Saquon Barkley knows.
The Giants fourth-year running back, who was nothing short of spectacular in his rookie season, knows he’s been nothing more than ordinary this season.
Barkley knows the world has been waiting for him to return to the form that produced an NFL-high 2,028 yards from scrimmage and 15 touchdowns in 2018.
He knows what his high standard is, and it’s eaten at him that he’s been unable to return to it since recovering from the horrible torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee that wrecked his 2020 season just two games in.
He knows the Giants have to make a decision on his future as he enters the final year of his rookie contract in 2022, and he knows it’s complicated and out of his control.
He knows he wants to continue his career with the team that drafted him No. 2 overall in 2018.
He knows the person making those decisions is almost certainly not going to be the general manager who drafted him and famously (and unfairly) set Hall of Fame expectations on him. Because Dave Gettleman is almost certainly not going to be making any more decisions for the Giants once this lost season comes to its merciful conclusion.
Barkley knows that these final three games, beginning with Sunday against the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field, are an audition of sorts, a prove-his-worth period for whomever will eventually be making personnel decisions from the big office upstairs once the dust settles from what figures to be a turbulent offseason.
Since Barkley produced those 2,028 yards from scrimmage and 15 TDs in 16 games in 2018, he’s totaled 2,212 yards and 12 TDs in 25 games entering Sunday.
If you’re a general manager, what kind of contract are you going to sign Barkley to after watching his numbers decline like that — albeit largely due to tough-luck injuries?
Barkley hasn’t produced a 100-yard rushing game since he stamped 189 on Washington on Dec. 22, 2019 — two years ago this week.
He knows in his heart he’s the same player who did that, the same player who had seven 100-yard rushing games his rookie season and four in 2019, but he knows he hasn’t shown it on the field.
Barkley knows that a strong finish in these final three play-out-the-string games can do nothing but help him achieve his goal of remaining with the Giants and earning a new contract, but he prefers not to think of that right now.
“Don’t really have enough time to really think about that,” Barkley said Thursday after practice. “I would love to be here forever. All the other stuff [a new contract], I really don’t have time to focus on.”
Asked if he believes these last three games can help influence his future with the Giants, Barkley said, “I’m not kind of going to the games with that mindset. I might sound a little selfish, but I want to go out there and finish on a high note for myself, too. Just continue to build that confidence and lead into the offseason and get myself prepared and ready for the rest of my career.”
What that “rest” of his career will look like and with whom it’ll take place, no one really knows.
Barkley knows he felt like he was about to break out and become that player of 2018 and ’19 when he produced 126 yards of offense and two TDs in a scintillating overtime win over the Saints in New Orleans in Week 4. It was that game in New Orleans when Barkley thought he was back.
Barkley recalled running backs coach Burton Burns telling him in Dallas, the week after that Saints game that he took over as best player on the field, that it “looked like I had that look in my eye during the Dallas game, and I felt it,” Barkley said.
Then, of course, more bad luck. Early in that Dallas game, Barkley inadvertently stepped on the foot of Cowboys defensive back Jourdan Lewis and suffered a sprained left ankle that cost him four games.
In the five games since he returned from the ankle injury, Barkley has not looked like the same player that took over the Saints game in Week 4, producing a total of 234 yards and 118 receiving yards and scoring only one TD.
That’s what makes these final three games so critical for Barkley and his future in Giants blue.
“Saquon is, to me, a dynamic player when he has the ball in his hands,” safety Logan Ryan said Thursday. “He makes moves a lot of guys in the league can’t make. I think that’s still there for sure. I see it in practice.”
Everyone — most importantly Barkley himself — needs to see it in games.
These final three games.