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Big Blue View mailbag, 2/15: Offseason work, free agency, NFL Draft, more

The mail’s here!

Today’s Big Blue View mailbag is jam-packed with interesting questions about your New York Giants. Let’s get right to it.

Taj Siddiqi asks: Since new HC and his staff are not coaching any players right now, educate us what their day being spend on? What’s going on in Giants facility? Does the strength and conditioning coaches are implementing the new coaches work out regimen with the players who are coming in to work out? Draw us a picture of day’s activities. And if you have personally able to visit and observe anything there.

Ed says: Taj, thanks for the question. First, it’s important to note that media does not have access to the facility during the offseason. We’re there when we are invited for an event like the Eli Manning retirement press conference or the Joe Judge introductory press conference, that’s all. So, there aren’t in-person observations to be made.

Coaches are not allowed to “coach” players right now. That includes the strength and conditioning coaches. They cannot work with players, oversee or design their routines, just like the other coaches cannot give them playbooks, watch film with players or conduct any type of workouts. Players are on their own, including the ones who choose to work out at the Giants’ facility.

So, what are Giants’ coaches doing right now?

First and foremost, as a newly-formed staff they are spending days getting to know each other. Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett and defensive coordinator Patrick Graham are building their playbooks. The assistant coaches are contributing to that and getting to know those playbooks and the things they will be needing to teach once players are allowed to begin practicing.

Coaches are also grinding tape. Tons of it. Breaking down every player on the Giants’ 2019 roster so they can figure out what they have, what they need and — again — what they need to teach. They are breaking down film of potential free agents to see who might be worth pursuing in free agency. They are breaking down tons of film of draft prospects, something they do not get to do during the regular season.

They are also reading and studying the mountains of information that come from the team’s scouts and the variety of national scouting services to learn as much as possible about players they might want to target in the draft.

They are also planning, scheduling and structuring practices. That is something NFL teams generally do months in advance.

So, there is a ton of behind-the-scenes work going on right now. You will never see it — but you will see the result of it in how the Giants approach free agency and the draft and in when and how they practice in the spring and summer.

Incidentally, Matt Williamson, who spent a year scouting for the Cleveland Browns, recently had some interesting things to say on the ‘Valentine’s Views’ podcast regarding how a new coaching staff impacts scouting. That full episode is below:

Jay B asks: Why is Getty pretending that this team won’t have serious money to spend in free agency? By my estimation they should have more than $60 million in free agency and that’s minus the $20 million he said you put aside for other midseason issues and that includes very reasonable cuts that he could make to the roster such as Alec Ogletree, Rhett Ellison, Kareem Martin, and Antonio Bethea. You cut all these guys and you get a sizable savings in cap space. To me if the Giants want to go after Conklin, Littleton, and Yannick they will most certainly have the cap space even if they extend both Williams and Tomlinson.

I really feel like with the right cuts and the right free agency signing this team could start winning games next season. What do you think? Is Getty simply lowering expectations for himself? We saw what the 49ers did you can turn around a team with the right moves.

Ed says: Jay, I don’t understand this idea that Dave Gettleman is “pretending that this team won’t have serious money to spend in free agency.”

What he and co-owner John Mara have said repeatedly, and rightly, is that you must build the foundation of your team in the draft. You can’t be a consistently good team if you don’t get that part of the equation right.

Here is exactly what Gettleman said about free agency at his end of season press conference:

“ ... whatever amount of money we end up having, you have to put $20 million and put it to the side, put it in a passbook savings account because you want to be in a position in-season to do extensions. If an attractive player is there, you want to have the cap space to make the decision, instead of saying ‘We can’t afford this guy, we can’t afford that guy.’ So, you take $20 million aside. You build the team through the draft. Free agency is really to a certain degree, and I’ve said it before, free agency is to set yourself up so that in the draft… You address issues with free agency so that you can set yourself up in the draft so you take the best player available.”

Will he use $20 million as a “hard” cutoff? Almost certainly not. He’s simply saying that you have to hold a certain amount of your available money for in-season needs. Players get hurt. Unexpected opportunities to add players arise. You want to have resources available to be able to handle those situations.

Also, re-read this: “You address issues with free agency so that you can set yourself up in the draft so you take the best player available.”

You don’t build your team with free agency. You try to plug as many holes as you can so that when you get to the draft you can choose the best players. It’s a horrible position to be in when you look at the draft board and think “Players A,B and C are the best ones on the board but I have to ignore them and take Player D because I have no one else on my roster to play that spot.”

Something to remember about the 49ers’ turnaround is that it actually took a few seasons worth of drafts, trades and free agent signings. GM John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan were in their third season together in 2019, and that rebuild was slowed by Jimmy Garappolo’s 2018 injury. They were better than a 4-12 team that season, they just didn’t have a quarterback. So, comparing the Giants to the 49ers is not comparing apples to apples.

Gettleman and the Giants aren’t ignoring anything. If they identify a couple of top-tier free agents they really want they will aggressively try to acquire them.

Philadelphia Eagles v New York Giants Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Paul Fuller asks: I am tired of reading about how the Giants have to sign Williams or the trade will have been a huge mistake. Unless you have a time machine, there is absolutely nothing that can be done about the trade. I think that overpaying for Williams now would just be another mistake. Gettleman seems pretty good about ignoring the general consensus (like picking Jones at #6), do you think he will cave to the PR pressure or stick to whatever his plan is?

Ed says: Paul, if you’re tired of reading about how failing to sign Leonard Williams makes having traded for him in the middle of last season a huge mistake you probably shouldn’t have asked the question. Because failing to sign Leonard Williams makes giving up two draft picks, especially an early third-rounder, for a player who plays a half season of meaningless games in a losing year and then leaves as a free agent a huge mistake.

