Theirs is a bond strengthened by respect, remarkable talent and a refusal to be defeated by failure.
Odell Beckham Jr. and Saquon Barkley were together for the first time as New York Giants teammates as the third phase of the offseason training program got underway Monday morning. No introduction was needed, of course, since Beckham and Barkley took care of that months ago when their paths crossed in Los Angeles with both doing their speed training with Jamal Liggin on the West Coast.
"We just clicked," Barkley said.
Beckham and Barkley talked about what ifs and what could be as the latter prepared for the NFL draft, secretly hoping behind the scenes that they'd wind up where they were Monday: two stalls away from each other inside the Giants' locker room getting ready for the next step toward a season that holds so much promise and expectation for both.
"Our lockers are two spots away from each other," Barkley added with a laugh. "[Monday morning], he was like, 'What's up!' Handshake. Hug. And go about the day. Get to work."
That sentiment echoes exactly what Beckham told The Record and NorthJersey.com just hours after the Giants selected Barkley with the No. 2 overall pick, their highest draft choice since Lawrence Taylor.
"We met a while back, and I just knew where he was going," Beckham said, recalling what he and Barkley discussed during a FaceTime chat after the Giants made their selection on draft night. "We spoke this into existence, and now it's time to do the rest."
Barkley. Beckham. Saquon. Odell.
Two players, coming from completely different places heading into their first and fifth seasons, respectively, but carrying equal responsibility for getting the Giants where they want to go.
Beckham continues to do the right thing by Shurmur and the Giants, refusing to let his desire for a lucrative long-term extension get in the way of a franchise desperate to turn the page on a forgettable 3-13 campaign.
When news was made Monday by those who stayed away from voluntary OTA practices around the league, with Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski and Julio Jones and Aaron Donald garnering attention, the latter three all seeking more money, Beckham was taking part in individual drills and showing his commitment to the team.
He stretched with the team and speed-stepped during agility work with the Giants' wide receivers, caught some passes from wide receivers coach Tyke Tolbert before doing more rehab with the training staff.
Beckham returned from the field house in time to watch Barkley's first "touchdown" catch from Eli Manning during red zone drills. It was a simple angle route out of the backfield for Barkley, who stood alone at the goal line when, after looking off the defender to the left side, Manning fired and completed the play with relative ease.
"I didn't even realize that I scored," Barkley said. "I guess that's kind of cool now that I think about it, but it was a play, I ran a play and got open, Eli found me and we were able to score and get practice started off really early. Just got to continue to learn some things. In that situation, obviously it was a good play, but go back and look at how it could have been better."
That obsession for perfection is something Barkley shares with Beckham, who has seemingly done everything right to move past the whirlwind in late March that thrust his name into the rumor mill regarding a trade that neither the Giants nor Beckham truly wanted to happen.
At this point, Beckham is giving the Giants everything they asked to see from a player whose importance to their success is critical. If, as general manager Dave Gettleman and team president/co-owner John Mara have suggested, a contract will get done when it is meant to get done — it's hard to imagine team brass viewing Beckham's long-term presence as anything but an inevitability.
"He looks good. He's out here moving around, he's champing at the bit wanting to get out and do more than we're allowing him to do at this point," Giants coach Pat Shurmur said. "But I think we're just trying to make sure that everything is healed to the fullest before we put him out there. He looks good."
So does Barkley, who comes to the Giants with a hunger to learn. He's also well aware of what he can do for Beckham and others within an offense that has not reached 30 points since Tom Coughlin's last game as head coach in 2015.
All eyes were on Barkley and Beckham on Monday, and the former promises his will be on Beckham from this point forward.
"He knows what to do, what not to do and I'm a fool if I only listen to what to do and don't look at what not to do, because I can learn from that also and that can help me and evolve me as a better person and a player," Barkley said of Beckham, shortly after his post-practice news conference with a media crowd finished up on Monday. "I will make my own mistakes own day, too, so I'll have that same mindset for the future when rookies next year and rookies the next year come in, I'll be able to show them what to do and what not to do. There's a lot I can learn from Odell, there's no doubt about that."
Gettleman essentially tagged Barkley with the "gold jacket" label due to his belief in the Pro Football Hall of Fame standard that comes with being the No. 2 overall pick.
Barkley has promised he isn't in awe of that proclamation, simply because he sets his own similar expectations for himself.
Who better for Barkley to study than Beckham, whose Hall of Fame aspirations and thirst to return to the playoffs to atone for his greatest professional disappointment have yet to be satisfied?
"I don't see [Beckham] stopping the way he works, the way he works on his craft and how passionate he is about the game," Barkley said. "I could see him continue to elevate his game, hopefully as a running back I can help him elevate his game also — but I see him as a gold jacket, hands down."
Barkley and Beckham know the heights to where they hope to take the Giants, not to mention their own games. They also like the idea of trying to get there together.
"Once a Giant, always a Giant — that's what it says all over this place," Barkley said. "So that's the goal."
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