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2023 Training Camp

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Notebook: Saquon Barkley follows heart after 'epiphany'


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Saquon Barkley was training in Arizona on Sunday when, he said Thursday, "I had an epiphany."

So, Monday he flew to New Jersey, Tuesday he reported to training camp with the other Giants veterans, Wednesday he participated in the first camp practice, and Thursday he spoke publicly for the first time since his arrival. He discussed the most momentous offseason of his decorated career, one in which he received the franchise tag from the Giants, which prompted him to not only consider skipping camp, but sitting out the entire season.

That all changed with the late-hour epiphany.

"The reality of it is, I mean, one, I kind of just followed my heart," Barkley said. "Obviously, I heard what everyone was saying in the news and on social media, but I kind of just followed my heart. And then you've got to look at it from a business view, I felt like, what's the best thing that I can do? 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 to play the game that I love, playing for my teammates, doing something that I've wanted to do since I was a little kid."

Barkley said he seriously considered missing camp and perhaps part of the season.

"That's a play that I have," he said. "But I'll be completely honest, if I sat out this year … and we didn't have a good record, do you think that's going to make a 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 dollars a year now?' I don't think that's how it's going to work. After having conversations and really breaking it down – when you sit there and you break it down like that, it's like, 'The only way that I'm going to make it change or do something that's going to benefit myself and my family is doing what I do best.' And that's showing up and playing the game I love at a high level."

Barkley last season was arguably the most valuable player on the Giants team that posted its first winning record and earned its first postseason berth since 2016. He finished fourth in the NFL with a career-high 1,312 rushing yards, tied for the team lead with 57 receptions and scored 10 touchdowns, plus two more in the team's victory in Minnesota in the NFC Wild Card game. Barkley was selected to his second Pro Bowl, was one of three finalists for the NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award and was the Giants' nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award.

And he accomplished all that as he was entering unrestricted free agency which he hoped to parlay into a lucrative long-term contract. But when negotiations, which began during the Giants' bye week last November, did not produce an agreement, the Giants franchised Barkley in March. When the sides did not reach an accord by the July 17 deadline, Barkley had to play under a one-year deal. His only other options were to not participate in camp and/or sit out the season.

"I could sit here and lie to you and be like, 'I wasn't disappointed, I wasn't this and that and the third,'" Barkley said. "I mean, that would just be a flat out lie. But I am mature enough to understand that's the business and understand that deals don't get done every year. Specific to my position, we didn't get a deal done. Me and my team felt like we were in good faith trying to get a deal done, the Giants feel they were in a good faith trying to get a deal done, and that's life. Sometimes you won't come to an agreement. I had to come to a decision. Like I said, I had an epiphany. I had a mindset of what I was going to do, but I changed my mind."

He did so in part because of the counsel he received from numerous current and former NFL players.

"Wise words of a lot of vets who've reached out to me and who have said some stuff on the news and media, 'When you show up, you can't have that in your heart,'" Barkley said. "'It's not a good thing to have in your heart.' So, I put all that aside. My focus is on my teammates, everyone in that building and the fans, and to go out here and have a hell of a year."

The Giants will have the option of tagging Barkley again next year. Everything that's happened since the end of the season further reminded Barkley that the NFL is a year-to-year entity. He knows he can only control his performance this season.

"The reason why I say this year specifically is because I can't see the future," he said. "I wish I could. All that I can focus on is now. If a certain situation comes up like this again next year, which obviously everyone's aware that can happen, I'll deal with it when that happens. But right now, I can't focus on if this happens, if that (happens). All I can focus on is who I am today, how I come in the building, and how I work and how I prepare for the season."

Some players in his position would have been fixated on their contract dissatisfaction, whether in terms of money or length or both. Barkley easily moved past that because of his love for football, his admiration for his teammates, and his desire to create an unassailable legacy.

Barkley also wants to help change the spreading narrative that running backs are not as valuable as they were when rushing attacks were the focus of NFL offenses.

"One hundred percent, that factors into it," he said. "That's who I am to the core; that's who I am as a competitor. But at the same time, legacy goes with the position, too. I know how great this position has been, I know how helpful this position is to teams throughout the league. When you talk about legacy, it's on guys like me, it's on guys like (49ers running back) Christian (McCaffrey), it's on guys like J.T. (Colts running back Jonathan Taylor) and (Steelers running back) Najee (Harris) for us to go out there and change the narrative. Everyone wants to bring up data, everyone wants to bring up analytics. You could bring up each way for both sides. But if all of us go out there, God willing, stay healthy and do what we've got to do, I think that's going to put everything to rest.

"Obviously, I know what's going on with the running back situation and me being tagged and the value of the running back continually going down. The only way that I feel like that's going to change is someone has to make it change. God willing, hopefully I can be one of the people to do it."

To do that, he had to have his epiphany and report for work and continue to be one of the NFL's very best players.

"In my mindset, it's like, 'Okay, I understand the legacy and you've got to look out for everyone,'" Barkley said. "For me, it's just going out there and doing what you do, and doing what you love and doing it at a high level. For everyone that's known me since I've been here as a rookie, 'Take care of the little things and everything else is going to take care of itself.' I've been saying that since I was a 21-year-old rookie. I've been saying that since I was a 19-year-old at Penn State when I was first able to talk to the media. That's something I believe in. That's something that I believe to the core, and I'm always going to live by that. And that's how I'm going to keep rocking."

View photos from Thursday's training camp practice at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center.

*Defensive tackle Rakeem Nunez-Roches missed his second day of practice after he was an auto accident on Tuesday.

"He's sore," coach Brian Daboll said. "It could have been worse, so I'm glad he's where he is right now. I think he's making progress." Daboll said Nunez-Roches will not be sidelined for an extended time period.

*Daboll was asked about another defensive lineman, Vernon Butler, who did not report with the veterans on Tuesday.

"We are kind of working through some things," Daboll said. "That is really all I got for you."

*Yesterday, Ben Bredeson played center with the first-team offense. Today, Bredeson was at left guard and rookie second-round draft choice John Michael Schmitz was at center.

"(Offensive line coach) Bobby (Johnson) has done a good job," Daboll said. "I think we talked about this last year quite a bit, relative to the rotation for the offensive linemen. You will see, I would say, a good amount of rotation on a day-to-day basis. Sometimes a period-to-period basis."

*Danny Hurley, the coach of the University of Connecticut's national champion men's basketball team, attended practice with some of his assistant coaches.

*The Giants signed Kevin Atkins, a 6-foot-2, 307-pound defensive tackle who spent last offseason with the San Francisco 49ers as an undrafted rookie. He was released last Aug. 30 and went on to play for the XFL's St. Louis Battlehawks.



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