Sure, how could the Giants not be enamored with the Penn State running back, a potentially dominant player and natural leader with few knocks against him within a few weeks of the draft? But the more they are connected to the player and the more whispers about their intent to select him turn into screams, the more other teams begin to wonder if this is more like a screen. As in smoke screen.
I spoke to several general managers over the weekend who are watching what the Giants do with the second pick very closely, and all believed that while the Giants surely are big fans of Barkley, a trade is highly likely and there could be more going on here than immediately meets the eye. Two GMs wondered if the Giants were maybe pushing the Barkley button hard in order to drum up trade interest among the teams still desperate to get into position to draft a quarterback, like Buffalo or Arizona. Because it's not like the second-overall pick is the only spot the Giants can land the running back, and it's not like they don't have other needs.
"If you are (Giants general manager Dave) Gettleman, you must love all of this Barkley talk," said one NFC general manager. "I think if he gets his way, he holds an auction for the second pick, drops back a few spots and takes the running back or Bradley Chubb at 5 if everyone is trading up for a quarterback."
They believe that all the Barkley talk – if it has any genesis from within the Giants organization – has the multi-fold impact of letting teams know the Giants aren't taking a quarterback, and letting teams know to come talk to them, while at the same time creating a perception that the team is perfectly okay taking Barkley. The Giants have already been selling their fanbase on the narrative – or at least preparing them for the possibility – which gives Gettleman a potential position of strength when soliciting offers for the selection.
"The more I hear about the Giants and Barkley the more I think they are trading down," the general manager offered.
Makes sense. If you are Gettleman and you manage to have some fans and media convinced that Barkley is Superman, whether by your own actions or not, and then you are able to land him a few spots down and pick up some of the many assets this roster still badly needs, well, that certainly becomes a feather in your cap. And at a time when the Giants seem to be caught between a rebuild and dabbling with a possibly farfetched idea of contending, and with the Odell Beckham, Jr. fiasco now swirling, they could use a win or two from a public-relations standpoint, if nothing else.
Several general managers I spoke to believe there is still ample opportunity for the Giants and Bills to make a move – Bills general manager Brandon Beane worked under Gettleman in Carolina for a spell – and no one is convinced that the Bills are done wheeling and dealing.
"Brandon is trying like hell to get up and get a quarterback," said one general manager who has spoken to Beane recently. "I'm convinced he'll trade up twice more if he has to. It reminds me of (Eagles general manager) Howie (Roseman) a few years ago (when he was moving up to land Carson Wentz)."
Of course. Gettleman isn't interested in dropping all the way back to 12th overall, where the Bills currently sit after their trade with the Bengals. But if Beane can split the difference somewhat, then odds are quite good the Bills and Giants could be trade partners. If, say, the Broncos aren't convinced there is a quarterback worth taking at the fifth spot, that would be a perfect launching point for Beane. And that would be a sweetspot for Gettleman.
"If Beane gets the five, I know he can get to two," said the general manager who has been in contact with Beane.
When you think about it, it all adds up pretty neatly for all parties. The Browns take a quarterback (if you made me pick today I'd say Sam Darnold). If the Bills got to the second pick, say, via the Broncos and Giants, then Beane gets his pick of the next best quarterback. The Jets take a quarterback and Browns general manager John Dorsey either trades down with another quarterback-starved club or takes Barkley or Chubb himself … which would leave Gettleman with one of the two best players in the draft, only three spots lower and having gained more future draft picks via trade.
The GMs I spoke to believe there is no chance Chubb would get by Colts general manager Chris Ballard with the sixth pick, so Gettleman staying in front of Ballard keeps him in great shape there. Of course, the Broncos might not be in the quarterback market and will ride with Case Keenum, and then want the opportunity to choose between Barkley and Chubb themselves. Who could blame them?
But don't underestimate Beane's intent to be able to secure a quarterback who he truly believes could be a franchise difference-maker. He hasn't reshuffled his roster and made this many trades to accrue all of this draft capital just to sit at 12th overall and be left with possibly the fifth-best quarterback in this draft. Staying at 12 and 22 of the first round doesn't do him much good if he's left without a passer.
And he also has to at least worry a little that a team like Arizona (No. 15 overall pick) or Baltimore (16) leapfrogs that 12th pick to attempt to get a better shot at a quarterback, as well. Given all of that, I have a hard time thinking Beane doesn't complete another trade. And if he isn't concerned with getting ahead of the Jets – who are most definitely taking a quarterback with the third overall pick – then just going ahead and getting something done with John Dorsey with that fourth pick might be the simplest solution to his problem.
Throw in the fact that teams also have best-of-breed veterans like Earl Thomas and Beckham available for trade, and this has the makings of a highly-fertile pre-draft period. If Gettleman was able to drop down a few spots and pick up picks, plus land close to full value for Beckham with division rivals like the Rams and 49ers among those interested, then the prospects of the Giants getting better in the immediate future – and long-term – could look much better than they appear right now.