They didn’t make any bets.
No wager over who would have the most rushing yards, most touchdowns, most receptions, most anything. Nothing. It’s as if Saquon Barkley and Le’Veon Bell, the two most exciting running backs in New York in more than a decade, have no interest in deciding who is better.
“No bets,” Barkley told Newsday of his chat with Bell before last week’s preseason game between the Giants and the Jets.
Barkley and Bell never have played in the same league at the same time. When Barkley was a rookie last season, Bell was holding out and missing the entire 2018 campaign for the Steelers.
This year, though, the two running backs — two of the premier talents at the position in the NFL — will share a league, a city and a stadium. Bell is with the Jets, having signed as a free agent, and Barkley is back with the Giants to try to top his debut performance.
And while neither of them played in last week’s preseason game, the contest did provide them an opportunity to meet up for the first time since Bell arrived in the Big Apple.
So what do New York’s two best ballcarriers talk about when they get together?
“I think everybody wants to know that,” Barkley smiled.
Yup. Especially after Bell posted a picture of their conversation on social media.
“It was just respect,” Barkley said. “I kind of came at him like a big fan . . . That was only the second time I got to meet him, so we just kind of chopped it up. There was just mutual respect for each other. We exchanged numbers to stay in contact and we’ll try to link up at some point during the season.”
They talked a little about Bell’s new offense with the Jets, Barkley said. They talked about Bell running more RPOs than he did with the Steelers. They talked about Barkley and the pending workload that lies in front of him this season.
And Barkley picked Bell’s brain a bit about his defining characteristic as a running back, one that Barkley would like to incorporate more into his game.
“He’s not just patient, though, he does a good job of setting up his blocks,” Barkley said. “A lot of people don’t understand that. They think he’s being patient and is back there just dancing around, but he’s really not. He’s back there putting people on blocks. I want to try to find a way to do that. I think I’ve been doing that in camp and I did it a little bit more in the second half last year, not just crashing through.”
In that way, Barkley actually may have gotten something out of the preseason opener despite not participating in it.
He seems unlikely to play in any of the upcoming three games before the regular season starts, either. Pat Shurmur did not divulge his plan for Barkley but noted that the running back gets "a heck of a lot of reps here in practice." Barkley said he wants to play, but he doesn't need to play to be ready for the regular season opener. He missed the last three preseason games last summer with a hamstring injury, Barkley noted, and "I didn't feel like I was out of shape or I needed more reps" when that regular season began.
If he can pick up some inspiration or some tips like he did before the Jets game, that may be more valuable in the long run than having him take a couple of handoffs just for the sake of seeing him do it.
Barkley hasn't played in a game since December. For Bell, it's been more than twice as long.
Barkley said when Bell signed with the Jets, he went back to watch film of his performances with the Steelers. Not to measure up the competition, but "because no one has seen him play in a little bit, so I had to remind myself how elite this guy is and how special a player he is."
Barkley said he welcomes Bell’s arrival in the city, as well as his return to the league.
“I’m really excited to see him play,” Barkley said. “I’m happy that he’s in New York, and happy he’s back. It’s always good for the game to have our special players in there and he’s one of the special players in this league.”
And now he’s in the same city. The same stadium. Heck, they even wear the same jersey number.
How could that not fire up the competition between them? How can they not watch their stats pile up this season and compare their own numbers to the other’s?
“We should have made a bet,” Barkley said, regretfully.
There’s still time. Now that they’re finally running in the same circles, they’ll probably be seeing a lot more of each other.