Why Giants shouldn’t bother playing Saquon Barkley in preseason at all, as he returns from knee surgery


Giants coach Joe Judge is leaving the door open for Saquon Barkley in preseason.

He should shut it down quickly.

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The judge certainly won’t play Barkley – his star running back, returning from knee surgery – in Sunday’s second preseason game at the Browns.

There are now three preseason games instead of four, and the Giants’ final is next Sunday at home against the Patriots. The judge said Barkley could play in this game, if he’s ready.

But the risk isn’t worth the small advantage Barkley – a fourth-year pro who’s already played a lot with third-year quarterback Daniel Jones – might get from a few snaps.

Barkley has said he’s ready to do whatever the Giants’ medics and judge feel is appropriate, in terms of a siege or game against the Patriots. But Barkley also pointed out that he would be fine to go into Week 1 without any preseason snaps, since he essentially did so in 2018 and 2019. (The COVID-19 pandemic wiped out all of the games in pre-season last year.)

The judge said on Friday – before the Giants’ second and final joint practice with the Browns in Cleveland – that he was unsure how much Barkley would train next week after the Browns game. The Giants practice Wednesday and Thursday with the Patriots in New England, then Friday at East Rutherford (not with the Patriots) before the preseason finals.

Barkley did not all 11-on-11 team periods still work in practice. He did some 7-on-7 work Tuesday in New Jersey, while wearing a red (non-contact) jersey, a day before the Giants left for Ohio. It wouldn’t make sense to rush a valuable veteran coming out of an ACL operation into times of teamwork and then quickly into a meaningless exhibition match.

It wouldn’t be fair to Barkley, who will have to face a period of acclimatization and adjustment to start the regular season anyway, whether or not he’s playing preseason.

As a rookie in 2018, Barkley only played in the preseason opener – and got six snaps. He didn’t play at all in the 2019 preseason, when the starters had three chances to play, as they hadn’t played in the fourth preseason game.

So what would another small number of shots for Barkley against the Patriots next Sunday actually accomplish? Not a lot. Certainly not enough to be worth the worst case scenario.

Don’t be surprised if the Giants bring Barkley back slowly, even when the regular season begins. It’s not like he had a ton of rigorous training work in training camp. And remember, the Giants have a tight deadline to open the season – an opener on September 12 at home against the Broncos, then a game in Washington on Thursday night, September 16.

The extra rest before Week 3 should help Barkley as his body gets used to its first NFL games since last September. But the Giants don’t get their permission until Week 10, following a Nov. 7 game against the Raiders. The Giants will need Barkley to control themselves.

It won’t be easy for a proud player coming out of a serious injury, as he auditions for a lucrative contract this season. But ultimately Barkley realizes there’s a bigger picture at play here. And when you consider that, the “sit or play?” The decision on Barkley for the preseason final against the Patriots is straightforward.

Sit him down.

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Darryl Slater can be reached at [email protected].

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