What Barkley does in 2022 will determine whether the running back lands a lucrative new deal to remain with the team that selected him No. 2 overall in the 2018 draft.
“I just want to show the Giants that the guy that they drafted is still here,” Barkley said Thursday after the second training camp practice of the summer.
After three straight injury-riddled seasons, this year has already started out more promisingly for Barkley, who was once seemingly destined for stardom. He was able to train relentlessly for this season rather than rehab.
After spending last spring and summer rehabbing in his recovery from a torn ACL in his right knee, Barkley injured his ankle last season against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 5, just when it seemed as if he was getting close to his old self.
Now, there are questions about whether Barkley will ever get there, as he faces plenty of doubters for the first time in his collegiate and professional career. But this summer Barkley, the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2018, looks more like the player he was in the past than at any point last season.
“I can still go out there and make the plays and help my team be successful,” he said. “And that is the only thing I’m focusing on — taking care of myself, taking care of my body, taking care of my mental and trying to be the best teammate I can be.”
The lack of a contract beyond this year will hang over this season for Barkley, who is set to play on the $7.2 million fifth-year option in his rookie deal.
Barkley, 25, averaged just 3.66 yards per carry last season, tied for 44th out of 50 qualifying runners. There is hope this will be a better season given his health and the new offense under first-year head coach Brian Daboll and offensive coordinator Mike Kafka.
But this new regime, with Joe Schoen as general manager, isn’t the group that drafted Barkley and are not tied to him long term, adding more uncertainty to his future.
Even if he enjoys a bounce-back season, Barkley’s not sure whether the Giants would approach him midyear about a new deal.
“That’s a great question. Like I said, you can’t really focus about that stuff,” Barkley said. “Honestly, that stuff is in the air and I know coming into Year 5 and coming into the option year — or whatever it’s called, something like that — my thing is just, and I keep saying, if I keep taking care of the little things and God blessed me and nothing crazy happens, I think the rest will take care of itself.
“I know where I’m at mentally. I know where I’m at physically. I know what I’m capable of doing. I’ve just got to focus on taking care of my mind, my mental and trying to be the best teammate I can be. And that is every single day and when the time comes it’s going to pay off.”
One difference in Daboll’s offense that might benefit Barkley is that he seems to be being used more in the passing game — not just catching passes in the flat like he primarily did as a rookie when he had 91 receptions, but also running more intermediate and deep routes.
Barkley caught a pair of passes in live drills during each of the first two training camp practices, and all four would have been for first downs. This isn’t an accident given the composition of the Giants’ roster and Barkley’s talent.
“No, you see him,” Daboll said. “I mean, you saw him coming out of Penn State. You see him running around here; he’s a pretty skilled player. So, our job is to figure out ways to use him, whether he did it last year or the year before, two years, in college. When you’re developing in a system, you kind of figure out what these guys do best, and you challenge them to do more.”