As is always the case, there are fans of the New York Giants who are optimistic about the team’s future while there are others who are pessimistic. That’s just human nature. Regarding the 2021 edition of the franchise, the optimism is largely based on confidence in Head Coach Joe Judge and his staff. The negativity is mainly due to a lack of faith in ownership and the front office. But a cursory review of the existing roster doesn’t help either.
The Cliff Note’s version of this article is that the roster is still a mess.
The most damning thing about the franchise is that the Giants seem to have been in “rebuilding” mode for a decade. And they don’t seem to be REALLY further along in that rebuilding effort than they were 10 years ago. Much of that has to do with the fact that John Mara, Steve Tisch, and two general managers would not accept that the team needed a complete rebuild. At least not publicly. If they felt that way privately, then their level of incompetence is frightening. To be blunt, the team has been spinning its wheels for years. We all know it.
The core problem is easy to diagnose. The team has drafted poorly. They have attempted to compensate for that by overpaying for often mediocre talent in free agency. That has not only tied up immediate cap space but created additional burdens in future years with millions of dollars in dead money. A common refrain heard from fans defending team management is, “What choice did the GM have? He had to overpay because not doing so would have been worse!” This is a loser’s argument. And that’s what the team has become, a losing franchise.
So the 6-10 New York Giants approach free agency with little cap room once again and over $10 million dead money wasted. If the team is ever going to stop this vicious cycle, it needs to draft better and stop trying to compensate in free agency with ridiculous contracts. It’s not just the foolish high-profile signings such as when the team made Nate Solder the highest-paid offensive lineman in football but the under-the-radar contract such as giving a 3rd-string tight end (Levin Toilolo) a 2-year, $6.2 million deal. Stupid. Indefensible. The “what choice did they have” argument looks pretty foolish in hindsight.
Now to be fair, the team’s two high-profile signings in 2020 appear to have been smart decisions. CB James Bradberry and LB Blake Martinez were major positive additions to the team Bradberry went to the Pro Bowl and Martinez is arguably the team’s best inside linebacker since Antonio Pierce. But it came at a cost in the form of $74 million spread out over three years. And both will have to continue to justify those contracts. After 2016, fans were applauding the $194 million given to CB Janoris Jenkins, NT Damon Harrison, and LB Olivier Vernon. That tune changed quickly after only one season. And those contracts sabotaged the team for years.
Hopefully my point is obvious. Be careful. Spending tens of millions of dollars in free agency rarely ends up well. It feels good initially, but the team often finds itself right back where it started, with its wheels spinning in the mud.
QUARTERBACKS: Daniel Jones remains the starter. But 2020 back-up Colt McCoy is currently an unrestricted free agent. So there is a greater need here than many realize. Daniel Jones gets hurt and misses games. The team will likely re-sign McCoy or sign another veteran. (Need Level – Medium)
RUNNING BACKS: Aside from depth, after the 2018 season, the New York Giants seemed set at this position for the foreseeable future after Saquon Barkley’s superlative rookie season. But after two injury-plagued seasons, including injuries to his ACL, MCL, and meniscus last year, his future with the team is very much in doubt with his contract expiring after the year. Worse, the next three running backs on the depth chart (Wayne Gallman, Alfred Morris, and Dion Lewis) are all unrestricted free agents and there is a decent chance that none will be re-signed. That leaves Taquan Mizzell, Jordan Chunn, and fullback Eli Penny. Oh boy. (Need Level – High to Desperate)
WIDE RECEIVERS: This position is bordering on disaster. Golden Tate flopped in 2020 and was cut this offseason. That leaves Sterling Shepard, a perpetual tease who is possibly one concussion away from retirement, and sophomore slump victim Darius Slayton, who only caught 12 passes after the bye week. Dante Pettis and C.J. Board are waiver-wire pick-ups. The other four receivers were undrafted and two of those have already been cut by other teams. Dave Brown had better receivers to work with in the 1990s and that’s saying something. (Need Level – Desperate)
TIGHT ENDS: If Evan Engram was the player the front office and coaching staff says he is, the team would be in decent shape at this position. But he’s not. I pray I am ultimately proven wrong about Engram, but it’s been four years since he was drafted. He is a tease who disappears for long stretches and comes up small in the clutch. Engram is a “receiving” tight end who isn’t particularly good at that aspect of the game. He had ONE touchdown in 2020. And yet the coaching staff keeps saying they can build an offense around him? Put down the crack pipe! Kaden Smith and Levine Toilolo are average-at-best back-ups. Neither scored in 2020. The Giants only had one touchdown from their tight ends last year. Wow. (Need Level – Desperate)
