The Giants lost much more than the game against the Chicago Bears this past Sunday. Their 17-13 defeat on the road was insignificant by comparison to the season ending anterior cruciate ligament tear suffered by running back Saquon Barkley.
“Obviously, my heart goes out to him,” said Giants safety Jabrill Peppers during a media session on Monday. “He works extremely hard. Obviously, he’s a leader on this team. I know from working out with him over the summer that he was looking forward to this season after the ankle injury last year. I’m definitely, definitely praying for him. But he’s a guy who’s going to bounce back better than ever.”
The injury happened early in the second quarter near the Bears’ sideline when Barkley was being run down and tackled by safety Eddie Jackson. He fell to the turf and immediately reached for his right knee. It was confirmed on Monday Barkley had torn his ACL and would face a long rehab process. If all goes well in his recovery he should be back in the Giants’ backfield in a year or so. He can look to future Hall of Famer Adrian Peterson for inspiration.
Peterson, who is still playing at the age of 35 with the Detroit Lions, tore his ACL on Dec. 24 in Week 16 of the 2011 season as a member of the Minnesota Vikings. Remarkably, on Sept. 9, 2012, only nine months later in Week 1 of the following season, Peterson returned to the Vikings backfield and rushed for 84 yards en route to an NFL leading 2,097. Subsequent to the injury, he rushed for over 1,000 yards four times and was selected to the Pro Bowl three times.
So there’s precedence for Barkley to still have a highly productive career. Yet the short-term outlook regarding the development of the Giants’ offense, specifically the growth of quarterback Daniel Jones, is dubious. Which by extension means the Giants’ overall rebuilding plans will be decelerated. As for the long-term view, the franchise has a substantial amount of draft and financial capital invested in Barkley. He was the No. 2 pick in the 2018 draft and signed a rookie deal for $31.19 million, which included a signing bonus of $20.767 million.
The Giants and Barkley were likely to agree to a contract extension next summer similar to those of running backs Christian McCaffrey and Ezekiel Elliot. Now, his current status undoubtedly will impact future negotiations. McCaffrey, 24, the eighth overall pick in 2017, was extended by the Carolina Panthers in April for four years and $64 million ($38.1625 guaranteed), making his annual average salary of $16 million the highest for a running back in football. Ironically, McCaffrey sustained a high ankle sprain on Sunday and is expected to be sidelined for at least the next month.
Elliot, 25, selected by the Dallas Cowboys at No. 4 in the first round in 2016, signed his second contract in September of 2019 for six years and $90 million. The Cowboys guaranteed $50.05 million and Elliot’s annual salary of $15 million is second among running backs. Barkley, who set numerous Giants franchise records as well as league marks in his professional debut season in winning the 2018 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award, was hampered most of last season by a high ankle sprain that occurred in Week 3.
He still managed to rush for 1,003 yards behind a poor offensive line after gaining 1,307 the prior season. However, in his first two games of 2020 Barkley had just 34 yards on 19 carries in large part due to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Bears making him the focal point of their defensive game plans. In both games Barkley had virtually no holes opened up for him by the Giants’ line.