Giants running back Saquon Barkley was supposed to lead the Giants back to the top of the NFC East. After missing most of last season, Barkley returned healthy and got out of the chute quickly this season.
.@Saquon against New Orleans:
— Giants Nation (@NYG_Nation10) October 3, 2021
The headlines read “Saquon Is Back,” and the barbershop conversation reflected that feeling. Then he landed awkwardly and rolled his ankle on Cowboys cornerback Jourdan Lewis on Oct. 10. At that point, Barkley was leading the team with three touchdowns. He hasn’t played since.
Barkley plays a position that requires durability. He admits that constantly being carted off the field due to injury has begun to put doubt in his mind and affect his mental health.
Injuries Messing With His Mind
“I didn’t want to get on that cart because the last time I was on the cart I was out for the season,” Barkley said last week. “I didn’t want to have that mentality, but as clear as you guys saw my ankle, it was kind of hard to walk on that even though I wanted to tough it out; Yeah, that was kind of just the mentality I had behind it.”
The increased attention paid to mental health issues involving athletes has taught us that male athletes especially often think it’s a sign of weakness to admit something so personal.
“What would go through your guys’ minds if you just rehabbed for 10 or 11 months to get back on the field and then you got hurt by rolling your ankle by stepping on someone else’s foot?” Barkley asked reporters. “You’re going to be frustrated. You’re going to be exhausted. You’re human. I’m human. So obviously, you have those thoughts and those negative thoughts creep in.”
“But like I said, you have a day or two to reflect and have that ‘why me?’ mentality, but it’s not going to get you anywhere,” Barkley continued. “Looking back on it and the way that I reacted, or I acted on the sideline, I was kind of disappointed in myself. But like I said, I’m human and I feel, I care about this sport a lot. I care about this game a lot. I care about my teammates a lot. That’s another reason why I’m frustrated, that I feel like I’m letting them down. Yeah, I guess just to sum it up, I was frustrated. I was angry at myself. Now I’m just ready to go back to work and continue to get better.”
Barkley is quickly gaining the reputation of an injury-prone star, having missed time the past three seasons. Shaking that moniker also weighs heavily on his mind.
Barkley has shown flashes of being the generational talent the Giants hoped for when the organization drafted him No. 2 overall out of Penn State in the 2018. His rookie season was a whopper (1307 rushing yards, 91 receptions). He displayed a rare combination of breakaway speed, strength and elite athleticism when healthy.
Running backs aren’t usually drafted that high as the NFL increasingly becomes a pass-happy league. The Giants organization was criticized for the pick, but Barkley’s ability to catch and run separated him from traditional ground-and-pound backs. The kid from Happy Valley was different.
In 2019, a high ankle sprain caused him to miss time, and he finished the season in a compromised state. Things got worse in 2020. Barkley tore his ACL against the Bears in Week 2, shattering expectations of a huge season.
Saquon Barkley running routes has been a thing to watch. Suggests involvement in pass game might increase. “We want to involve this guy in every facet of the game,” RB coach Burton Burns said. Wouldn’t be surprised to see Barkley put up CMC #s this season. HUGE year upcoming! pic.twitter.com/BeU6neX42R
— Jordan Raanan (@JordanRaanan) August 26, 2020
This latest injury caused him to miss Sunday’s 38-11 blowout loss to the L.A. Rams. We can see how these litany of injuries could begin to have a negative effect on one’s mental health.
This is Barkley’s fourth season, and in April the Giants made a decision to pick up his fifth-year option despite his injury history.
However, when the Giants picked up his option, they weren’t in any hurry to begin contract extension talks with their oft-injured star tailback. In fact owner John Mara had this to say prior to Barkey’s latest setback.
“I certainly think we’re not in any hurry to do that,” Mara said. “We fully expect him to be as good as new. I mean, if anybody is gonna spend 100 percent of his efforts to rehab, it’ll be , just knowing what type of motivation and desire he has. But we’re not in any hurry to do that at this point of time, particularly after the money we just spent. But listen, I said it at the end of the season and I’ll say it again, we hope he’s gonna be a Giant for life, and at the appropriate time we’ll start those discussions.”
Once the star of the franchise, Barkley can’t even get any reassurance from the folks who drafted him about his future. That’s definitely got to mess with his head.