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NFL Draft

What Are Giants’ RB Options Behind Saquon Barkley?

  • The Draft Network
  • February 27, 2021
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By Jack McKessy

After a season of ups and downs that ended in disappointment, New York Giants fans have reason to at least be cautiously optimistic with the return of star running back Saquon Barkley on the horizon. Barring a setback, he should be ready to play by the season opener. New York’s offense has needed a dynamic playmaker to help kickstart the offense since the departure of Odell Beckham Jr. in 2019, and Barkley has shown flashes of playing that role when healthy. The key words there being “when healthy.”

An NFL running back returning to top-tier form after an ACL tear isn’t totally unheard of. Adrian Peterson led the league in rushing the year after tearing both his ACL and MCL. Jamaal Charles went to the Pro Bowl in three consecutive years after returning from his ACL tear, though his production and efficiency dipped slightly.

That being said, there’s no guarantee Barkley is able to do the same. Personally, I don’t doubt that he could, especially as a young stud and so early in his career. But if Barkley has a slow start, or worse, gets injured again, they need a backup plan. In that case, what options do they have?

Find a way to hold onto Wayne Gallman

Perhaps lost in the disappointment of the Giants’ fourth straight losing season was the stellar performance of Wayne Gallman and improvements on the offensive line. After Barkley went down against Chicago in Week 2 and Devonta Freeman–signed as a quick replacement–went down five games into his Giants stint, Gallman took over as the full-time starter. He thrived in the role.

The fourth-year running back finished the year with 4.6 yards per carry and six touchdowns, making him New York’s leading scorer. Gallman showed a special proficiency for creating yards after contact by churning his legs through tackles. His performance this season proved that he would be more than capable in the starting role if needed.

The problem with Gallman’s breakout happening last year is that it was a contract year. Since he’s proved he’s capable of being an RB1 for more than just a few games, he’ll likely be looking for a multi-year contract with a chance to compete for the starting role wherever he ends up. With Barkley set to return soon, it’s not likely that place is in New York.

An alternate possibility is that the Giants will use their franchise tag on Gallman, but that would give him a base salary over $8 million–about $7 million more than what New York is paying Barkley–if he accepted it. That’s kind of a lot of money to pay your backup running back, even as good as he’s been. So, while keeping Gallman would be the ideal solution, it’s also the less likely one.

Re-sign Devonta Freeman or another low-cost veteran

The Giants are poised to enter the 2021 NFL season above the projected league salary cap, according to Over the Cap. That situation can make the backup running back decision less complicated with a price limit on who New York can pursue.

Signing Freeman again would make sense here. He originally came in last year to replace Barkley, so he has a connection with the Giants, but an ankle injury Week 7 kept him out for the rest of the year. After a very brief stint on the Bills’ practice squad, he’s once again a free agent.

Like most running backs, Freeman’s productivity has declined with age and some injury trouble. He’s no longer the elite, top-tier running threat out of the backfield that he was earlier in his career, but there are signs he could still be a serviceable backup.

He’ll be 29 going into 2021, and despite his drop in efficiency on the ground, Freeman is a legit pass-catcher for a Giants team that desperately needs more receiving threats. I’d envision Freeman taking on the role of a third-down back behind Barkley should he stay in New York. He’s also clearly someone the Giants see as a viable starter if necessary, given that was their intent in signing him last year.

A couple other free agents I could see in New York: Samaje Perine, who’s just 25 and was solid behind Giovani Bernard in Cincinnati last year; James White, another pass-catching running back who could reunite with current Giants head coach and former Patriots special teams coordinator Joe Judge in New York; or even Cordarrelle Patterson, who began a transition to running back while in Chicago. Patterson would also add his skills as a kick returner to the Giants’ special teams squad.

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