SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The smart ones can hear the meter running. It ticks softly, maliciously, with every carry, like one of those makeshift bombs in a James Bond flick.
Saquon Barkley is one of the smart ones. According to the latest numbers rolled out by the NFL Players’ Association, the average career lifespan of the pro running back is just 2.57 years.
Alma maters are forever.
“I don’t want to look back and be like, ‘Oh, wait, I should’ve done this, or I should’ve done that,’” Penn State’s star tailback said Thursday afternoon at the JW Marriott Scottsdale Camelback Inn during a media junket promoting the 2017 Fiesta Bowl.
“You can’t go back. There are so many people that come and talk to us who play in the NFL, had successful careers in the NFL, and they say you always try to come back to this moment. They definitely say, ‘Cherish it.’ That’s probably the best advice I got from the lettermen, players that came back and played [in the NFL].
“So it’s hard. And I’m a 20-year-old kid, and it’s my dream to play in the NFL. And I do think about it. And sometimes you can’t sleep at night because you think about it. But you’ve got to fight it and you’ve got to try as hard as you can to just cherish the moment that you have and cherish what you have with your teammates, because nothing’s guaranteed. Nothing’s guaranteed in life.”
Although this part usually is: The NFL historically and habitually falls out of love with tailbacks after their 29th birthdays.
“Exactly,” Barkley said. “Especially at the running back position.”
No. 26 turns 21 in February.
Tick, tick, tick.
“I think he should go,” offered Bertrand Berry, the former Pro Bowl defensive lineman and Notre Dame alum who’s currently a sports radio host in Phoenix. “I think, right now, his stock is probably as high as it’s [going to be].
“And I would actually advise him probably not to even play in this [Fiesta Bowl]. You’re not playing for a [national] championship. You’ve seen this year, and years past, you saw it with Leonard Fournette, you saw it with Christian McCaffery, last year. [Michigan tight end] Jake Butt got hurt in the Orange Bowl. So it is a cautionary tale, and I think when you are, for certain, to be that high of a draft pick, there’s a lot of risk and there’s very little reward.”
Tick, tick, tick.
“I don’t think you fault him for doing it. I just think you err on the side of caution. And if you were to get hurt, there’s such a huge risk with that.”
— Former NFL Pro Bowl defender Bertrand Berry on Penn State star Saquon Barkley
Logic says the Fiesta Bowl is like playing Russian roulette with your knees, especially against a Washington defense that’s got an NFL-worthy front wall and allows just 92.3 opponent rushing yards per contest.
Longtime ESPN analyst Todd McShay earlier this month projected Barkley to be tapped by Cleveland at No. 6 overall. Barring something unforeseen, he’s a top-15 pick, at worst, right here, right now.
Why roll the dice?
“Well, every player has to decide that for themselves,” Berry continued. “He’s obviously old enough to make his own decisions, and you respect it either way. I don’t think you fault him for doing it. I just think you err on the side of caution. And if you were to get hurt, there’s such a huge risk with that.”
And Barkley knows it. All of it. The Fiesta feels like a calculated gamble, one last farewell ride — remember, you can’t go back — with teammates he loves, a fan base he loves, a campus he loves, and a coach he loves.
The decision, which isn’t a decision at all, can wait.
This isn’t about me.
It’s about us.
“At the end of the day, it’s a team sport,” Barkley said. “It’s a team event. It shouldn’t be focused on my decision. It shouldn’t be focused on what I’m doing. It should be focused on the game. It should be focused on the team. It should be focused on Penn State, how we’re going to match up against Washington, what we’re going to do to help us win the game against Washington. I don’t care for people to talk about the decision-making.”
Ya dance with the ones that brung ya.
“I think he loves the game and loves the team a lot,” defensive end Ryan Buchholz said. “It’s the same thing when I got hurt — I felt bad that I couldn’t contribute. If it was his choice not to play, he would feel bad. He would feel more bad because it wouldn’t be able to contribute and help us to do his part.”
Ki-Jana Carter shredded his knee on the third carry of his preseason debut, back in August 1994, ending his rookie year prematurely. His NFL career was never the same.
Curtis Enis tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during the third quarter of his first NFL start, back in November 1998, ending his rookie year prematurely. See Carter, Ki-Jana.
“So I just think with him, he’s weighed his options and he’s made a decision,” Berry shrugged. “And if you’re Penn State, you’re definitely happy about it. Because it gives you a much better chance of winning this game.”