OFFENSIVE LINE: How you view this position depends on your level of confidence in the young guns. Understandably, Giants fans have little faith in the ability of the team to “fix” the offensive line because they have been unable to do so in 10 years of drafting and free agency. In addition, the Giants enter 2021 with a new offensive line coach who has never coached at the pro level, and multiple cooks in the kitchen who will advise him (Freddie Kitchens, Ben Wilkerson, Pat Flaherty). The good news is that Andrew Thomas, Nick Gates, Shane Lemieux, and Matt Peart did show flashes of real ability. The ups and downs were to be expected by green players with no real training camp and no preseason. The team cut Kevin Zeitler so Lemieux and the player he replaced, Will Hernandez, will likely start at guard unless the team signs a veteran or drafts an impressive rookie. It also appears the Giants will bring back Nate Solder on a reduced contract to compete with Peart at right tackle. Depth is not terrible with the likes of Jonotthan Harrison, Cam Fleming (if re-signed), and the loser of the Peart/Solder competition. The real pressing question here is guard and much depends on Lemieux and Hernandez. (Need Level – Medium)
DEFENSIVE LINE: The Giants will be in really good shape at his position IF they can re-sign their three free agents: Leonard Williams, Dalvin Tomlinson, and Austin Johnson. Combined with Dexter Lawrence, B.J. Hill, and R.J. McIntosh, this is young, big, strong group. Williams was franchised and will be back unless both sides can’t agree to a long-term deal and his tender is rescinded (a possibility). Tomlinson is key. Many fans and pundits say the Giants should not invest too much money in 3-4 defensive linemen. They could be right. And overpaying for your own talent is just as bad as overpaying for someone else’s. That said, the Giants have a long recent history of drafting defensive tackles in the 2nd round only to see them walk in free agency and then having to replace them again in the draft. What did I say about spinning wheels? If Tomlinson and Johnson don’t re-sign, the team will have to move Dexter Lawrence to nose tackle and/or sign or draft replacements again. A team with so many holes at so many positions can ill-afford creating more holes at the few positions where they have some strength. Tomlinson is a good player and a good influence in the locker room. He would be my free agent priority. (Need Level – Low to High Depending on Tomlinson)
LINEBACKERS: Really this position needs to be divided into inside linebackers and edge rushers (outside linebackers).
Blake Martinez was a major addition to the team as a player and leader. He played virtually every defensive snap and finished the season with a team-high 151 tackles, nine tackles for losses, three sacks, six quarterback hits, five pass defenses, one interception, two forced fumbles. Finding his counterpart inside is the challenge. David Mayo was cut. The last player taken in the 2020 NFL Draft, Tae Crowder, stole the starting job away from Devante Downs. On paper, Crowder appears to be a good, athletic complement to Martinez. But insurance and depth are needed. Keep in mind that T.J. Brunson is still in the picture as well. (Need Level – Medium)
The problem for the Giants is that they were deprived of a key evaluation year for Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines. Both earned starting jobs but both were lost for the bulk of the season. Worse, Carter is coming off a serious ruptured Achilles’ tendon injury. Kyler Fackrell was a nice complementary piece who could play inside or outside, but he’s an unrestricted free agent. What the Giants really lack on defense are outside edge rushers who scare the other team. They were reduced to a committee approach in 2020, employing role players such as Jabaal Sheard (unrestricted free agent) and rookies Carter Coughlin, Cam Brown, and Niko Lalos. Some have questioned just how important an outside rusher is in the Giants’ scheme, but no team would ever turn down an outside pass-rushing threat. (Need Level – High)
CORNERBACKS: James Bradberry was everything the Giants had hoped, but it is a minor miracle the defense performed as well as it did with the revolving door at cornerback opposite of him. Corey Ballentine, Isaac Yiadom, Ryan Lewis, and Julian Love all took their turns. All have significant warts (and Ballentine is gone). Darnay Holmes will likely remain the nickel corner. There are whispers that the Giants are not really counting on COVID-19 opt-out Sam Beal. If Bradberry were to go down, this would arguably be the worst group of corners in the NFL. The Giants don’t just desperately need another starter, they desperately need quality depth. (Need Level – Desperate)
SAFETIES: This position has been a chronic weakness for the team but seems more settled now due to the additions of Jabrill Peppers, Xavier McKinney, and Logan Ryan. Peppers and Ryan have their issues, but they make plays and the coaching staff seems to know how to use them. McKinney missed most of the season due to injury but flashed in limited playing time. Ideally, this position would also be addressed but there are simply too many other needs elsewhere. (Need Level – Low)
KICKERS/LONG SNAPPER: 33-year old Graham Gano had one of the greatest seasons in franchise history as a kicker. However, Riley Dixon saw his gross and net punting average decline. Veteran long snapper Casey Kreiter is an unrestricted free agent. (Need Level – Low to Average Depending on Kreiter)
SUMMARY: It’s weird. In many ways, I feel more optimistic about this team than I’ve done in years, largely because of Joe Judge and his staff. But this roster is a train wreck. I have never published a “needs” article with so many “desperate” categories. You would be hard pressed to find a worse group of wide receivers and tight ends in the NFL. At running back, the only thing the Giants have is Barkley, who is coming off a potential career-altering injury. The defense is not in great shape either with obvious significant needs at cornerback and outside linebacker.
That all said, if the Giants spend a lot of money to fix these problems in March and April, I guarantee you that I will be typing a similar article in 2023, and probably with a new coaching staff.