The end has finally come. Given preseason hopes and expectations, 2023 will likely go down as one of the most disappointing in New York Giants franchise history. The coaching staff, the quarterback, the offensive line, the weapons, the run defense, the pass rush, and special teams all came up short. In hindsight, a number of poor and odd personnel decisions were made including re-signing Daniel Jones to a long-term deal, the trade for Darren Waller, the retention of Sterling Shepard at the expense of the return game, and the entire handling of the offensive line. And once again, the injury monster that has plagued this team for more than a decade reared its ugly head.
Of all of those aforementioned issues, the most alarming was the rapid demise of the reputations of Joe Schoen and Brian Daboll. Last year at this time, Schoen was being lauded for taking tough but necessary steps to clean up the team’s salary cap mess. Daboll was receiving “Coach of the Year” honors with his entire staff being recognized for doing more with less than every other team in the NFL. Fast forward to January 2024 and the decision by Schoen and Daboll to make Daniel Jones one of the highest paid quarterbacks looks horrific and has erased the salary-cap freedom the team had created.
That is not to say there haven’t been good moves. The re-signing of Dexter Lawrence and Andrew Thomas ahead of either hitting free agency was smart. The decision to defer on Xavier McKinney and Adoree’ Jackson was wise. Same with trading away Leonard Williams for a good return and not spending wildly on outside free agents other than Bobby Okereke, who has panned out in a major way. But the Daniel Jones’ contract overshadows much of this, and he will continue to be the major point of contention on this team.
I could go on and on, but to cut to the chase, after appearing to make real progress in 2022, the teams seems to have returned to its clusterfuck ways. That makes the 2024 offseason perhaps one of the most important in team history. Are Schoen and Daboll going to turn this around? Can they at least provide a glimmer of hope again that things might be getting better? The alternative is too painful to contemplate right now.
Enter the Philadelphia Eagles, arguably Big Blue’s #1 antagonist for the past 16 years. To have a division rival own you to the tune of 26-7 since 2008 is simply pathetic. And the current regime is 0-4 against the Eagles, including a 38-7 playoff trouncing.
At the end of November, the defending NFC Champions, were once again soaring high and fielding an impressive 10-1 record. However, they have since plummeted to earth, losing four of their last five games. Their only victory during this time frame? Yup, against the New York Football Giants two weeks ago. The lowly Cardinals can beat the Eagles, but the Giants can’t.
So the Giants enter this game with fans having conflicting emotions. The Giants currently have the #5 overall pick. Their 12th loss keeps them at that spot and possibly higher, an important consideration if they indeed want to draft another quarterback. However, for all of us who hate those dirty birds, sending them into the playoffs with another embarrassing defeat would be sweet and bring a fleeting smile to our faces.
THE INJURY REPORT:
- QB Tyrod Taylor (back – probable)
- OC John Michael Schmitz (shin – questionable)
- ILB Carter Coughlin (shoulder – probable)
- CB Deonte Banks (shoulder – doubtful)
- CB Darnay Holmes (foot – probable)
- S Jason Pinnock (toe – out)
GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
Some quick, general thoughts on the state of the team as we enter the offseason:
Quarterback: Point blank – the Giants have no viable starting quarterback on the roster.
I have moved from fully supporting Daniel Jones (2019-2020), to straddling the fence (2021-2022), to it’s time to move on (2023). He’s an injury-prone (one healthy season in five) quarterback who has problems throwing touchdown passes. At his best as a two-way threat in 2022, he now has two neck injuries and a torn ACL already despite being only 26 years old. In hindsight, perhaps the worst thing for this team was Daniel Jones’ performance in the playoff game against a bad Vikings defense. Too much was made of that game, and it was probably a significant factor in the franchise re-signing Jones to a $160 million deal. The playoff loss to the Eagles should have received more attention. The excuses are beyond tiresome at this point. He’s 22-36-1 as a starter. Now also factor into the equation that the ACL may prevent him from practicing in the spring and much of the summer, and if he gets hurt again, the team gets hit with another huge cap hit in 2025.
I’ve said it multiple times, I would find it incredibly foolish for this team to bank on Daniel Jones in 2024. If he’s pencilled in as the starter, I expect another losing season, more poor offense, another significant injury for Jones, and for Daboll to be fired. The alternatives? Since franchise-altering quarterbacks rarely hit free agency, the team will have to draft Jones’ replacement in April. Then Jones or some other quarterback on the roster can also serve as the bridge if the rookie isn’t ready. The financial risk to the team is if Jones gets injured. Would they be bold enough to bench him? Would the NFLPA get involved at that point? If the bridge is not Jones, then the Giants would likely sign a veteran to compete with Tommy DeVito, who may or may not have an NFL future. Could Tyrod Taylor, who will be an unrestricted free agent, re-sign with the team? Possible. But the team benched him once for DeVito already, he also can’t seem to stay healthy, and just demonstrated against the Rams the Jekyll-and-Hyde nature of his game.
