Philadelphia Eagle's Saquon Barkley talks to the media during a...

Philadelphia Eagle's Saquon Barkley talks to the media during a press conference after signing with the NFL football team, Thursday, March 14, 2024, in Philadelphia. Credit: AP/Chris Szagola

Saquon Barkley conceded it was weird to drive to the Eagles’ training facility on Thursday, step through those doors, sign a contract and slip into that black pullover with the bird logo over his heart.

“When I put this hoodie on, it definitely looked different,” Barkley said at his introductory news conference.

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Making things even stranger was his daughter, Jada, in the crowd, also decked out in the colors of her new favorite team.

“We’ve been on the worse side of the rivalry, I guess you can say, for the last couple of years,” Barkley noted.

Now they’re on the other side. The Eagles’ side.

But it wasn’t just the sweatshirt and the tiny jersey that made things look strange. Watching from 150 or so miles away over the internet — the Eagles refused to credential any media members from outside their own market for this event — it seemed as if the guy the Eagles signed already had changed on a much deeper level. And not for the better, either.

Barkley said all the right things, as he had throughout his six-year career with the Giants, but there was a heaviness to his delivery. The spark that the Giants used to refer to as a “generational spirit” was lacking.

Was there a tinge of regret? That’s way too cavernous a psychological abyss to plumb for any armchair analyst. But it certainly would make sense if there was.

The events of this week have been, after all, almost exactly what Barkley has been pining for the past two years. He was allowed to let the open market determine his value, he became one of the highest-paid running backs in the NFL, he remained close to where he grew up and calls home, and he’s now part of a team that will contend for a Super Bowl title. His world should be perfect.

Yet it came with so much collateral strain.

The uniform may be greener on the other side, and the paychecks, too, but that doesn’t mean the grass is. At least not right now.

There was the divorce from the Giants, a team he openly — and by all accounts honestly — wanted to spend his entire career with. There was the backlash from fans who had supported him for six years and now, rightly or wrongly (we’re on record here as calling it wrongly) have painted him as a heel, a traitor and a villain for aligning himself with a despised NFC East rival.

There was the very public going-away spat with former Giants running back Tiki Barber, who, on his radio show on WFAN on Monday, suggested that Barkley was “dead to me” for joining the Eagles. Barkley angrily responded to Barber on social media.

“I don’t think I really handled it the right way on social media,” Barkley conceded with regret on Thursday. “I think I could have given a proper goodbye. But once I announced everything, it kind of got hectic.”

Plus there was the headache caused by his college coach, James Franklin, suggesting in an interview earlier this week that Eagles general manager Howie Roseman wooed Barkley in a phone conversation by playing up the idea of Penn State fans being Eagles fans, too. Teams are permitted to speak only with agents and not directly with players during the “legal tampering” window that was open from Monday through Wednesday, and the NFL is investigating that situation to see if there was any line-crossing that took place.

Barkley, for his part, said Thursday that Franklin “misinterpreted” the information Barkley had given him and that all of the talks between the Eagles and his side — including that Penn State pitch — were through representatives and on the up-and-up. “It happens,” he said with a shrug.

Barkley also joked that he’ll be at the Penn State Pro Day on Friday. “I guess we’ll have that conversation,” he said with a smile — a rare smile on this day — regarding his upcoming interactions with Franklin.

All of it, though, seemed to dampen what should have been, in Philadelphia at least, a celebration. Barkley doesn’t wear the color any longer, but he certainly seemed to be feeling the blues.

There will be time for that mood to lift, of course. Once he gets a sense of what running behind a strong offensive line feels like, it certainly will lift his spirits. On Thursday, though, there was a palpable weight on the running back.

“I’m just ready to get the business side off of it,” he said — the “it” presumably being his own back. “The last two years, I feel like so many people would come up to me and talk about me getting tagged or the contract or even leading up to this. And now all of that is done. The business side is done and we can keep the main thing the main thing. That’s going out there, playing football and winning football games.”

In an ideal world, it would be that simple.

But if this week has taught Barkley anything, it probably is that ideal worlds come with costs . . . if they exist at all.


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