Saquon Barkley has the early lead in the Rookie Rumble of early 2019, but the grand prize, a title belt -- uh, chain, actually -- is still up for grabs.
That's right: Barkley and Baker Mayfield have a little wager that awards the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year winner a brand new chain.
"It's for a chain," Barkley said, via The Plain Dealer's Mary Kay Cabot. "The loser's got to get someone else a chain. We get to pick the chain and we get to have fun with it because obviously everyone's talking about who's going to win, and at the end of the day we'd love to see each other win, but we'd also love to see ourselves win too, but we made a little bet with it just to show how friendly we are that it's bigger than just the award."
It is bigger, for both franchises. Mayfield looks to be every bit of the franchise quarterback the Browns hoped they were getting when they spent the first overall pick on him in the 2018 NFL Draft. Barkley, the next pick in the draft, looks to be the game-changing running back the Giants also hoped they'd get with the No. 2 pick.
The two aren't just forever bonded by their draft order -- they're also friends, as Barkley alluded to in explaining the chain prize. Barkley had nothing but positive things to say about Mayfield, which was likely a little easier after the running back took home the Pepsi Rookie of the Year award this week.
"Baker is amazing," Barkley said Thursday. "He went one, I went two. He won the Heisman, I won Pepsi Rookie of the Year. There's nothing I can say bad about Baker. He's one of my good friends. We're actually doing a trip with each other coming up soon. I just love his play, what he did for Cleveland this year."
The interesting part about Barkley winning the Pepsi award was how the regular-season finishes didn't actually seem to matter. Consider this: Mayfield won the Pepsi Rookie of the Week award seven times in the regular season. Barkley won it just once, equaling the amount of weekly achievements for Mayfield teammates Denzel Ward and Nick Chubb, who each earned the honor once.
Yet, Barkley won the season's award. Might Barkley's market (New York City) be a factor?
There's no questioning Barkley's impact on the Giants, who struggled to a 5-11 mark that would've been significantly worse, had the rookie not done everything in his power to keep the team afloat. Barkley tied the team's rookie receptions record with 91, matching Odell Beckham's 2014 mark, rushed for 1,307 yards and 11 touchdowns, and racked up 721 receiving yards and four receiving touchdowns. He was a threat on every down and often extended plays by making multiple tacklers miss. Barkley's games were a treat to watch on most Sundays.
He also disappeared in a couple of late-season games (Weeks 15-16), something he had a tendency of doing while at Penn State, too. Again, though, he was running behind an offensive line that needed half of the season just to become competent. His rookie year was an uphill battle, and he ended up sprinting over the hill.
Mayfield's case could be stronger, depending on what one values. The quarterback who saw his first regular-season action as a professional late in the first half of a Thursday-night Week 3 game ended up resetting the rookie passing touchdown record in 13 1/2 games. The previous mark, set by both Peyton Manning in 1998 and Russell Wilson in 2012, required all 16 games, adding weight to Mayfield's achievement.
He also helped the Browns to their greatest single-season turnaround in franchise history, going from 0-16 in 2017 to 7-8-1 in 2018. Mayfield posted a record of 7-7 in games in which he appeared and a passer rating of 120 or better in four of his final seven games. The rookie was about as hot as any quarterback in the NFL in that span (save for Patrick Mahomes), and clearly the cream of the lauded 2018 rookie QB crop.
Perhaps the deciding factor in this race is value and importance. Mayfield gets the edge here, because of both the nature of and the history of ineptitude at the quarterback position in Cleveland since 1999. The future hasn't been brighter than it is now in Cleveland, not since the team returned as an expansion franchise just before the turn of the century. Mayfield is a big reason for that.
Or maybe it's the strength of one's highlight reel. Barkley has a lot of them, and the average fan doesn't have all that much time to watch the entire season of each. Barkley's body of work is also tough to argue with.
We'll see Saturday during NFL Honors who those who cover the NFL think is more deserving of the award. A jeweler's invoice depends upon it.