The most uplifting day in the past several years for the Giants came with a downer of a cost.
Saquon Barkley, the centerpiece of their offense, will miss the next month – possibly two – with what the team called a high ankle sprain suffered in Sunday’s 32-31 win over the Bucs. Barkley incurred the injury late in the first half of the game in Tampa and on Monday an MRI showed the extent of the injury.
While Pat Shurmur did not provide any timeline for Barkley’s return, such injuries typically take four to eight weeks to heal. Given how much Barkley means to the future of the franchise, it’s likely the Giants will lean toward a cautious approach in the rehab and recovery rather than rush him back quickly.
The Giants faced a somewhat similar situation two years ago when Odell Beckham Jr. – then the main conduit for the offense – suffered a high ankle sprain in the preseason. He came back ahead of schedule only to suffer a more serious season-ending injury on the same weakened ankle after three-plus games.
Barkley undoubtedly will want a speedy return.
“I hate watching my teammates play without me,” he said on Sunday after he spent the second half on the sideline in a walking boot and on crutches. “I’m going to try to return as quickly as possible.”
From the Giants’ thinking, though, having him back at full strength — for whatever remains of this season and future seasons as well — is much more important than simply having him back.
If Barkley is sidelined eight weeks he would miss the next seven games; the Giants have a bye in Week 11. That would put him in line for a return on Nov. 24 against the Bears.
By then, the Giants either will be contending for a playoff spot and get a boost from Barkley’s return, or they will have already faded in the standings and be playing out the schedule with an eye toward next season.
The news put a damper on a day of celebration as the Giants earned their first win of the season and did so with rookie Daniel Jones having a record-setting day at quarterback. Barkley, the established star despite being in just his second season, was supposed to help Jones’ development by carrying the bulk of the workload and attention from opposing defenses. Now Jones will go forward without Barkley as his wingman.
Replacing the production and potential of a Pro Bowler such as Barkley is impossible, but the Giants will have to make a roster move just to have enough bodies at running back. They had just one healthy full-timer at that position on their 53-man roster as of Monday in Wayne Gallman. Eli Penny was a tailback in college but is primarily a fullback now. Rookie Jon Hilliman is on the practice squad.
“We certainly believe in Wayne Gallman and we certainly believe he’ll be able to step in and do his very best,” Shurmur said on Monday. “It’s very unfortunate to have Saquon out of the lineup. We all know what he brings to the team. But it’s going to fall on all of us to move forward and do what we can to win games.”
The Giants have other roster moves to juggle as well. Inside linebackers Alec Ogletree (hamstring) and Tae Davis (concussion) were injured on Sunday and will miss some time, so the Giants are short at that position. They also get wide receiver Golden Tate back from his four-game suspension after Sunday’s game against Washington. His addition to the active roster will require another move.
None of those maneuvers will make up for not having the best player on the team – and perhaps the best running back in the NFL – on the field with them for the foreseeable future.
That future is still burning brighter than ever thanks to Jones, even if it has been dimmed by Barkley’s injury.