The Giants probably weren’t going to the playoffs with Saquon Barkley at full strength.
With him sidelined for the rest of the season because of a torn ACL, their prospects diminished even further. The next few months of football for this team, already focused on baby step improvements, looked dismal when Barkley was carted away.
They could have easily gotten by with the players they already had on the roster and practice squad to fill in the vacuum at the top of the running back depth chart. Instead, a team that is focused on winning later made yet another signing that seemed like a win-now move.
On Wednesday morning, the Giants inked running back Devonta Freeman to a one-year deal. Adding a 28-year-old two-time Pro Bowler to the mix signals to their fan base — and the players who remain in the building — that Barkley’s season may be over, but the Giants’ one is not.
"We’re not going to raise the white flag on anything," coach Joe Judge said on Wednesday. "Our guys are going to fight straight on through. We have a job to do. We come in here every day regardless of circumstance or the outcome of the previous game. Our job is to get ready to go out there and put the best product on the field that we can."
This is the second time in a month the Giants suffered a key injury and countered it by bringing in an accomplished veteran. When they lost rookie safety Xavier McKinney to a fracture in his foot late in training camp, they responded by signing Logan Ryan. Now, with Barkley shelved, they added Freeman.
"It was important for us to add a player who gave us some ability in the backfield," Judge said.
Just as important, it adds to morale that would understandably be shaken after two straight defeats and the loss of the team’s best player. Freeman was practicing with the Giants on Wednesday afternoon, wearing a No. 31 jersey.
Freeman hasn’t been a Barkley-type player for several years. In 2015 and 2016, he totaled 2,135 rushing yards, 127 catches and 27 touchdowns. His 11 rushing touchdowns in 2015 led the NFL. Both of those seasons he was named to the Pro Bowl and led to his signing a long-term extension with the Falcons.
In 2018, though, a groin injury limited Freeman to two games and 14 carries. He returned last year to start all 14 games in which he played, rush for 656 yards and two touchdowns and catch 59 passes for 410 yards and four scores.
The Giants are convinced he will be closer to his former self than the less impressive latter one.
"He had a good workout for us [Tuesday], we watched his tape from the past few years," Judge said. "I think he’s got some juice left in the tank and he’ll get the opportunity to prove that."
Maybe as soon as Sunday against the 49ers.
"[Wednesday] will be a day of trying to catch him up and build him into the game plan," Judge said. "Obviously he has a lot to learn going into Sunday, but we’re going to do our best to get him ready for Sunday if we can do that."
At the very least, he should have a small slice of the playbook dedicated to him this weekend. That role figures to grow and grow as the games and weeks trudge onward.
"We don’t want to throw him out there and have him not be prepared because of lack of time," Judge said. "We’re going to do everything we can to catch him up . . . We don’t want to overload him so much that it slows him down."
So it may be a while before the Freeman signing pays off for the Giants on the field. Off the field, though, his impact was already accomplishing what the signing signals, intended or otherwise.
The 2020 Giants aren’t going to roll over.
"There is no white flag here," Judge said. "We’re going out there to fight every week."