But Eric, even if the Giants draft a quarterback with the first pick, the team is likely to lose and struggle offensively. Correct. But at least there will be hope. There is none with Jones at this point. If he’s named the starter, we may see empty seats at home games in September, something the team probably hasn’t experienced since the 1950s. The other option is to simply sign a veteran to compete with Jones, passing the buck until the 2025 NFL Draft. Not ideal.
Running Back: Saquon Barkley is the face of this team. Is that a good thing? I’m not so sure. During the six years he’s been with the Giants, the team has gone 33-64-1. Barkley has missed many of those games due to injury, but that has also been part of the problem. Despite being one of the team’s better talents, a case can be made that it might be better to turn the page and move on. Barkley will never be the same player as his tremendous rookie season, and for someone counting $10 million against the cap, his overall productivity isn’t eye-popping (916 rushing yards, 4.0 yards per rush average, 4 rushing touchdowns). The sixth-year veteran also continues to make questionable late-game mistakes (fumbling, dropped passes, mental lapses). Part of me says “no way” the Giants let him go; but part of me feels this is the end for Barkley with the Giants. We shall see. Regardless, here comes Round 2 of “will the Giants franchise Barkley or not?” and “is Barkley pissed?” I’ve been saying for two years now, the Giants should have traded him when his value was higher. It would have been better for Barkley too.
Wide Receiver: My current feeling is that Jalin Hyatt, Wan’Dale Robinson, and some 2024 offseason acquisition will be the starting trio in 2024. That offseason acquisition could be an expensive free agent or even a top-10 draft pick. Darius Slayton is under contract for one more season and Isaiah Hodgins will be a restricted free agent if the team tenders him. I don’t expect Parris Campbell (UFA) to be retained. The decision to keep Sterling Shepard over Jamison Crowder was mind-boggling. Sterling’s career likely ends on Sunday. Look for the team to get him at least one catch.
Tight End: My worst prediction for this team was me saying the Giants would have one of the best tight end groups in the NFL in 2023. Darren Waller was uncoverable in training camp, but when the real games counted, the old hamstring issues appeared, the big plays and touchdowns disappeared, and he missed five games. Worse, pleasant rookie surprise Daniel Bellinger took a major step back in his sophomore season. Rather than a strength, it would not be shocking to see the team completely reset at this position in the offseason. The Giants need to at least a credible blocking tight end, something Bellinger did well in college but has not done at the pro level. Lawrence Cager only caught four passes.
Offensive Line: The decade+ Achilles’ heel of the New York Football Giants. The #1 reason why the second half of Eli Manning’s career was a colossal disappointment, a strong argument can be made that it also catastrophically sabotaged the careers of Saquon Barkley (#2 pick in the draft) and Daniel Jones (#6 pick in the draft). Without a doubt, it is also a huge reason why this team has struggled not only to field a competent offense under multiple head coaches and offensive coordinators, but can’t seem to beat the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles. Despite high-level free agency and NFL Draft investments over the course of multiple regimes, the unit is still a mess. The coaching staff has not developed Evan Neal, Joshua Ezeudu, and John Michael Schmitz as hoped. Mark Glowinski was a disappointing signing; he has one year left on his contract but he makes too much money and no longer starts. Ben Bredeson is best suited as a back-up; he could depart in free agency. Shane Lemieux and Matt Peart are still here for some reason and should not be retained. A desperate in-season signing, Justin Pugh should not be re-signed. Tyree Phillips just tore his quad tendon, an injury that could take a year to recover from. A new quarterback makes the most sense for this team, but nothing will really change until the team improves the offensive line. It’s beyond ridiculous at this point. The Giants have allowed a whopping 83 sacks in 2023, with one more game left to play. The next team (Jets) have given up 63.
Offensive Coaches: In what will be a common theme with the coaching staff, a promising start by Mike Kafka in 2022 went off the rails in 2023. Last season, Kafka was forced to adapt to talent-starved roster that got worse with injuries. The team completely shifted to an RPO style that fit the strengths of Daniel Jones’ game and caught opposing defenses off guard. There was also some innovation in the play-calling. The play of the quarterbacks and offensive line may have unfairly sabotaged Kafka in 2023, but it feels like he didn’t rise to the occasion. Is he on the way out? Is Brian Daboll eyeing Ken Dorsey, who was fired by the Bills in November? Nevertheless, keep one thing in mind, this is Brian Daboll’s team and Brian Daboll’s offense. Everything goes through him.
For no other reason than an attempt to salvage Evan Neal, the team also may fire OL Coach Bobby Johnson. It was announced this week that RB Coach Jeff Nixon has left for Syracuse. TE Coach Andy Bischoff’s unit did not distinguish itself.
GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
Defensive Coaches: I’m starting here because everything that follows ultimately depends on who is coaching the defense in 2024 and what defensive style the team employs. Rumors abound that Daboll and Wink Martindale are parting ways. If true, then the defense could radically change unless Daboll decides to promote someone on Wink’s current staff. Regardless, while the defense was clearly the team’s strongest unit, it did not live up to expectations. Other than turnovers, the overall defensive team stats remained disappointing in terms of total yards allowed, rushing yards allowed, and points allowed. Even in games where the defense played well, there were key lapses that significantly contributed to defeats.
