gonna make a change or do something that’s going to benefit myself and my family is doing what I do best. And that’s showing up, playing the game I love, and do it at a high level.”

So, Barkley signed an amended franchise tag that could net him $909,000 in performance-based incentives.

“I kind of just followed my heart. Obviously, I heard what everyone was saying in the news or social media, but I kind of just followed my heart,” Barkley said. “And then, you have to look at it as a business point. From a business view, I felt like what’s the best thing that I can do? And some people may agree or disagree with this, to sit out or sit in. And I feel like for this year specifically, the best thing that I can do for myself would be coming back, going out there, play a game that I love, playing for my teammates, doing something I wanna do since I was a little kid. And I understand, I know what’s going on with the running back situation and me being tagged and the value of the running back continuing to go down. Only way that I feel like someone that’s gonna change, someone’s gotta make it change. God willing, hopefully I could be one of those people to do it.”

Barkley said it would be “a flat-out lie” if he didn’t admit being disappointed at not getting a long-term deal.

“I am mature enough to understand that it’s a business. Understand that deals don’t get done every year,” Barkley said.

The 26-year-old two-time Pro Bowler said he “had a mindset of what I was gonna do [when the deal didn’t get finished]. But I changed my mind.”

Rather than a holdout that really wasn’t going to gain him anything in terms of finances, leverage or respect, Barkley chose to do what he does best — play football.

“When you show up, you can’t have that in your heart. It’s not a good thing,” Barkley said. “So I put all that aside. I focus on my teammates, everyone in that building, and the fans and go out here and have a hell of a year.

Barkley often said throughout the nearly 10-month negotiation that he was not trying to reset the market or, in his mind, even get what he was worth. He wanted to be shown respect.

Does Barkley feel he got respect from the Giants despite not getting the deal he sought.

“I would say at the end I got respect from the Giants because I was able to look Joe [Schoen] in his eye, look Dabs in his eye. And obviously we didn’t come to agreement, but, we were able to put everything aside and that’s the part of the business. It’s a business,” Barkley said. “It sucks when you come to [the] realization of that as a kid who, you’ve played the majority of this game for free growing up your whole life, and it’s something that you wanted to do since you’re a little kid.

“The business side of it forces you in a position where you’re like, I don’t even know if I want to take it to that level [sitting out], but I might have to take it to that level. And I got to a point where I was ready to take it to that level. But then, sitting down with my family, actually breaking it down, looking out, looking at the whole situation, I felt like this would be the best thing not only for me, for my teammates, for the fans in New York, and for the running backs.”

Barkley said he “can’t see in the future,” so he doesn’t know if there will be a big contract waiting for him from the Giants or someone else a year from now.

“I know I should be able to,” he said. “I know the type of player that I am. I know the type of player I will show I am this year, God willing.”

Barkley said he did not accept initial, pre-franchise tag, offers from the Giants because it “didn’t make sense” to do so.

“In my mind I think it didn’t happen because one, just being flat out honest, the tag, that’s a leverage that they have. If I wasn’t able to get tagged, I do think [the] negotiation process would’ve went a lot different,” he said.

Barkley said that had he felt the Giants had made him an offer that was “something respectable” along the way he would have taken it.

While running backs are drawing the short straw in the current marketplace, Barkley refused to show jealousy over the big contracts the Giants doled out to Daniel Jones, Dexter Lawrence and Andrew Thomas this offseason.

“At the end of the day anybody who knows me I’m all about my teammates and my brothers getting paid. I’m all about success coming to them,” Barkley said. “Even though my situation to go the way that I would have liked it to go. Andrew Thomas signed a big deal. Daniel signed a big deal. Dex signed a big deal. That’s deserving. Those guys deserve it. I’m so happy for ‘em.

You see throughout the league, there’s people that get paid every single year and I’m happy for those guys, too. But what I will say for the running back position, not speaking necessarily on my teammates that got signed, there’s a lot of running backs out here that are pivotal to having teams have success in this league. And the way that we are getting devalued, I don’t think it’s, it’s not fair at all. But life’s not fair. And, you know, hopefully God willing, I stay healthy so I can show ‘em better than I can tell ‘em.”