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Saquon Barkley bothered by Eli criticism: 'Not his fault'

The new face of the franchise in East Rutherford with Odell Beckham out the door, New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley said earlier this month that he wanted to "grow as a leader" in Big Blue's locker room. That role entails standing up for the other veteran leader in the clubhouse.

Barkley defended Giants quarterback Eli Manning in a recent interview with Bleacher Report's Taylor Rooks, amid criticism of the aging QB.

"Yeah, it bothers me. I'm not going to lie because it's not his fault," Barkley told Rooks in an upcoming interview. "He's not the reason why. We love to put the blame on one person, but it takes 11 men, a team and an organization all together to win."

The two-time Super Bowl champion Manning has developed into a punching bag for Giants fans who see the organization's loyalty and deference to him as restrictive to their roster-building (see: Beckham and Landon Collins) and counterproductive. And that criticism isn't unfounded.

The QB's play and ability to throw receivers open downfield has declined over the last few years, though last season the stats wouldn't show it. Manning finished with a career-high 66 completion percentage, averaged 7.5 yards per attempt (his highest since New York's Super Bowl-winning 2011 season) and also averaged 286.7 passing yards per game (his most in three seasons). Eli also took a career-high 47 sacks behind a still-patchwork offensive line.

Manning has proponents elsewhere in the organization, too. Giants general manager Dave Gettleman has adamantly defended Manning, telling reporters that the narrative that Manning, slated to count $23.2 million against the cap this year, is "overpaid and can't play is a crock."

But the Giants are still exploring moving on from the 38-year-old QB in the near future. New York has met with certain QB prospects, including Ohio State's Dwayne Haskins and West Virginia's Will Grier, and owns the No. 6 and 17 selections in the 2019 NFL Draft. The Giants have also been rumored to be interested in a trade for Cardinals QB Josh Rosen.

Until the Giants find a younger QB to pair with the likes of Barkley, however, the running back will be asked to defend and support Manning, sometimes in interviews but more often in front of eight-man boxes.

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