The 2023 New York Giants are the sprinter who stumbled to the ground coming off the starting blocks. The race was over for them before it barely even started. They had a couple of chances to regain their balance, but the losses in winnable games against the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets for all intents and purposes ended their season. And yes, another New York Giants season is over by Halloween.
As is usually the case, there is a glass-half-full and glass-half-empty way to look at this. The optimist will say despite everything that went wrong and all of the injuries, the Giants were “this close” to being 4-4 and still firmly in the playoff hunt (hi Mr. Mara!). The pessimist will say that even if the Giants had managed to crawl their way back to 4-4, the gulf between the Giants and the better teams in the NFL remains enormous.
Some fans reading this may get pissed off at me, but my focus has already moved onto 2024. To me, what transpires between now and January is largely background noise other than the players remaining auditioning for future roster spots. You can bet your ass that Joe Schoen and Brian Daboll are evaluating everyone. Very few players should consider themselves “safe.”
The Giants play the Raiders on Sunday. I guess it would be a good thing to win the game, but I’m not losing any sleep over it. Outside a couple of seasons, the Giants of 2012-2023 have sapped much of my interest. Ten out of 12 years of really shitty football will do that. Meanwhile, a reminder of what once was – Antonio Pierce – will be standing on the opposing sideline on Sunday. The irony won’t be lost on some.
THE INJURY REPORT:
- QB Daniel Jones (neck – probable)
- QB Tyrod Taylor (ribs – out)
- RB Saquon Barkley (ankle – probable)
- RB Jashaun Corbin (hamstring – questionable)
- WR Wan’Dale Robinson (knee – probable)
- TE Darren Waller (hamstring – out)
- LT Andrew Thomas (hamstring – questionable)
- RT Evan Neal (ankle – questionable)
- OLB Kayvon Thibodeaux (back – probable)
A MID-SEASON LOOK AT THE STATE OF THE TEAM:
QUARTERBACK: The fate of general managers and head coaches are increasingly tied to the performance of a team’s quarterback. The honeymoon for Joe Schoen and Brian Daboll is over. If the Giants don’t win another game this season, I firmly believe they are safe come January. However, that is not the case moving forward if they don’t turn this around in 2024. John Mara can give them all of the public and private assurances he wants, but we all know how this works. Do Schoen and Daboll really want to continue to link their fate to Daniel Jones? It doesn’t matter if you think there are extenuating circumstances or not, this is Jones’ fifth year and the quarterback play has been subpar. You have to legitimately wonder if he is one neck injury away from forced retirement. That’s not good for a quarterback who is at his best running the football. Tyrod Taylor is a 34-year old, injury-prone quarterback whose contract expires at the end of this season.
Long story short, the Giants don’t have a quarterback. And there is a good chance they will be picking in the top 10 of the upcoming draft. In my mind, they have to take a quarterback with either their first or second selection (with a possible trade up with either pick). Maybe you keep Jones one more season so you don’t throw the new guy to the wolves if he needs some time. For those who plead for more time for Jones, this isn’t 1984 anymore. The NFL operates on a different schedule now.
RUNNING BACK: Full disclosure, my impression of the players that populated New York Giants’ roster for the past five years is heavily influenced by the really bad teams they have played for. Thus I have no special connection to any of these players. In fact, the opposite is true. There is a desire on my part to shed ties or reminders to a losing era. My gut also tells me that many players can become too comfortable with losing.
Which brings us to Saquon Barkley. I said it last year and I said it this year, they should have moved him. It would have been better for him, and while it would have hurt the Giants big time in the short term, it would have been best for the team in the long term. Barkley is only 26 years old, but he has trouble staying healthy and the injuries are taking their toll. How much longer is going to be worth the money? One year? Two? Barkley was pissed he got franchised last March. To his credit, he did not hold out and did everything that was asked of him. But here we are in Week 9. He’s missed three games and has just 412 rushing yards, averaging 3.7 yards per carry, and three touchdowns (only one rushing TD). Do you franchise him for another $11-12 million in 2024? Do you give him a 3-year deal? If they don’t do either, isn’t he better off moving to greener pastures? They should have dealt him, jersey sales be damned.
My guess is Barkley will be back at least one more season, but if I’m Schoen and Daboll, I don’t count on him playing a full 17-game regular-season schedule. Much depends on what the Giants think of Eric Gray as a potential runner in the NFL or the team could be looking for another running back in the offseason to compete with him.
WIDE RECEIVER: Wan’Dale Robinson (coming off a late season ACL) has moved ahead of the disappointing Parris Campbell and the impressive but still underutilized Jalin Hyatt has stolen snaps from Isaiah Hodgins. Looking at 2024, Hyatt and Robinson seem have a future with the team. Darius Slayton will continue to receive extensive snaps until a better player is signed or drafted. Campbell’s contract expires at the end of the season and he probably won’t be retained. Given how little he has played, keeping Sterling Shepard over Jamison Crowder (who returns punts) was stupid. The Giants will probably have to use their first pick on a quarterback instead of maneuvering for Marvin Harrison, Jr. Too bad.
TIGHT END: Joe Schoen gambled and lost on the injury-prone Darren Waller, a tremendous talent who simply can’t be trusted to stay on the football field. Waller has three years left on his current contract with salaries of $10.5 million 2024, $11.5 million in 2025, and $13.5 million in 2026. How can you spend that much money on a guy who has 384 yards and one touchdown in eight games and is now going to miss weeks of playing time? And if you do bring him back, how can you count on him being available every week? “Smart, tough, and dependable” my ass. The odd thing here too is blocking tight end Daniel Bellinger has forgotten how to block. He’s been a bit beat up and perhaps he’s in a sophomore slump. Let’s hope so or a position once viewed as possibly the strongest on the team may in fact be one of the weakest. Lawrence Cager has a chance to make a statement here with Waller out. Ryan Jones and Tyree Jackson are also on the Practice Squad.
