Following the bouncing balls can make one dizzy, but the Giants hope the recent moving and shaking going on in NFL free agency brings them some clarity six weeks before the draft and grants them this knowledge: If they want Saquon Barkley with the No. 2 pick, he will be there for them.
There is only one team selecting ahead of the Giants, the Browns at No. 1, and what they do could dictate where the Giants go with their pick. The Browns need a quarterback (don’t they always?) and also own the No. 4 pick in the draft. A move they made Wednesday could wipe “running back” off their list of needs. They secured Carlos Hyde with a three-year contract worth more than $15 million, according to reports, and that sort of money is commensurate with a starting player.
Hyde is 27 years old and replaces Isaiah Crowell, who on Tuesday agreed to a three-year deal with the Jets. Hyde’s arrival in Cleveland does not completely preclude the Browns from taking Barkley in the draft, but it certainly is reasonable to suggest Hyde’s presence shifts their focus toward selecting a quarterback with the first-overall pick. The strong expectation is the Browns kick off the draft by selecting Sam Darnold out of USC.
The Giants also added a running back Tuesday, signing Jonathan Stewart to a two-year deal worth $6.9 million, with $2.95 million guaranteed, but his move actually increases the likelihood the Giants take Barkley, considered by many the most talented player in this draft. Stewart turns 31 next week and is coming off a season in which he averaged a career-low 3.4 yards per rushing attempt. He should be viewed as a short-yardage and goal-line option and also a 10-year veteran who will add a professional attitude to the locker room. His contract should realistically be viewed as a one-year deal for around $3 million. He should not be viewed as the starting running back — nor should Wayne Gallman, entering his second season with the Giants.
Stewart is receiving backup money from the Giants. Hyde is getting starters’ money, as is Jerick McKinnon, who agreed to a four-year, $30 million deal with the 49ers. McKinnon was with the Vikings when Pat Shurmur was the offensive coordinator in Minnesota. As the Giants head coach, Shurmur knows what McKinnon can do, but the Giants did not make a run for him, knowing he would cost too much.
The Giants’ starting running-back spot remains open, a spot Barkley could fill, if the Browns pass on him now that they have Hyde.