More factors than football in Giants’ decision on not trading Saquon Barkley

More factors than football in Giants’ decision on not trading Saquon Barkley
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Not trading Saquon Barkley at this year’s trade deadline wasn’t the best move for any Giants long-term rebuild. But it was motivated by a lot more than football.

It was about keeping fans in the stands for this year’s four remaining home games.

It was about recommitting to Barkley as the face of the Giants’ franchise only months after pulling Barkley’s face off all the team’s promotional material for the 2023 season in the spring.

Only months after demonstrating the Giants viewed him more as a complement to Daniel Jones.

It was about giving Brian Daboll at least a chance to keep his locker room focused after the Leonard Williams trade made clear to the players that this season is now about the future, not the present.

Barkley, 26, would’ve benefited as a football player from an immediate change of scenery this season. Staying in New York is probably the best thing for his post-playing career.

He has consistently said he wants to be a Giant for life. John Mara has said he wants that for Barkley, too.

Daboll said unequivocally that the team was not trading him. Multiple national leaks said Monday that teams were still calling about Barkley but the Giants were insisting he’s not available.

And Barkley spoke with no nerves about the deadline after Sunday’s 13-10 overtime loss to the Jets.

“I mean if anyone is [worried about guys getting traded], they need to grow up,” Barkley said. “It’s the NFL. You can’t control that in this business. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.

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“Obviously we want everyone that’s here to continue to be here,” he added. “Everything we still want is out there. We’re still in the fight. We’re gonna get healthier. We’re gonna get some of our guys back. And we gotta make a run at this thing.”

Spoken like a player who will embrace a leadership role even on a sinking ship.

Not trading Barkley in this spot, though, is admittedly the opposite of what GM Joe Schoen seemingly intended when he first arrived in New York.

This feels like an example of a regime arriving with new ideas but eventually compromising within an organization’s preferred methods of operations.

Schoen offered Barkley multi-year deals last season and spring, but the Giants’ numbers and positions in those negotiations made clear to Barkley that they were building around their quarterback, not their running back.

It got ugly in the summer, and Barkley undoubtedly remembers it all.

Schoen and Daboll haven’t been able to build a roster that can sustain Barkley’s absence in the short term, however.

That was crystal clear on Sunday when Barkley ran the ball a career-high 36 times and nearly carried his limited offense to a win.

It was an impressive game from Barkley, but it was also a reminder that almost six years after Dave Gettleman drafted him No. 2 overall, the Giants have failed to add another player who could take over that face of the franchise mantle.

Kayvon Thibodeaux would be next in line right now, probably, if Barkley leaves in free agency in the offseason. Schoen’s first-ever Giants draft pick made some explosive plays against the Jets.

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Still, this team feels as far away as ever from contending, even with a defense that is keeping the team in games with the help of a strong offseason Schoen signing in Bobby Okereke.

Barkley is only on a one-year, franchise tag deal. Since the Giants didn’t trade him, are they going to step up and give him a long-term contract extension to demonstrate their commitment?

Because if they don’t, then the fallback plan is either another round of offseason contract negotiations or a second straight franchise tag.

Not trading Barkley now and bringing him back for only one more year on the tag in 2024 would seem like a waste of an asset.

Signing him to a big extension would keep one of the team’s best players in the building but wouldn’t quite align with the long-term trajectory this organization needs to reset its course after this season’s flame-out.

It puts the Giants and Barkley in a tricky spot.

In March, Mara said at the NFL’s owners meetings that he told Barkley directly: “We want him to be a Giant for his entire career if that’s possible.

“I told him how much I wanted him here, I want him to be a Giant,” Mara said. “My dream was that he would play his whole career as a Giant like Eli [Manning] did, like [Michael] Strahan did, like Tiki [Barber] did. And I mentioned to him, ‘Look what they’re doing off the field now.’ And I think he would like that, as well.”

With the contract negotiations ongoing, Mara also said in March that he didn’t want to trade Barkley, but he didn’t completely rule it out.

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“I don’t want to trade him,” he said. “We’re not looking to trade him. We’re not shopping him. And I’d be very surprised if we made that decision.”

The Giants co-owner added that the Giants’ message to Barkley was that “we very much want you back.

“We want you to be one of the leaders of this team, want you to be one of the faces of this franchise,” Mara continued. “But there’s a limit as to how far we can go. We have to build a team around you. And we’ve gotten just about as far as we can.”

Barkley eventually accepted a one-year, incentivized franchise tag deal to avoid a holdout and try his best to help this year’s team win. But he got hurt, and the team wasn’t built to succeed anyway.

So that put the Giants at a crossroads on Tuesday, where trading Barkley seemingly would have aligned with the organization’s long-term needs. But so many other factors prevented them from making a deal.