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Grading a Giants-Steelers trade to give New York their Saquon Barkley replacement



Grading a Giants-Steelers trade to give New York their Saquon Barkley replacement

It’s safe to say the New York Giants‘ offseason has been a tad disappointing. Daniel Jones is still the unencumbered starting quarterback and, despite Malik Nabers’ undeniable talent at WR, it’s hard to feel confident about New York accomplishing anything in a crowded NFC East.

No offseason transaction was more painful to a specific fanbase than Saquon Barkley’s decision to leave the Giants for the Philadelphia Eagles. Not only did the franchise cornerstone bow out of New York. He left for a division rival. The Giants are now fated to battle Barkley twice per season for the next two years at least. It was a bitter breakup that sparked intense vitriol from the New York fandom.

Of course, Barkley is blameless in all of this. He took the best offer on the table — a chance to compete for a Super Bowl behind the NFL’s most consistent offensive line, with Pro Bowl talent at every skill position. Barkley went to Penn State. He’s a northeastern kid. The Eagles were a natural landing spot when Howie Roseman made such an aggressive push.

The Giants never made a viable counteroffer. New York was fine with letting Saquon walk, even if it meant going through the emotions inherent to such a departure. Barkley has been the centerpiece of the Giants’ offense since he was drafted second overall in 2018. He was their lone bright spot last season. Now, it’s a fresh start for both sides.

In the wake of Barkley’s exit, however, the Giants haven’t made much of an effort to replace him. Running backs are a dime a dozen in today’s NFL, but the truly elite weapons are still, well, elite. The Giants need to replace Barkley in the aggregate, as there isn’t a one-man solution to losing 1,242 yards from scrimmage and 10 touchdowns across 14 games.

Devin Singletary is a nice addition, but he’s not top-tier RB1 material. Eric Gray, a 2023 fifth-round pick, and Tyrone Tracy Jr., a 2024 fifth-round pick, figure to factor into New York’s game plan. But, in reality, the Giants lack a traditional workhorse back. It’s nice to have a physical runner who can grind out early-down yards and shoulder an intense burden.

Enter the Pittsburgh Steelers, who could serve up the Giants’ Barkley “replacement” for a dirt cheap price. The following trade was proposed by Ryan Fowler of Bleacher Report.

This is a simple swap on the surface. Pittsburgh jumps ship on Najee Harris after declining the fifth-year option on his rookie contract. The Giants ‘replace’ Barkley and form a workable 1-2 punch in the backfield between Harris and Singletary. That combo won’t light the league on fire, but hey, that is two proven vets at an important position for OC Mike Kafka.

Pittsburgh gets a couple late-round picks and promotes Jaylen Warren to the RB1 slot, a long-overdue move after Warren completely outshined Harris last season. There’s a case for seeing how Harris performs under run-friendly OC Arthur Smith, but honestly, if there’s value to be mined from a trade right now, there’s no point in waiting. Harris’ value will only decrease as time runs out on his contract.

This isn’t terrible value for the Giants, who land a recent first-round pick in Harris. He managed 1,205 yards from scrimmage and eight touchdowns in 17 starts last season, averaging a respectable 4.1 yards per carry. Harris has three-down utility, but Singletary probably takes passing downs in this hypothetical Giants committee.

At 26, Harris only has three years of NFL mileage on his knees. He should have gas left in the tank and enough explosiveness to lead the GIants’ backfield until the end of the season, at the very least. What happens beyond that is up to New York. The Giants didn’t want to pay Barkley his worth, but Harris ought to fetch a more reasonable price — assuming his first season in New York doesn’t surpass all expectations. The Giants clearly aren’t keen on a RB bidding war.

That said, Harris has been on a steady decline since his breakout rookie season. The Steelers still utilized him as RB1 last season, but Warren was the more potent playmaker. The 2023 campaign was Harris’ most efficient on a per-touch basis, but his volume has dwindled with each passing season. That’s not necessarily a red flag — it’s smart to preserve RBs and split the workload up — but Harris’ reputation isn’t what it once was. He is not a top-shelf, one-man offense type.

The Giants are giving up a lot for an expiring RB contract in 2024. If Harris re-signs, it won’t be for long-term guaranteed money. The position has become increasingly transient in today’s NFL. Teams aren’t willing to commit serious resources outside the crème de la crème at the position, and Harris does not fall in that category.

As such, you could call a fourth and a sixth-round pick an overpay. Not a huge, catastrophic overpay, but a lot relative to the market for average starting RBs, which is probably the best way to categorize Harris. The Steelers, meanwhile, get value before Harris leaves for nothing in free agency.

NY Giants grade: B-
Steelers grade: A

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