EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - A few eyebrows were raised back in March when the Giants gave Jonathan Stewart a two-year, $6.9 million deal. It seemed like a lot for a 31-year-old running back on the downside of his career.
Then, the Giants went out and drafted Saquon Barkley. And then this summer, second-year pro Wayne Gallman stepped up and won over his coach. All of a sudden, Stewart seems like an expensive mentor whose job is to teach the young running backs the NFL ropes.
Of course, that's not the way he sees it at all.
"If you're here, it's because you can play," Stewart said. "It's not because of anything else."
The veteran running back made it clear, in an interview with SNY on Tuesday, that he believes he still has a lot left to contribute - and that's why he believes the Giants brought him in. Sure, after 10 NFL seasons, he can offer a lot to the 21-year-old Barkley and the 23-year-old Gallman.
But he's convinced he can offer a lot on the field, too.
"Right. And I don't think the front office has me here just to mentor either," Stewart said. "At the end of the day, it's football and if you're wearing pads and have a helmet you're expected to contribute on the field."
Just how much the 5-foot-10, 245-pound Stewart will contribute is unclear. He hasn't done much this preseason, by design - just seven carries for only two yards and one eight-yard reception. Clearly the Giants plan to ride Barkley, the second overall pick in the NFL draft, assuming his balky hamstring has fully healed by Opening Day.
But Stewart's role as the primary backup has been clouded by the emergence - or re-emergence - of Gallman, the Giants' fourth-round pick from a year ago. Gallman impressed the Giants' old regime last season when he rushed for 476 yards on 111 carries, and caught 34 passes for 193 more yards. But he seemed to win over the new Giants' regime last week in the Giants' preseason win in Detroit when he rushed five times for 26 yards, and caught two passes for nine yards and scored twice.
Stewart is obviously more experienced, but he's also been battered by injuries in recent years (he hasn't played all 16 games since 2011), and showed signs of a steep decline last year when he rushed for only 680 yards on a career-low 3.4 yards per carry. At his age, those numbers don't seem likely to dramatically improve.
So, if Gallman continues to impress, where would that leave Stewart? He still might end up as the primary backup, splitting time with Barkley. Pat Shurmur could opt for some sort of three-running back rotation. It's also possible Stewart could settle in as the short-yardage and goal line back.
Stewart didn't sound too concerned about the specifics of his role. But he's sure he'll have a role. And he said that whatever it is, he knows he can still get the job done.
"I think with my preparation I'm confident," he said. "I know I can play when the opportunity is there. Whether people see it or not? As long as we're winning games, that's all I care about. I have things to prove, but it's more to myself."