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  • Writer's pictureAl Thompson

SAQUON BARKLEY MAY FINALLY BE IN THE RIGHT PLACE AT THE RIGHT TIME

The former Penn State standout always seemed out of place in the Big Apple


Eagles new running back Saquon Barkley saying he wants to add to an already talented roster. Photo by Andy Lewis. 

In the weeks leading up to the 2018 draft, there was the usual speculation about where the top picks would be landing.


Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield, the 2017 Heisman Trophy winner, was the hot prospect in this draft and was taken by the Cleveland Browns with the No. 1 overall pick. The reviews of Mayfield's career have been mixed.


Picking at the No. 2 spot was the New York Giants.


Eagles new running back Saquon Barkley has been accepted as one of the guys already. Photo by Andy Lewis. 

In 2017 – the year the Eagles won the Super Bowl, Big Blue was arguably the worst team in the NFL, finishing with a 3-13 record. 


Eli Manning’s career was winding down, the O-line’s glory years with Shaun O'Hara and Chris Snee had disappeared from the team’s rear view mirror years ago.


The Giants were leaking at every corner of its roster.


Giants General Manager that year was Dave Gettleman. It seemed logical that the veteran league official would rebuild from the ground up…like use the second overall pick on a generational talent on the offensive line like, say, Quenton Nelson, the All American guard out of Notre Dame who was in this draft.


A stud running back is normally what teams add near the end of roster building. Penn State’s gifted running back Saquon Barkley, a shiny Ferrari of a ball carrier, was also in this draft.


In a move that left a few observers scratching their head, Gettleman grabbed Barkley at No. 2, knowing he had no foundation to get the most out of his talented ball carrier.


Nelson was picked at the No. 6 spot overall by the Indianapolis Colts.


Nelson has made first-team All-Pro three times (2018–2020), second-team All-Pro in 2021. The 28-year-old has been selected to the Pro Bowl all six years he has been in the league.

Barkley was named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2018 and has been selected to two Pro Bowls (2018, 2022).


Both players have been successful individually, but neither has enjoyed team success.


Nelson has played in three playoff games in his six years with the Colts, winning one.


Eagles new running back Saquon Barkley has an opportunity to have one of his best seasons ever. Photo by Terrence Lewis.  

Barkley has played in just two playoff games for New York, also winning one. He was a square peg in a round hole with Big Blue. The Giants never put a team around him to make them legitimate contenders.


But Barkley may finally have found himself to be a piece of a team roster puzzle that nets rings.


On March 13, 2024, Barkley signed a three-year contract with the Philadelphia Eagles that, according to spotrac.com, was for $37,750,000.00, $26 million guaranteed.


The Whitehall Township High School graduate is another elite talent that will join a roster already populated with stars at almost every position. For once, he is not the only real weapon on offense.


“For me it's new...just going out there and trying to learn the system,” Barkley said. “The biggest thing that struck me is for the seven-on-seven huddle, you see A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith, Dallas Goedert and Jalen Hurts...that's not a bad group to be out there with and that's not including the offensive linemen. 


"We're all just coming in, buying in, trying to learn the playbook, trying to learn the new system and trying to get better each day.”


Eagles new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore will start his first season in Philadelphia with an elite roster of talent including Saquon Barkley. Photo by Jesse Garber.

A WHOLE NEW CULTURE FOR BARKLEY

Barkley's quarterbacks with Giants included an aging Eli Manning, Tommy "Tommy Cutlets" DeVito, journeyman Tyrod Taylor and Daniel Jones, who in a 2020 game in Philadelphia, literally fell down inside the Eagles 15-yard line after running untouched for 80 yards.


This season he will be getting the ball from Jalen Hurts, who was named second-team All-Pro in 2022 after leading the Birds to a NFC Title and a Super Bowl appearance.


He has been selected to the Pro Bowl the last two seasons (2022, 2023).


“I've always admired his game from afar,” Barkley said. “Not just Jalen, but a whole lot of guys here. It's been fun to learn the system, be in the weight room with these guys. Getting the feel of these guys especially Jalen...and continue to build something.”


Barkley was the star player for the Giants for the last six years. He was the face of a storied franchise that has four Super Bowl trophies on display at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center in East Rutherford, NJ.


So when he left Big Blue and signed with one the team's arch rivals, it was awkward to say the least.


Barkley made every effort to get another deal and stay in North Jersey, but the Giants didn't want to pay him. So he left and naturally there were some ill feelings from fans.


Barkley was asked if that awkward feeling had left him.


“It definitely faded,” the former Penn State standout said. “I don't think it felt weird because I was with the Giants and now the Eagles. I was at one place for six years, put on one jersey for six years. It's fun. It's a fresh start, I feel like a rookie again. Getting to know everybody here. Learning the culture, buying into the culture. I feel like it's home. I finally got to a spot and just been loving it.”


Barkley said he felt welcomed from day one.


