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Big Blue View mailbag, 12/12: Patrick Graham edition

The mail’s here!

Lots of questions about New York Giants defensive coordinator Patrick Graham in today’s Big Blue View Mailbag. Let’s get started!

Anthony DelGenio asks: What is your take on the usage of Shane Lemieux vs. Will Hernandez since WH has returned? To my eye Lemieux looks better in the running game while Hernandez is a more reliable pass protector, so there may be no clear answer. But Lemieux has gotten the majority of the snaps in recent games (e.g., 8 series to 3). Do you think the coaches have decided that Lemieux is their starter? Is there any evidence that Hernandez may still be suffering after-effects of COVID-19, as Gano did when he came back? Now that a playoff berth is at stake, just getting Lemieux more reps to gain experience can’t be the whole story, can it?

Ed says: Anthony, when we asked Joe Judge about the Lemieux-Hernandez dynamic recently he gave us the coach-speak “we don’t have starters, we just have players” nonsense and avoided the question.

In my view, the Giants are not playing Lemieux more snaps than Hernandez simply to get him experience. They are doing it because they want Lemieux on the field more often. If it was all about experience, Matt Peart would have supplanted Cameron Fleming at right tackle before Peart contracted COVID-19.

I have no inside knowledge on this, just some institutional knowledge on the way the NFL works. The reality is this — Joe Judge was part of the decision-making process when the Giants drafted Lemieux. He wasn’t around when Hernandez was selected, even though GM Dave Gettleman was. Judge is more invested in Lemieux. He wants the kid on the field. I hate that the NFL works this way, but it does.

I like Lemieux and think he has a bright future, though his pass blocking leaves a lot to be desired. As we sit here today, though, I think Hernandez is the better player.

Jeff Newman asks: Ed, earlier this year the Giants ran lots of outside runs with Barkley and weren’t particularly successful. Now it’s mostly straight ahead, multiple tight ends, double teams at the point of attack, power running, and it’s been very successful. Was the o-line not suited to those schemes or was there just not enough time to perfect it? We know Joe Judge tailors plays to what players do well, so when Barkley comes back, do they run him straight ahead more to take advantage of what the line does well, or do they run outside more to take advantage of what Barkley does well? I’m sure it will be some combination of both, and they’ll spell Barkley with Gallman and other power runners, but wondering which way they lean with Barkley.

Ed says: Jeff, I can’t say for sure that there is a clear answer to that. It’s absolutely correct that the Giants ran more outside zone and pitches to the outside with Saquon Barkley. I re-watched the first couple of games recently to confirm, and it’s easy to see.

Would they have changed to the between the tackle, power/gap and pin/pull kind of stuff they are using now if Barkley were still playing? There’s no way to know for sure. The offensive line was a hot mess the first couple of weeks. Are they running the stuff they are running now because of the backs? Because they can block it better? A combination of both? I think it’s probably the latter.

Listen, Jason Garrett had no real offseason and no preseason to figure out what his linemen were comfortable with. It was trial and error at the start of the season, complicated even more when Barkley went down.

What will happen when Barkley is back next season? No way to know. Is Garrett back as offensive coordinator? Are there any personnel changes on the line? It’s a really interesting thing to watch, but I don’t think we can answer it with any authority right now.

George Wallace asks: Read an article about signing Clay Matthews for the stretch run. I think he’s more a name at this point, but wanted to get your thoughts?

Ed says: George, before we even talk about what the 34-year-old might or might not have left in the tank, whose snaps would he take? Jabaal Sheard is playing well. Carter Coughlin and Cam Brown are contributing, and it does nothing for their futures if you bury them behind Matthews.

Matthews had 8.0 sacks for the Rams last year, but this year LA is paying him $2 million not to play. I honestly don’t know if he’s in shape or wants to play. I just have a suspicion that considering everything the Giants have dealt with at the outside linebacker spot this season that if there was real interest in Matthews something would have happened before now.

Alan Goldstein asks: The peanut gallery has been discussing Nate Solder’s future. The opinion amongst the rabble, and my opinion as well is that with the emergence of Thomas, the promising outlook for Peart and the rest of the young line that he is no longer a good fit for this team, particularly his salary. The possibility also exists that at 33 or 34 he opts to retire rather than play another season after a year off. 2 questions here:

  1. Do you see him coming back to the team next year?
  2. If he retires what happens to his remaining guaranteed salary and signing bonus?

Ed says: I doubt he will come back. If he wants to play, my guess is the Giants release him and he goes and finds another team. Over The Cap says this about how retirement impacts salary cap:

“In general a retirement works similarly to a cut. Once a player is placed on the reserve/retired list the NFL treats him as if he was released.”

