EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - When news broke of Ezekiel Elliott's six-year, $90 million contract extension (with $50 million in guaranteed money) on Thursday, Saquon Barkley was happy for his fellow NFL running back. Just not for the reasons everyone thinks.
He said he didn't give a second of thought to what it might mean for him when his own four-year, $31.1 million contract is over (presumably after the team exercises its fifth-year option in 2022). And remarkably, not a single friend or family member has brought that up to him either - at least not yet.
"They know I'm not focused on that," he said.
No, Barkley was truly happy for Elliott in part because he wants to see great players playing, not holding out. And he also thinks it's a good thing that people around the NFL are starting to realize again how valuable running backs can be.
He discussed that value and whether he belongs in the NFL's group of elite running backs, plus whether he believes the Giants are a playoff team this season, in Part II of his Q&A with SNY (click here to read Part 1).
SNY: When you came into the league, a running back renaissance had begun after years of the league seemingly de-valuing the position. Now, as you can see with Ezekiel Elliott, the value is back. Why do you think people are suddenly starting to realize again why running back is a valuable position in this league?
SAQUON BARKLEY: They watch football, I guess you could say. For me it's just that simple. It's understanding the game and understanding Xs and Os and understanding to win the game you have to run the ball, whether you have a first rounder or a sixth rounder. No matter what, you need to run the ball. … When you watch football and see how important Ezekiel Elliott is to the Cowboys, that's why he gets paid like that. When you see a Todd Gurley, when you see Alvin Kamara, Christian McCaffrey, Le'Veon Bell - the list goes on and on - how they impact their teams and how they affect the game. Those are people when coaches game plan and scheme, they're like 'You've got watch out for those guys. We've got to stop those guys. Because if we don't stop those guys this game's going to get out of hand, soon - and ugly. So I think that's the reason why the value of the running back is continuing to grow and coming back.
SNY: Do you consider yourself to be in that group already -- the guy that defenses worry about and scheme against?
SB: Yeah, I think … I don't think, I know I'm part of that group. I believe I've put it on tape. It's only been one year, but even coming from college, the respect I would get from other coaches when they were scouting me for the NFL. Yes, I feel like I'm in that classification. I feel like that. I put enough on film to be considered as a threat. I've seen it. I've seen teams, when I come out of the backfield, try to double team me. I think that's a way to show that you get attention from a team. But my mindset is to continue to grow as a player and just try to help my team win games.
SNY: When Ezekiel Elliott signed his $90 million contract extension, a lot of people's first thought was 'Imagine what Saquon Barkley will get in a few years?' Is that how people around you reacted? Did you get calls and texts from people after the news broke?
SB: No. Because they know I'm not focused on that. People that have my number know I'm not focused on that.
SNY: So you really didn't think, even for a second, 'Wow. Imagine what I'm going to get in four years'?
SB: No. It was more like, 'Wow, he got 90 million? Congratulations. That's awesome for him.' I was just more happy that they got it done and he's able to play. You don't want to see a guy like that, who's that talented, sit out. That's just not good for football, good for the NFL, good for fans, good for the running back position as a competitor. I know people probably had that thought, but I'm still like 3-4 years away from that. I'm not looking forward to that. My thing was more like 'Thank God it happened for him so he's going to be able to play. He doesn't have to sit out a year like Le'Veon did.' Because it's not good for the game. You miss a Le'Veon Bell. I love watching him on film. I'm a fan of the game.
SNY: Maybe that year off will end up extending Le'Veon Bell's career.
SB: We'll see how that turns out, but that could be a conversation for later on.
SNY: You had a great year last year, but your team didn't. And I know the losing hurt you. When you look at this year's team, are you on a playoff team right now?
SB: Am I on a playoff team this year? I do believe so. I do strongly believe because 'team'. I know I sound like a broken record and everyone's probably going to hate me for saying it because I'm going to keep saying it: Team, team, team, team, team, until I can't say it no more. Because team wins games. If we can continue to have that mindset … I think we had that a little bit last year in the second half of the season. We didn't fully commit to it and we were a way better team in the second half of the season than we were in the first half. So if we can continue to have that mindset, that's going to help us win games. Caring about one another, enjoying when other people score touchdowns, cheering for the defense, cheering for special teams, understanding that all three phases of the game have to play at a high level, believing in each other, knowing that when it's 3rd and 1 that if I got to run that ball I know that my O-line is going to do what they have to do and I can just hit it. I can be able to close my eyes and hit it and we're going to find a way to get it. Having that type of trust is going to be the thing that helps us win games.