It’s likely we won’t see Saquon Barkley until 2021 after the running back reportedly tore his ACL on Sunday at Soldier Field, and in that time the Giants will discover just how diametrically opposed their own ideas of constructing this rebuild actually are.
In Joe Judge, the Giants hope they can bottle some of the magic from the place he came; a place where winning is a micro-economic concept. Where a roster is built on the idea that anything is possible and that a good team needs to be prepared for any situation. Essentially, a roster capable of executing 16 different game plans every year. That concept has never been more obvious than now, when the greatest quarterback in football history left town and the offensive staff in New England signed a new quarterback with a completely different skill set, designed a completely new offense and made themselves more of an enigma for opponents than they were over the previous five seasons.
In Dave Gettleman, the Giants hoped they could recapture some of their own former magic, which, unlike the Patriot way, meant fetishizing a certain way to win, pouring an impossible amount of resources into the concept and believing that the rest of the league would bend to your belief in what a football team looks and smells like. We will establish the run, and 16 teams will fail to un-establish it.
Without Barkley, the offense’s engine has been stripped. For the last three seasons, this was a team built around maximizing a superstar who plays one of the most dangerous positions in the sport; a wild idea at its core, especially when you consider that they weren’t able to do it after spending a first-round pick, a second-round pick, trading for another first-round pick and inking one of the largest offensive line contracts in the history of free agency. The running back was supposed to be the fulcrum on which everything pivoted; a channel of offensive production that would take some of the pressure off the developing quarterback, a source of toughness to negate the developing offensive line, a few extra catches a game to negate the developing receiving corps and create some medium range coverage issues that would, again, help the quarterback.
Now that he’s gone, the only thing that’s left is everything else the general manager has been working on. Will the Giants like what they see? Will they be able to win without him?
The Patriot Way, while broadly defined and poorly distilled over the years, comes down to a team’s ability to present something challenging for the opponent to stop each week. Judge was schooled there. He coached special teams, where a coach is challenged each week to maximize the bottom third of the roster and, often players who have just been acquired off other practice squads or free agent waiver wires.
Gettleman, broadly, seemed to always construct around the power source. Around a future Hall of Fame quarterback like Eli Manning. Around a league MVP like Cam Newton. This time, however, a third of the decade was spent paving the way for a player who operates at one of the most injury prone positions in the sport.
Barkley was deserving of the No. 2 pick, and in the fleeting moments where everything came together, it was a beautiful sight. But it was never going to be sustainable, no matter how talented Barkley is. No matter how much of an outlier he is at the position. Without him, they will see as much.
Without him, they will put pressure on Judge to fix a problem that was never his.