By Joe Pantorno
New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley is handling the quarantine like a lot of his fans are. Except he’s preparing for a pivotal 2020 season that could help his case in becoming the NFL’s highest-paid running back.
The 23-year-old has been bunkered down amid the coronavirus pandemic not only trying to stay and shape, but to learn about a new regime that has taken over the Giants, headlined by head coach Joe Judge and offensive coordinator Jason Garrett.
“Yeah, I mean it is a little stressful just like everyone else,” Barkley admitted on a conference call Wednesday. “You know, everyone’s ready to get back… But at the end of the day, it’s a serious matter that’s going on and need to make sure everyone’s safe and healthy.”
“Yes, it’s a little different and a little awkward because it’s on iPads and phones and doing Zoom meetings. But, still, try to take advantage of that and prepare as best as we can so when we are able to get back to what we know as normal, we’re prepared.”
While it’s just his third season, 2020 will be something reminiscent of a comeback campaign for Barkley. An ankle injury limited his production and explosiveness last season, but he was still able to post 1,003 yards and six touchdowns in 13 games.
But with two years left on his rookie deal, there has been a constant eye on his long-term future with the organization, especially after Carolina Panthers star Christian McCaffery inked a four-year, $64 million contract extension in April.
The deal made him the highest-paid running back in NFL history but was quickly followed by endless speculation that his record would be broken by Barkley — noise the Giants’ back isn’t willing to listen to.
“Yes, when Christian signed that big contract the first thing that came to my mind was I’m happy for him,” Barkley said. “It was more [being] happy for him, he deserves it. But for me, I’m a big believer in taking care of the little things first. That’s right now coming into the meetings and trying to be the best leader, the best player I can from this, I don’t know what size of a box you would call it. I feel like if you take care of that the other things take care of themselves in the future.”
To take care of those little things first, though, there needs to be football — which isn’t as definite as the seasons changing or taxes in 2020.
With the outbreak of COVID-19 halting the sports world this spring, the NFL is moving forward with a full, 17-week-season plan with the expectation being that the virus will be stymied enough to get back on the field this fall.
But with a vaccine still nowhere near completion, there is a very real chance that NFL games are played with no fans or limited spectators — a concept that pro footballers would have to contend with for the first time in their lives.
“It would definitely be different — from playing in the NFL, playing around fans with the Giants, and then obviously in college at Penn State… But at the end of the day, it kind of goes down to just playing ball,” Barkley said. “Kind of when you were a kid when no one’s watching, in the backyard, or for instance when we’re at practice. I know some practices we used to have fans there and have the media there, but most of the time no one is there. It’s just us going at it and getting better every single day. I guess that’s kind of the same approach I would take if that was the case.”
This story first appeared on amNY.com