OFFENSIVE LINE: The chronic Achilles’ heel of the New York Football Giants. It doesn’t matter how many new general managers, head coaches, offensive line coaches, free agent signings, or draft picks are brought in, the results remain the same. At this point, the team needs to bring in a priest and conduct an exorcism. Again, the problem moving forward is the need to replace Jones and address other positions too. In the past two drafts, the Giants have spent a #1, #2, and #3 pick on the offensive line. Adding more experienced veterans in free agency might be the route to go in 2024.
The injury to Andrew Thomas had a domino effect on the entire line, but there were some odd decisions made here too. Not settling on a starting guard duo earlier in the summer was guaranteed to cause problems. The decision to retain Matt Peart over Tyree Phillips clearly backfired. Trusting Shane Lemieux for yet another year was a mistake. Evan Neal is a lightening rod who can’t seem to find his rhythm. A concussion cost him two valuable weeks during the contact portion of the offseason and he has been battling an ankle injury since Week 3 that also caused him to miss the past two games. Is he the unquestioned right tackle in 2024 or do the Giants consider a transition to guard if they can find another right tackle? What about Joshua Ezeudu, another injury-prone player who alternates between flashes of solid play with terrible breakdowns in pass protection? Neal and Ezeudu were drafted to part of the solution. Their lack of development to date has significantly impacted the entire offense.
DEFENSIVE LINE: Leonard Williams will be missed, but the decision to trade him was the correct one. He was overpaid, nearing 30, and headed toward unrestricted free agency. To get a #2 and #5 for him was a bit of a coup. However, while his sack numbers were nothing to write home about, Williams was one of the better pass rushers on the team. That’s not the game of A’Shawn Robinson, Rakeem Nunez-Roches, D.J. Davidson, and Jordon Riley. Robinson will be a free agent too. In other words, there is another hole to fill here in the offseason.
EDGE: There are a number of players on this squad who are proving that fans have to be a bit more patient. Kayvon Thibodeux is one of them. Just a few weeks ago, he was being written off as a bust by many (another reason why it’s too early to write off Evan Neal). But Kayvon can’t do it alone and there is no depth. The team simply can’t count on Azeez Ojulari moving forward (“smart, tough, and dependable”?). He’s got one more year on his current contract. I’d only bring him back as depth at this point. Aside from quarterback, edge is probably the most pressing need on the team. It’s also time to part ways with Jihad Ward and Oshane Ximines. It’s a shame Boogie Basham hasn’t shown more as an edge-setting reserve.
INSIDE LINEBACKER: After a slow and somewhat alarming start, Bobby Okereke has played well in recent weeks, including a couple of outstanding performances. He looks like he is part of the solution. Micah McFadden has some athletic limitations, but he’s another player who was written off and now looks to have an NFL future. It will be interesting to see if Isaiah Simmons is retained. Does another year removed from his ACL injury also help Darrian Beavers moving forward?
CORNERBACK: In a season filled with misfortune, it cannot be overemphasized enough how big a deal it is to have possibly hit the jackpot with Deonte Banks and Tre Hawkins. Both are still only scratching the surface as rookies if they keep their heads on straight. The development of guys like Cor’Dale Flott and Nick McCloud is promising as well. Unfortunately for the Giants, Adoree’ Jackson picked a bad time to regress as they were not able to trade him for much-needed draft capital. I can’t see the team re-signing him. I still would not write-off the largely forgotten and now supposedly healthy Aaron Robinson. The team needs help in so many other areas that Robinson would be a nice depth piece at both nickel and outside corner.
SAFETY: There will be much fan debate over whether or not Xavier McKinney should be re-signed in the offseason. These last nine games are very important for him. While there have been some rough moments, Jason Pinnock’s play has been mostly positive in his first year as a starter. He seems to fit Wink’s defense well. We still don’t have a really good read on Dane Belton. Gervarrius Owens lurks in the wings, but Bobby McCain most likely won’t be re-signed.
SPECIAL TEAMS: While there have been some inconsistent moments, Jamie Gillan has been trending upwards. Graham Gano is under contract through the 2026 season. He will be coming off of knee surgery (non-kicking leg). Is Thomas McGaughey retained? Have the Giants learned their lesson about having a dedicated punt returner?
SUMMARY: Quarterback, edge, offensive line, wide receiver, tight end, defensive line… a lot of needs, especially for a team that may need to trade up for the QB.
THE FINAL WORD:
As for this particular game, I am not overly optimistic. The Raiders will get a short-term emotional boost from a squad trying to impress their new bosses. And while Las Vegas has a lot of issues, they still have Maxx Crosby (good luck gimpy Evan Neal!), Davante Adams, and Josh Jacobs – three of the best in the NFL. Meanwhile, the Giants have played two emotionally-draining, catastrophic losses that all but ended their season. The team trading away one of their best players also clearly sends the same depressing message. It will also make life much more difficult for Dexter Lawrence and Kayvon Thibodeaux as teams will be able to concentrate on these two.
With Daniel Jones returning, in a normal situation Daboll and Kafka would probably want to go back to the 2022 offense that worked so well as the end of 2022. However, Jones’ neck injury precludes exposing him to a lot of hits on QB runs. “You’re certainly aware of it,” said Kafka. “You’re certainly aware of the previous injury, but you’ve got to make sure we talk about that as a staff and in the game plan and see how we want to handle that.”
The Giants may win. They may not. Whatever.