PHILADELPHIA — In the opinion of one very great running back, the Giants can’t afford to fumble away Saquon Barkley.
“If they don’t bring him back, shame on them,” Emmitt Smith, the Hall of Famer and three-time Super Bowl champ, told the Daily News. “Daniel Jones cannot be Daniel Jones without Saquon. And that team cannot be what it is without Saquon doing what he did this year. What you saw is a guy that’s healthy can do a lot of great things. It would be foolish of the Giants to let Saquon go.”
Barkley, 26, has engaged with the Giants multiple times on a new contract but remains unsigned heading into Super Bowl weekend. The Giants have the option of placing the franchise tag on the versatile running back, but that would be an unpopular move for Barkley since it costs him money compared to a new deal.
The caution against committing a lucrative contract to Barkley is his injury history (which includes an ACL tear in 2020), and the growing philosophy that running backs should take up less cap space because they break down physically and are easily replaced. On the point of diminishing the significance of running backs, Smith, the NFL’s all-time leader in rushing touchdowns, believes that’s simply a PR strategy concocted by the NFL to boost TV ratings and fantasy football.
“It’s by design. It’s a marketing ploy behind it to convince everybody that that position is not as valuable as it should be, or as it once used to be,” said Smith, who is in Arizona for the Super Bowl and to promote ‘Bounty’ paper towels as the important accessory to messy chicken wings. “I think it’s a shame they’re reducing the value [of running backs] and pushing it out to the wide receivers and the cornerbacks and the quarterbacks. And this is all about fantasy football and the points that you’re gaining in fantasy football. Period.
“The league wants to score more ratings. And who are they scoring it for? They’re scoring it for the ratings. They’re scoring it for the game to be interesting and so forth. So you got quarterbacks passing the ball left and right. You got all the pass interference plays that’s happening and moving the ball down the field so you can score points. And it’s all for the fantasy football lovers.”
Smith doesn’t buy that teams are reducing workloads on running backs to preserve their bodies.
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“But then they add another game for an 18-game schedule,” Smith said. “For what? More passing and receiving yards.”
As Smith noted, receptions and receiving yards are up among running backs. But no player has cracked 20 rushing touchdowns in a season since 2006. Smith did that twice in the mid-90s with the Cowboys, and once rushed for 168 yards with a separated shoulder to clinch the division title against the Giants. He called it his best moment against the rival.
“Oh yeah, it was that moment,” Smith said. “It took mental toughness. Guts and courage. And a belief that you were going to be OK.”
Still, Smith labeled the Eagles as the greater rival during his 13 seasons in Dallas.
“It was [former Eagles coach] Buddy Ryan and that defense,” Smith said. “And the way the fans treated us. We hated them and they hated us.”
That didn’t stop Smith from picking his former rival to beat the Chiefs on Sunday.
“You think I’m going to go against the Eagles because I don’t like them?” Smith said. “In some cases, I just want to see the NFC win. But I actually believe the Eagles have everything they need to win this one.”