Hard Knocks revealed why Giants let Saquon Barkley go in NFL free agency

Odds are you are familiar with the NFL Films product of Hard Knocks, a documentary series that chronicles a team throughout the course of training camp and the preseason and ultimately ends right as the regular season begins.

Recently NFL Films has produced an in-season version of the show where they follow teams throughout the course of an NFL season. That is pretty self-explanatory.

Tuesday night saw the debut of a new version of the show. This latest HK follows the New York Giants over the initial part of this offseason and focuses on how the G-Men assembled their staff and team. It is always interesting to get these peeks behind the curtain and now we got a peek at an area that was previous off limits.

If you are a HK veteran like myself then in watching it a lot of things likely feel the same to you. Part of the challenge of this show is that there is no breaking news of any kind given that when anything massive happens it is then given to us in the next episode. There is relatively little shock value.

This is true for the Giants as we obviously know what they did throughout all of free agency and the NFL Draft; however, the debut episode was a lot about something that they didn’t do… pay running back Saquon Barkley.

New York selected Barkley with the second overall pick in 2018 and went through quite the song and dance with him once they finally got down to contractual negotiations. Barkley played on the franchise tag in 2023 so the time for a serious decision arrived this offseason and the Giants watched him walk in free agency to a division rival in the Philadelphia Eagles.

This subject is touched on throughout the episode but in the closing minutes Giants GM Joe Schoen is having a conversation with his brain trust and ultimately notes that they are not paying their quarterback in Daniel Jones what they are for him to hand the ball off.

Tim McDonnell, Director of Player Personnel: Take this a step further. We lose Saquon right… what’s our identity going to be on offense now? What’s our plan? What’s the next step of that, I guess is what I’m thinking. We’re losing… our explosiveness, our touchdowns. Quarterback, if it’s Daniel, depends on the run game.

Joe Schoen, General Manager: We’ve got to upgrade the offensive line and you’re paying the guy $40M. It’s not to hand the ball off to a $12M back. My plan is address the offensive line at some point here in free agency. We’re sitting at 6, there’s a chance there’s an offensive weapon there. This is the year for Daniel. The plan all along was give him a couple of years. Is he our guy for the next 10 years or do we need to pivot and find somebody else?”

To be clear this conversation was had before the Giants ultimately saw Saquon leave, remember that NFL Films is shooting these events in real time.

The benefit of hindsight tells us that the Giants did exactly what Schoen said in that they signed several offensive linemen in free agency (headlined by Jon Runyan) and took LSU wide receiver Malik Nabers at number 6 overall in the 2024 NFL Draft.

As someone who roots for and covers the Dallas Cowboys I have taken a great amount of joy in laughing at the Giants and their decision-making for the last 15 or so years, but if we are fair about all of this then they did absolutely nothing wrong.

I’ll acknowledge that the Giants don’t exactly have the benefit of the doubt and that Daniel Jones is not exactly someone I would strongly believe in personally, but this is still the NFL and building around the quarterback is the most logical way forward. In fact the Giants failed miserably at trying to build around Saquon Barkley for all of his Giants career.

People will laugh and roll their eyes at what the Giants did especially because Howie Roseman is the Eagles’ general manager and is regarded as being very good at his job, so it looks like the Giants made a huge mistake that the Eagles capitalized on. Again, benefit of the doubt type stuff.

But the Giants finally made the hard decision that they avoided for so long. Good for them I guess.

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