As the Giants digested the bad but hardly surprising news from an MRI on Saquon Barkley’s right knee on Monday morning, confirmation that he had torn his ACL and partially torn his meniscus on the first play of the second quarter in Sunday’s game and would require season-ending surgery in the coming weeks, they grappled with two very different tolls from his absence.
The first was the stinging emotional one.
"Saquon is tremendous as a player, but we have even more respect for him as a person," Giants coach Joe Judge said of the two-time captain. "I personally hate it for this guy, as hard as he has worked and as much impact as he has on this team … Obviously losing a player who is such a good teammate and such a hard worker on the field can impact your team in a lot of ways."
Judge said he spoke with several players on Monday and they echoed those sentiments.
It hit them hard.
"Obviously, my heart goes out to him," safety Jabrill Peppers said. "He works extremely hard. Obviously, he’s a leader on this team. I know from working out with him over the summer that he was looking forward to this season after the ankle injury last year. I’m definitely, definitely praying for him."
The second impact to be overcome was the practical one. There are still 14 games remaining on the schedule.
"The show must go on," wide receiver Golden Tate said. "If you look outside of our locker room, other teams had some pretty major injuries to some of their major players. We don’t just show up to work and say ‘All right, well, we’re resigning this year.’ We have to keep it going."
There is no one available who can replace Barkley’s production, but the Giants do have options when it comes to finding a new starting running back for Sunday and beyond. Two on the 53-man roster are Wayne Gallman and Dion Lewis. Judge spoke about their skillsets, with Gallman being faster in space and Lewis quicker in tight quarters.
"Wayne and Dion are definitely guys who will factor in," Judge said. "We’ll work to their strengths … They’re both different guys and we have to work with what they do well to give them an opportunity to be successful."
He also noted fullback Eli Penny has "some ball-handling experience" and veteran Rod Smith is on the practice squad.
"There are a number of players in our program right now that we’ll be working with," Judge said. "And we’ll see where the future takes us elsewhere throughout this long season."
That "elsewhere" could be Devonta Freeman, the former Falcon who is the top free-agent running back. According to a source, Freeman underwent a first round of COVID-19 screening on Monday and is expected to meet with and work out for the Giants on Tuesday.
Freeman, 28, had two 1,000-yard rushing seasons in six years with the Falcons, scoring 32 touchdowns during that tenure. In 2017 he signed a five-year extension with the Falcons, but he missed most of 2018 with injuries and was used sparingly in 2019 before he was released this March. He was visiting the Eagles over the weekend but left Philadelphia for the short trip up the Jersey Turnpike without a contract.
As for Barkley, Judge said the Giants would try to keep him around the team as much as possible as he first preps for his surgery in the coming weeks and then recovers from it in the coming months.
"I already know he’s going to work as hard as possible," Judge said.
After that, with any luck, Barkley will be back.
"He’s a guy who’s going to bounce back better than ever," Peppers said. "A minor setback for a major comeback."
Shepard sidelined. Judge did not have an official update on the status of Sterling Shepard, who left Sunday’s game early in the third quarter after injuring his left foot while being tackled after a catch late in the second quarter, but NFL Network reported that he had suffered a turf toe injury that could take several weeks to heal.