“The culture here is every guy buying in, working hard, pushing each other,” said Barkley, who has rushed 1201 times for 5,211 yards and 35 TDs in his career. “We're building that teamwork, that mindset in the weight room, then on the field and on the outside...just hanging out with the guys, grabbing food with guys, getting to know each other.


"That's definitely important for me, important for the team, but especially for me because I'm the new guy, not so much now that the rookies are the new guys now. That's kind of been the culture...creating culture so we can go on the field, depend on each other and go out there and win as many games as we can.”


Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni says he is thrilled to have Saquon Barkley on his roster. Photo by Al Thompson.

HOW GOOD CAN THE EAGLES OFFENSE BECOME?

Barkley was asked if he tries to imagine what's possible with this offensive unit he's now part of?


“Yeah, for sure,” he said. “You know there's a lot of talent. There was a lot of talent before I got here. I feel like I can only add to that. But at the same time, you can't look too far. That's the beauty of it. That's the beauty of coming in every single day, working with each other, pushing each other...that's only going to make us get better and that much easier when camp gets here.”


Barkley was a team leader at the high school level, at Penn State and for six seasons with the G-Men.


But he is now with a franchise that's had great success, particularly with the leaders its had on the roster.


Barkley was asked if he sees himself as a leader in a locker room already filled with leaders.


"Me being new here doesn't bother me,” Barkley said. “I believe that I'm a leader. I know this is my seventh year going into the NFL. Obviously there are a whole bunch of leaders here already which is great. When you have that many leaders in the room, I think I can only add to that.”


HEAD COACH NICK SIRIANNI NEVER HIDES HIS FEELINGS

The Eagles head coach, heading into his fourth season in Philadelphia, has had tremendous success making the playoffs all three seasons including an appearance in the 2023 Super Bowl.


Sirianni is known for wearing his emotions on his sleeve and sometimes that gets him a little bit of trouble.


He enters the 2024 season with one of the most talented rosters in the NFL.


At a press conference on June 4, 2024, Sirianni was asked about what kind of luxury it is to have the skill set of running back Saquon Barkley as he can do so many different things.


Wait for it to unfold.


“Yeah, of course. Man, Saquon, it's really nice to see him in green,” Sirianni said. “And I know, you know, it's really nice to see him in there. Like we missed the tackle on him the other day on the sideline. Now we're not tackling, but you can tell without pads on, you can tell if that guy made the tackle or not.


“And I had visions back of him on the sideline, and us watching all these plays on the sideline, of Saquon making somebody miss, and Saquon making somebody miss and doing it again. It was like, it brought me back to that and it’s like, ‘Man, I'm glad that I wasn't happy that our defensive player missed the tackle on this particular one, but I'm really happy that Saquon, that No. 26 is on our on our side, making the guy miss.’


“Sometimes you see Giants fans around here with it being so close and, you know, they give me a good like, ‘Hey, Go Giants!’ And I typically let it go, but if the guy gets me good enough, I usually say, ‘you know, I got your best player.'”


WEIGHT ROOM STORIES

Barkley and Hurts were seen doing squats in the Eagles weight room. That is not a sight people see much at the NFL level as strength coaches like to use caution while lifting weights.


Barkley was asked if they were trying to outdo each other on that demanding discipline.


“I don’t think it was a competition,” Barkley said. “That’s the thing I love about being here. You come in and buy into the culture. I hadn’t squatted for a long time.


“It’s amazing when you’ve got your quarterback doing that. Kenny, KG was doing it with us too. We’re in there, trying to set the standard, buying into the culture…you’ve got some of your better players in there working hard and pushing each other. You have no reason not to follow.”


GETTING SETTLED IN PENNSYLVANIA

Barkley was asked what he does as he transitions from North Jersey to the Philadelphia area.


“Catching up, getting dinner…and golfing I would say, has been the biggest thing,” Barkley said. “Which, I love to do anyway.”


Barkley said he is here by himself for right now. He said he and his family haven’t moved here yet, so he's had some free time on his hands. He said he likes to play golf.


Barkley was asked who he plays golf with from the team.


“I golf with a lot of guys, a couple of O-linemen, but I’d say my golf buddies are (QBs)Will Grier and Kenny Pickett,” Barkley said. “Kenny is just picking it up...shout out to Kenny, he just broke 100 for the first time...he just started two-three months ago, so that's a big accomplishment. Those two, we're kind of golf fiends right now.


“I’m still moving out of New Jersey,” he continued. “I don’t have to go home to my family and run around with my kids, so I’ve got a lot more time on my hands…trying to get pretty good at

golf when I’m not working football.”


Barkley was asked if he had played golf with Eagles kicker Jake Elliott? He is said to be a scratch golfer.


“I’ve heard,” Barkley said. “I haven’t played with Jake yet. I’m nowhere near that level. But the beauty of golf, you have handicaps for a reason, so if I ever do play with Jake, we’ll get a little match going and I’ll make sure I get my strokes.”


Sounds like Saquon Barkley feels right at home, back in Pennsylvania where his football career started and grew to be special.


Eagles fans have to be happy with that.*


Email Al Thompson at al.thompson@footballstories.com







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