ARLINGTON, Texas -- The New York Giants were right about one thing: This Saquon Barkley looks like one heck of a player. In his first NFL game, last week against the Jacksonville Jaguars, he ripped off a 68-yard touchdown run. And Sunday night in Dallas, the rookie running back set a franchise record with 14 receptions in a single game. He looks every bit the do-everything superstar the Giants promised us they were taking with the No. 2 overall pick in April.
And yet ... the Giants are 0-2. Again. And in a way that makes you wonder whether “win now” really was the right approach for them to take this offseason.
Look, on some level, “win now” is always the right approach to take. As GM Dave Gettleman said when confronted with that question at the March owners meetings, “Who wants to lose?” In Barkley, the Giants saw a player they thought could help them right away. A player they loved. A player they could envision in the Hall of Fame someday. So they took him, and they felt absolutely fantastic about it.
The problem is that the Giants’ “win-now” plan was rooted in an inaccurate assessment of their roster. The 3-13 Giants who set a team record for losses in a season last year weren’t a running back away from a Super Bowl title, no matter how good that running back might be. What’s worse, they’re AT MOST a couple of years away from having to replace Eli Manning and they just took a running back No. 2 in a draft that had five first-round quarterbacks in it.
This is still a top-heavy roster, sprinkled with high-priced stars who generate just enough excitement to make you overlook the myriad holes that still remain. The Giants are paying top-dollar contracts at wide receiver, quarterback, left tackle, pass-rusher, inside linebacker, cornerback, defensive tackle and, yes, running back, because Barkley’s draft slot makes him the sixth-highest-paid back in the league right out of the gate. And that’s all well and good -- you can’t accuse them of not spending to win.
But the problem with the Giants is the same as it’s been for the past half-decade: Year after year of unproductive drafts hollowed out the roster and deprived the current team of a reliable, homegrown core. You whiff as badly as they did on Ereck Flowers with the No. 9 overall pick and you end up, three years later, having to shell out huge money for Nate Solder and trying to hide Flowers at right tackle. You fail to develop middle-round linebackers and you have to trade for the Rams’ bad Alec Ogletree contract. You make a habit of not signing even your best draft picks to second contracts and you end up spending more for DT Damon Harrison than you’d have had to spend to keep Linval Joseph.
The current Giants front office inherited an unbalanced mess of a roster from the previous one. Problem is, instead of acknowledging the time that’s obviously needed to fix that, they dove in as if it could all be done in one offseason. They thought coach Pat Shurmur could do with this year’s Giants offense what he did with last year’s Vikings offense, but they ignored the obvious disparity between their roster and Minnesota’s, which is one of the deepest and most talented in the league. The result is this uber-careful popgun offense that racked up 79 yards on 32 plays in Sunday night’s first half and seems geared around the idea of just hanging on until Barkley or Odell Beckham Jr. makes a big, game-swinging play.
“We have to make more plays and not depend so much on those plays, that’s true,” Beckham said after the Giants' 20-13 loss to the Cowboys. “But with the guys we have on our team, it’s hard to say that, because we are those home run-hitter guys.”
As any baseball manager would tell you, home runs are fun, but they’re not reliable enough to plan around. The Giants need to find a way to mix in more singles and doubles and string some rallies together. Yes, it’s impressive that Barkley caught 14 balls Sunday night ... until you realize he turned them into only 80 yards.
“You’d rather him not be catching all those checkdowns,” Shurmur said. “But he is a threat with the ball in his hands.”
The Giants’ offense may be a latent big-play threat, but Sunday it was an empty one. An offensive line that still hasn’t jelled gave up six sacks to Dallas and lost center Jon Halapio to a leg injury. The Cowboys played a bunch of deep, soft coverages designed to reduce Beckham’s impact, and it worked. Dallas took away the Giants’ few (though formidable) strengths and preyed on their numerous weaknesses. That’s a formula that shouldn’t be too hard for the rest of the Giants’ 2018 opponents to copy.
So they’re 0-2 for the fifth time in the past six years, and yes, that matters. For all the glorious tales of how the 2007 team started 0-2 and won the Super Bowl, the fact is that not one of those far more recent 0-2 teams even made it to the playoffs. The Giants of this decade have been, outside of the 2011 miracle Super Bowl run and the 11-5 wild-card season of 2016, one of the worst teams in the NFL. It is not hyperbole to call them a team that basically never makes the playoffs.
And when you’re a team that never makes the playoffs, your quarterback is 37, there are five first-round quarterbacks in the draft and you’re picking No. 2, you need to take a quarterback. If Manning doesn’t recover from what he looks like right now, the Giants could be confronting the successor question as early as next offseason, when the quarterback draft class looks a lot less inspiring. They could end up having to wade back into the free-agent market for someone like Tyrod Taylor or Teddy Bridgewater, instead of grooming Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Josh Rosen or Lamar Jackson on the kind of affordable rookie quarterback deal that lets you have a lot of fun with the salary cap.
The reason Barkley was the wrong pick for this team isn’t that Barkley isn’t great, because he is. The reason he was the wrong pick was that the Giants’ needs were longer-term and bigger picture. Instead of “win now,” they should have been thinking “build now,” and you don’t build around a running back. You build around a quarterback -- ideally a young one.
When you decide your mentality is “win now,” you need to make sure you’re capable of ... winning now. That’s where the Giants appear to have made their biggest mistake. They thought they were better than they are.