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John Mara says Giants didn’t trade Saquon Barkley at 2-6 because team still hoped to win

Giants owner John Mara with Saquon Barkley
Giants owner John Mara says each of his grandkids has a No. 26 Giants jersey because of Saquon Barkley as he explains losing star running back to rival Eagles.
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John Mara said the Giants didn’t trade with a 2-6 record last season for two reasons: They were still trying to win, and Mara was still hoping to re-sign him.

“I hate trading guys right at the trade deadline because it almost signals that you’re giving up on the season,” Mara said Monday at the NFL Owners Meetings in Orlando. “And Saquon, I was still hoping to be able to sign him at some point. It’s unfortunate we weren’t able to do it.”

The Giants did trade Leonard Williams to the Seattle Seahawks at the deadline and acquired an extra second-round pick in this year’s draft and a fifth in 2025, but they held onto Barkley.

They went 4-5 the rest of the way to finish 6-11. Then they lost Barkley to the rival Philadelphia Eagles in free agency for nothing, rather than recouping some value in a trade.

“He was one of our better offensive players, and we weren’t giving up,” GM Joe Schoen said, echoing Mara. “We still wanted him to go out there and perform for us… When [Daniel Jones] was coming back from the neck injury, we wanted to make sure they could go out there and operate. I think Saquon was a big part of that at that time.”

Mara said he “hated to see him go in the division.” He mentioned it bothered him three different times, actually.

But Mara said the fact that he let Barkley’s departure happen anyway was proof that he’s not “meddling.” Because he trusted Schoen and coach Brian Daboll’s decision on Barkley even though he personally wasn’t thrilled with the result.

“That was kind of an ongoing discussion through the year that it could come to this, and they knew my feelings that I was hoping it didn’t come to this,” Mara said. “But at the end of the day, I know sometimes every once in a while I read, ‘Oh, he’s meddling, he’s meddling.’ No. We’ve run our organization the same way for many, many years.”

“If the head coach and general manager have a conviction about a player, a group of players, I’m gonna let them go ahead and make those decisions,” Mara continued. “That’s what I pay them for. [If] they ask my opinion, I’m certainly gonna give them my opinion. And Joe knew I wasn’t gonna be thrilled with [Barkley] going in [the] division. But at the end of the day, the opportunity to acquire other players — Brian Burns being one of them — that was the direction they wanted to go in. So I’ll support that.”

Mara said he felt the Giants made “a pretty good offer” to Barkley last year, but “the feeling was that our resources needed to be allocated elsewhere.”

“Whether that ends up being the right decision or not remains to be seen,” he said. “But was I hoping he would be back? Absolutely I was.”

It was still “tough” for Mara to see Barkley leave for multiple reasons.

“Everything he did for us on the field, off the field. He was a class act in every respect, and I hated to see him leave,” Mara said. “On a more personal note, I have 14 grandchildren. Each of them has a 26 jersey, and it was tough breaking the news to them, too. Saquon was everything you wanted a player to be.”

“I have enormous respect for him,” Mara added, “and people that are criticizing him for doing that are way off base. I mean these guys, their careers are so short. I understand you gotta take the best deal that’s out there. That’s what he did. He grew up in the Pennsylvania area. So I don’t begrudge him that. Not looking forward to having to play against him twice a year, but I’ll always have enormous respect and appreciation for everything he did for us.”

Schoen said he wishes Barkley “nothing but the best” and pointed out that he was grateful for “everything he did for [Daboll and me] in that playoff run.”

Mara said he and Barkley texted each other “pretty quickly after the signing period started.”

“I told him I was sick about losing him and everything and told him he’s a class act,” Mara said. “It was a very nice exchange we had. We’ll always have a good relationship. Same with Xavier McKinney. I texted him. He called me right away. I had a really good conversation with him.”

Mara added that “it’s unfortunately part of the business. You lose guys who you really like and are really good players. But players come and go.”

He then lamented: “You have very few chances to have a Michael Strahan, an Eli Manning. It just doesn’t happen that often in this business.” But that’s not exactly a fair comparison, since the Giants had a limit to their interest in retaining both Barkley and McKinney and ultimately decided to let them leave.

What’s true in that comparison, though, is that the Giants didn’t do enough winning while Barkley and McKinney were here. They haven’t done much winning recently at all.

And that’s ultimately one of the major reasons both sides sought a change.

DRAFT PREP HEATS UP

Daboll is on the road with the Giants contingent this week attending some key college pro days for top NFL Draft prospects, including some of the best quarterbacks. The Giants had dinner with LSU wide receiver Malik Nabers on Tuesday night and then attended the Tigers’ pro day on Wednesday and planned to meet with QB Jayden Daniels. Tennessee QB Joe Milton III also threw Wednesday. Now North Carolina’s and Washington’s pro days are on deck with QBs Drake Maye and Michael Penix Jr. set to showcase their skills. … NFL commissioner Roger Goodell had no update Tuesday on the league’s investigation into possible tampering violations by the Eagles and Falcons in their free agent signings of Barkley and QB Kirk Cousins, respectively. Mara deferred comment to the league when asked, only acknowledging that an “interview came out with [Penn State head coach] James Franklin” to prompt it.

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