Needless to say, the Giants season did end the way anyone wanted after they got steamrolled 38-7 in Saturday’s NFC semi-final. We had thought that maybe the Giants could sneak up on the Eagles if they came into the game a little overconfident and maybe looking ahead just a bit to a possible conference final match-up with either Dallas or the 49ers. Unfortunately, though, it didn’t work out that way as, for whatever reason, it was the Eagles that came out looking like they had been shot out of a cannon, while the Giants looked like they were carrying a cannon. And the number that gave that away was 268. Fact is, nobody gives up 268 rushing in an NFL game when their defense shows up and it just never looked like any of the Giants ever really showed up. It kind of reminded me just a little bit of the 1985 NFC final when the Giants went to Chicago to play the Bears with big hopes after beating the 49ers the previous week, but came out flat as pancakes and got smushed 21-0. In the end, what you do with a game like that is simply burn the tape and move on. And my guess is that’s what the Giants have already done.
However, disappointment this weekend aside, overall this season was about a successful as anyone could have reasonably hoped. In fact, our primary goal entering the season was to find out just what kind of team the Giants had: were they the 4-win team that ended the 2021 season, a 7-win team, or a 10-win team that was way closer to being competitive than most observers were predicting. And while there is still a lot of work to be done, it seems pretty clear that the answer to the question was behind the third door.
Of course, the work that still has to be done starts with deciding what to do with QB Daniel Jones. And there were some interesting comments from G.M. Joe Schoen in that regard is in his post-season presser on Monday. Indeed, on several occasions Schoen talked about how happy they were that Jones would be back and that he ‘was their guy.’ Perhaps Schoen’s most telling comment though was that ‘there were tools at their disposal’ in the negotiations with Jones and his people. Given that the only real tool in the team’s toolbox, though, is the franchise tag we read this as a pretty clear message to Jones and his team that a) Jones isn’t going anywhere and b) if their demands are too high that the team will simply tag him.
At the same time, Schoen’s comments about RB Saquon Barkley were perhaps even more interesting. Schoen, in fact, was somewhat muted in his praise of #26 saying that he was a good player who they wanted back, but it’s a business you know! Again, it sounded all the part of a not-so-subtle message to Saquon and his people that if he in fact wants to remain with the Giants – and he has reportedly said so privately – he’s going to have to moderate his demands.
It’s certainly no surprise that the Giants would want Barkley back. He was their MVP early the season when they got off to that 6-1 start. And he’s more than just a RB. Indeed, with a Barkley in the lineup the Giants don’t have to establish a running game. Its established simply when he steps on the field. And he’s one of the few RBs in the league who NFL defensive co-ordinators have to scheme to stop. But the truth is, that unlike Jones, as good as Barkley was for the Giants this year, his production is ultimately replaceable. It might even take a committee, but it’s doable. And it probably won’t be that big a deal cap wise to resign Barkley in 2023, but the Giants have to be so conscious of the fact that they have a number of really good players who will become free agent eligible in the next 3-4 years that they have to so judicious about what they commit down the road in back-loaded deals today.
It’s also not rocket science to figure that the Giants could use upgrades at just every position this off-season including WR, C, CB, DE, ILB, TE, and RB. However, it says here, that in reality they have only real need. And that’s an infusion of new receivers that can provide chunk plays and stretch the field. The fact is that every team still alive in the playoffs has a cadre of really good receivers and the Giants have essentially none. To use a basketball analogy: WRs are your three-point shooters and you can have all the rebounders, point guards and defenders in the world, but in this day and age it’s awfully tough to compete at the highest BB levels if you can’t shoot threes. On the other hand, you may very well be able to compete if threes are all you can shoot!
In that context, we just don’t see how the Giants don’t go into the 2023 thinking they pretty well have to get THE best receiver(s) they can. Obviously, there is still over three months to go until the draft and still much sorting out to be done, but I don’t think it would be a total shock if they ended up trading up from #25 if one of the top receivers such as TCU’s Quentin Johsnton, Jordan Addison of USC and Ohio State’s Jaxon Njigba-Smith came into range. And if they don’t move up they are certainly sitting pretty at #25 as there is a really deep group of second-tier receivers who should start to come off the board at that time including the Tennessee duo of Jalin Hyatt and Cedric Tillman, Boston College’s Zay Flowers, Rashee Rice of SMU and North Carolina’s Josh Downs. It also wouldn’t be a total shock if they used 2-3 of their first 4-5 picks on the position as it is really deep.
At the same time, though, we think there is a very good chance that this off-season the Giants will be asking themselves how do we want to try and win games in 2023. And one intriguing potential answer is to put their resources into the defense which is already a pretty good unit and make it a potentially dominant one. In that context, they could end up looking for either another starting outside corner or another defensive lineman. In fact, at CB it wouldn’t be a total shock if they followed the same track as WR and looked to trade up for one of the top three corners this year – Penn State’s Joey Porter, Cam Smith of South Carolina and Christian Ganzalez – although failing that Illinois’ Devon Witherspoon might make a very nice consolation prize at #25.
Unfortunately, the pickings are a whole lot slimmer of the DL especially if, as we suspect, the Giants would be looking in particular for a tweener type DE like USC’s Tuli Tuipulotu with the size to kick inside on passing. Again, however, there aren’t a lot of those types of guys in this year’s draft.
We also think the second round could be very interesting for the Giants. We have this guy feeling, for example, that if the Giants did end up taking a defensive player with their #1 pick (or at least a non-WR) that they could very well look to trade up in the second round to get one of those second-tier receivers noted above. And if the Giants did get a WR in the opening round, we wouldn’t be surprised to see them trade up for a defender in the 2nd. Heck, we wouldn’t necessarily be surprised if the Giants traded up in the 2nd and took a another WR even if they got one in the first.
At this point, I would expect to start to get a bunch of ‘but we have too many holes to fill to start trading away picks!’ Maybe. But we don’t necessarily see Schoen and company going into the upcoming draft primarily looking to just fill so-called holes in the roster. What we do think they may very well be wanting to do is add a couple of impact players with the potential to make impact plays.
We would also expect ‘but what about the offensive line?’ First, there is no question that the Giants need to upgrade the OL. Quite simply 49 sacks and a QB hit rate of 25% are way too high. However, my own sense is that the Giants should be able to work something out in the middle of the OL with some combination of the young guys they have and maybe adding a couple of vet FA (if 76 and 64 don’t return.) My greater concern would be Neal who was drafted 5th overall to lock down RT but too often looked more like he was leading the jailbreak! Might not be a bad idea to also consider adding a mid-priced vet OT as a little insurance at the position. That said, though, the Giants can add all the Pro Bowl OL in the world and they are not going to compete with the elite teams until they get some explosive playmakers in the passing game because that’s the way the NFL is played these days.