I checked with jason Fitzgerald of Over The Cap. If Solder retired, the Giants would have $10.5 million in prorated bonus money on their cap in 2021.

Ed Baig asks: Here’s my two-part question: Which past Giants would you add to the team’s Ring of Honor that are not yet there? And would you add Fran Tarkenton? I would. Granted the team was mediocre during Tarkenton’s stint with the Giants though I would argue they would have been much worse without him, including during some of those 7-7 years. And the 1970 season they went 9-5 and would have made the playoffs, if not for a crushing last game home defeat against the LA Rams. I also recognize that Tarkenton’s divorce from the team wasn’t pretty when he was traded back to the Vikings. Still, he’s a Hall of Fame QB who was mostly fun to watch? Your thoughts?

Ed says: I’ve poured over the list and I quite honestly can’t come up with an obvious omission. Obviously, Eli Manning doesn’t count. The Giants will put him in when fans can attend to honor him. Tarkenton? Only five of his 18 seasons were with the Giants. I can’t do it because he’s really known for what he did with the Minnesota Vikings. And I had a Tarkenton uniform (yes, uniform, not just jersey) when I was a little kid.

Patrick Graham questions

There are a slew of them. I will put some of them here, and at the bottom I will give you my thoughts on Graham.

Jason Byam asks: With Patrick Graham getting so much attention (rightfully so), and many teams needing head coaches next year is there any way the Giants could find way to keep him? He already has the “assistant head coach title” but could the Giants in theory offer him head coach type money? Has this ever been done before? Is there a limit or “salary cap” for coaches?

Ridge Kennedy asks: When the season ends, there will be a lot of chatter about impending free agents — signing Williams, Peppers, etc.

I think the No. 1 priority for ownership, GM, and HC should be retaining Patrick Graham for the short term — and grooming him for the future.

I’d like to see the G-Men give him a pay boost, a title like Associate HC, and open up doors so he’s in the room where it happens and 100 percent prepared when (not if) he gets the opportunity to run his own show in the AFC, please). And meanwhile, he gives the Giants another year or two, and recruits and trains his successor.

And the G-Men get a couple of extra draft picks, too. Thank you, NFL.


What do you think?

Florian Cortese asks: I’m still enjoying the euphoria of the Giants’ win in Seattle. So many fell good stores from Colt McCoy’s first win in a long long time, to the all rookie linebacker lineup at the end of the game. I think we can put an end to the Gettleman debate. So many of the standout players were late round picks, pre-season and in season pick up of cast-offs, all of which are playing a role in the Giants improvement as we moved throughout this season. I think Mara and Tisch are feeling good about the direction this team is going. I, for one, am. And the coaching staff Joe Judge has put together. Patrick Graham has to be considered the front runner for Assistant Coordinator of the year and as you have pointed out needs somewhere down the road, if not this year soon, given a head coach opportunity. My question is this. If Graham leaves for a head coaching position this year, according the the new NFL rule, the Giants would get an additional compensatory 3rd round pick. Right now I’d rather have Graham than an additional pick. Graham also has the title of “Assistant Head Coach.” Does that carry an additional salary boost? If I were Mara and Tisch, I would definitely sweeten the pot financially to keep him around for another year or more. Do other teams have similar arrangements? The Pats come to mind with Josh McDaniels.

Ed says: There are more Graham questions, and I appreciate the time and effort of everyone who wrote in to ask. What it comes down to is all of you who have asked want to know if there is a way the Giants can keep Graham. The answer is that if Graham gets an offer for a head-coaching job — a promotion — and he wants to take it, he can and will take it.

First of all, Graham does have the ‘Associate Head Coach’ title and my belief is that title would have come with a salary bump. We don’t have access to salaries for coaches like we do with players via the NFLPA salary page and Over The Cap. Joe Judge couldn’t stand in Graham’s way, or Jason Garrett’s way, even if he wanted to. By rule teams can’t deny coaches the opportunity to interview for jobs that are considered promotions.

There’s no “salary cap” for coaches. The Giants could offer Graham a boatload of money, but it’s not going to keep him in New York. If he wants to be a head coach and he gets a chance to do that in a place he wants to be, he will go do it. Good for him. We all want to rise as far in life as we can.

This is what happens when you begin to have some success and your assistant coaches get noticed. It’s part of the deal. It’s how the Giants landed Judge. It’s how Kevin Stefanski wound up in Cleveland. It’s how this works.

All you can do as a Giants fan is appreciate Graham’s work as long as the Giants have him.