The stars of the defensive coaching unit seem to be DL Coach Andre Patterson and DB Coach Jerome Henderson. Hopefully both stick around.
Defensive Line: Dexter Lawrence is the heart and soul of the defense. Pray he stays healthy. The team will have to adjust to life without Leonard Williams. While the team has some decent veterans and young pups at the position, none of these guys are really pass rushers. Ideally the Giants find a way to retain A’Shawn Robinson, who really played well in the second half of the season. Rakeem Nunez-Roches remains under contract and Jordon Riley and D.J. Davidson flash ability.
Inside Linebackers: In a bad season, Bobby Okereke was one of the few bright spots. He started off slow but turned into a real and consistent difference-maker for the bulk of the season. Micah McFadden grabbed ahold of the other inside spot, played well for much of the season, but his missed tackles became more of an issue as the year progressed. Starter or back-up? The Giants gave up a late pick for Isaiah Simmons right before the season started. Simmons is at his best in coverage and attacking the quarterback; he’s at his worst when trying to read-and-react, play off blocks, and play the run. Does the team re-sign him? Darrian Beavers was signed to the 53-man roster last week. He is now more than a full year removed from his ACL injury.
Outside Linebackers: Kayvon Thibodeaux was making a real impact until the calendar turned to December. For whatever reason, his sacks (11.5) have slowed since then. Still, it’s been a mostly positive second year for Thibodeaux. The real problem is Azeez Ojulari’s one-promising career has completely fizzled out. He has one more year remaining on his contract and could be retained for depth, but the Giants desperately need another pass-rush threat opposite of Thibodeaux. It’s easily one of the top needs on the team and another position worthy of high-level investment. There is no depth here either with Jihad Ward, Boogie Basham, Benton Whitley, and Tomon Fox. Help!
Cornerbacks: Another bright spot is that it appears Deonte Banks is the real deal. There was the expected learning curve but his future is bright. Fellow rookie Tre Hawkins earned three starts early in the season before he was benched in favor of Adoree’ Jackson. Wink said this week the team is still very high on him. Whether or not he turns out to be a quality player significantly impacts the way this position is viewed. There is a good chance the team simply lets Adoree’ Jackson walk in free agency. He didn’t live up to his contract and was too inconsistent. Cor’Dale Flott was too up-and-down but he does flash ability. The Giants will have to make free agent decisions on Nick McCloud (RFA) and Darnay Holmes (UFA). My guess is the latter walks.
Safety: While not spectacular (except for Pinnock’s interception against Miami), the starting duo of Xavier McKinney and Jason Pinnock was steady and reliable. The big question here is can the Giants re-sign McKinney to a reasonable contract. It would not be shocking to see another team willing to spend more than the Giants. (Also keep in mind that Wink Martindale was deeply hurt by McKinney’s public criticism of the coaching staff in early November). Dane Belton has not played a lot since he was drafted two years ago, but when he plays, he seems to find the ball. He needs to become more reliable and consistent when tackling and covering however. Gervarrius Owens hardly played this year, but flashed in the summer.
GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
Coaching Staff: Thomas McGaughey has served as assistant special teams coordinator under Tom Coughlin. He served as the primary ST coordinator under Pat Shurmur, Joe Judge, and now Brian Daboll. But his unit mostly disappointed again in 2023, highlighted by the blocked field goal in the opener that seemed to spiral everything out of control. Could Daboll be moving on from ALL three coordinators? The last time something like that happened was when Tom Coughlin replaced both his offensive and defensive coordinators in 2007.
Kickers: Graham Gano had arguably been the team’s best player from 2020-2022. But he and the coaching staff decided to allow him to play with an injured knee, which led to him missing a game-winning 35-yard field goal against the Jets, effectively ending any playoff hopes. He was then placed on IR, needing surgery. There is no word yet on his future. Comically, the Giants then went through a series of kickers, including Randy Bullock, Cade York, and Mason Crosby due to injuries hitting the position. Punter Jamie Gillan was having a strong second season until groin and knee injuries hampered him in December. The real question here is can Gano come back as effective as ever? Or do the Giants take their chance with someone like York?
Returners: The Giants once had a dedicated return specialist named Dwayne Harris (2015-2017). He scored on both punt and kickoff returns. Then the team stopped using dedicated return specialists. The touchdowns disappeared and the mistakes multiplied. The Giants signed dedicated return specialist Gunner Olszewski in early November 2023. And the Giants returned a punt for a touchdown the first time since Dwayne Harris was here. Fancy that. It’s not rocket science.
FROM THE COACHES:
No quotes this week, but in listening to all three coordinators, it’s clear none of them are guaranteed to return.
THE FINAL WORD:
Last week, I wrote that stealing a win would hurt the team more. But my visceral hatred of the Eagles causes me to rethink this policy.