Giants running back Saquon Barkley, right, greets teammate Xavier McKinney during the...

Giants running back Saquon Barkley, right, greets teammate Xavier McKinney during the first day of training camp at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center in East Rutherford, N.J. on July 26, 2023. Credit: James Escher

If Saquon Barkley says sayonara and Xavier McKinney marches out the door — as the decisions made by the Giants’ front office this past week seem to be nudging them to do — the team will have more to figure out than just how to replace a running back and a safety.

They’ll need to find a new face of the franchise.

A new heart, too.

That’s not to say parting ways with one or both of those players is the wrong decision . . . assuming that is the eventual outcome. This is what Giants fans have been clamoring for the past few years, isn’t it? As the organization heads into its 100th season, it is shedding the old ways of doing things, reducing sentimentality to an afterthought and boring down to shrewd, analytical business models.

Wellington Mara may have coined the phrase “Once a Giant, Always a Giant,” but general manager Joe Schoen — perhaps scarred from the contract he gave Daniel Jones a year ago — now is drawing a line at overpaying, making the second half of that motto not as automatic as it once seemed.

So even though Barkley and John Mara spoke openly about a desire for the player to be “a Giant for life” — words that nearly always signaled that it was up to the GM to simply fill in the details and make it so — there is a very real chance that Barkley won’t even be a Giant through Wednesday.

That will be a sad day for the Giants. (Sadder yet if the rumored mutual interest with the Eagles is founded and he winds up within the division.)

Barkley’s arrival was supposed to be the dawning of a new era for the franchise, the next generation taking over from the one that helped win a pair of Super Bowls. His departure will punctuate the complete failure of that effort.

During the dreadful soul-sapping lows that colored most of his time with the Giants, Barkley often would preface his optimism and try to manifest his belief in the Giants by saying things like “when, not if, we turn things around here.” There was a playoff run in 2022 that made it seem as if he were right, as if the brighter days were just ahead, but that about-face never fully came.

Now it feels more like a “when, not if” that Barkley will sign elsewhere.

McKinney, although not quite the leading man Barkley always was, seems to be on the freeway to free agency after the Giants decided not to use the franchise or transition tags on him.

That will leave the Giants teetering on a massive overhaul that no one could have predicted just eight months ago.

If tight end Darren Waller decides to retire rather than play a second season with the Giants — he has not made up his mind on that matter — the Giants could very well go into the 2024 season having parted ways with four of the top seven players they had at the start of training camp in 2023 (we’re counting Leonard Williams, traded in October, among those). Only Andrew Thomas and Dexter Lawrence would be back among that perceived top tier, with Daniel Jones’ stature within the organization getting blurrier by the minute.

At that point, which may come as soon as Monday, it will be up to Schoen and coach Brian Daboll and their crew to put things back together again.

Carpenters should be judged on their finished works, not their demolition skills, so it’s too soon to say whether they are getting things right with these recent calls. If there is any critique, it is that they are starting late on a rebuild they probably should have undertaken when they arrived instead of wasting two years with the leftovers of the previous regime. They were blinded by the success they stumbled upon in their first season. That lesson seems to have been learned.

Schoen now has a chance to not only redesign the roster but the tenor of the locker room, the very character of the team. With Barkley, the undisputed alpha, presumably out of the picture and McKinney, the young, brash safety who played every snap in 2023, also more than halfway through the exit door, there will be a vacuum of leadership that needs filling.

Who will be the one to stand up and say the things that need saying? The things Barkley and McKinney and Williams once said?

There are some candidates, of course, including linebacker Bobby Okereke, who had a standout first year for the Giants. Thomas and Lawrence are captains and play positions that are important but rarely lend themselves to such vocal and physical directing. And let’s face it, the quarterback they have under contract for the next three years could put a hornets’ nest to sleep.

The priority for the Giants in the next few weeks and months, as they cobble together their squad for the 2024 season, should not be remaking the offensive line or adding offensive weaponry or edge rushing acumen. They need to find the player — through a trade, free agency or the draft — who will become their next centerpiece.

They need to envision themselves at a not-too-distant Super Bowl and find the player who will be at Podium One all week, the guy whose image will be plastered on the skyscrapers. They need to land a player to fill in the blank when the networks tease upcoming games by saying “So-and-so and the Giants take on . . . ”

Schoen has demonstrated this offseason that the Giants are now, perhaps finally, very much his organization. He’s in charge.

If Barkley and McKinney both walk, though, he’ll need to figure out something just as important. He’ll need to determine whose team he wants the Giants to become, and bring that player to New York.


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