Now, overpaying by signing him to a massive long-term contract that makes him one of the half-dozen or so highest-paid interior defensive linemen in the NFL is also a mistake. That’s why either the franchise tag or transition tag could be in play. Both are costly, but only for a year. The Giants would save a little face, keep a good but not great player, and get a year to figure out if they really want to do a long-term deal with Williams.

Gino Phillips asks: Your personal mock draft made good sense to the way I think about it. You regretted not being able to address everything needed, but do not have the benefit of free agent signings. Given the likelihood of a late third round compensatory pick, how would that change your thinking?

Ed says: Gino, reality is that you never get everything you want out of any draft or free agency period. No GM ever looks at his roster and thinks “It’s perfect, Mt work is done.” There are always going to be holes, always areas you feel aren’t good enough or where you’re hoping someone will step forward.

As to directly answering your question, I don’t think the presence of a late third-round compensatory pick would change my thinking at all. At least not about anything I would do before that.

There are two scenarios that would impact my thinking. First, if I was able to upgrade the offensive line in free agency. Adding someone like Jack Conklin to play right tackle, which I recently advocated, would have me thinking about doing something other than drafting a tackle with my first pick.

The other scenario would be trading down. Being in a different spot (or spots) in the first round would obviously make me think differently about the players I was targeting.

George Maurer asks: Is it possible Nate Solder’s problems over the last two years were more about coaching and/or scheme? Should the Giants give him another shot at LT with the new coaching staff and target Isaiah Simmons in Round One of the draft?

Ed says: George, the absolute truth is that Solder has not been nearly as bad as some want to make him out to be. In 2018, he ranked 14th of 33 qualifying tackles graded by Pro Football Focus. In 2019, he was 24th out of 31. All-in-all, he’s been average. Which pretty much sums up what he’s been as a left tackle his entire career.

Yes, undoubtedly the Giants overpaid for him in free agency. They had no choice. It was either overpay significantly for Solder in free agency or go into the Pat Shurmur era with Ereck Flowers continuing at left tackle. The Giants did what they had to do — they ponied up the cash for Solder.

Now, was Solder’s play in 2019 good enough? Heck, no! Remember, though, he had offseason ankle surgery and I have a suspicion he was never fully healthy. He also dealt with a family crisis as his young son, who has battled cancwr much of his life, underwent another surgery.

At this point, I’m inclined to believe that whether it’s at left or right tackle Solder is going to be part of the Giants’ 2020 starting lineup. I can see one new tackle and a new center, but I would be surprised by two new starting tackles. I think Giants’ fans have to be ready for one more season of Solder in the lineup.

New York Giants v Washington Redskins
Nick Gates
Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

Jay Berman asks: What’s the future look like for Nick Gates and is big George Asafo-Adjei still around?

Ed says: Jay, the quick answer is “don’t know” and “yes.”

In regards to Nick Gates, it’s impossible to answer what his future is, With an entirely new coaching staff there is no way to know right now. Joe Judge, Jason Garrett and Msrc Colombo could see him as a potential starter at right tackle. They could see him as a potential starter at center. They could see him as a versatile backup. They could see him as a guy who wasn’t good enough to get regular snaps on a bad 2019 offensive line, and want him off the roster. Free agency, the draft and what happens this spring and summer will answer the question.

As for Big George, of course he is still around. He spent the season on IR. Again, no idea what the new coaching staff will think of him. No idea what to make of him, to be honest. We only saw him in a few practices before he suffered a concussion and landed on IR.

Chris Hynes asks: When are the Compensatory picks awarded?

Ed says: Chris, those are usually finalized during the annual league meetings. Those take place this year March 29-April 1.

Wayne Mirsky asks: If the Giants could only sign one of the following free agents who would you choose in order of your preference. Please give your reasons:

Jake Conklin, Yannick Ngakoue, Jadeveon Clowney, Chris Jones

Ed says: Wayne, I’ve already written that if it was me making the decision I would have precisely zero interest in Clowney. He’s a nice name and an incredible athlete, but in my view he’s more reputation than production. I don’t have any interest in Jones, either.

My two targets are Conklin and Ngakoue and I believe the Giants, with nearly $62 million in cap space before making any cap-related cuts of veteran players, have the ability to pursue and sign both if they want to.

If I could only choose one? I’m taking Ngakoue. There are several offensive tackles who the Giants could target early, as evidenced by our mock draft tracker. Beyond Chase Young, whom the Giants are unlikely to have a shot at in the draft, there is no sure-fire dominant edge rusher.

Ngakoue has 37.5 sacks in four seasons, he will only be 25 next season and should really just be entering his prime seasons. The Giants really need a No. 1 pass rusher, and I don’t think they can get it in the draft. Ngakoue could give them that.

As much as I favor signing Conklin and moving on to other needs, the Giants could get a right tackle in the draft.

Gregg Schneider asks: I admit I don’t understand all the ins and outs of the cap, but shouldn’t the Giants be frugal with the cap right now? If there is a can’t miss signing of course go for him, but with a young team shouldn’t we be looking at have the room in a few years to keep the core together as much as possible?

Ed says: Gregg, there is more to unpack here than just the amount of money the Giants have to spend. We say over and over that you can’t build a team with free agency. You don’t spend the money just because you have it. You can try to plug holes and, if the opportunity is there, perhaps get lucky enough to acquire a player who ends up being a real difference-maker. As I did in the previous question, I come back to Conklin and Ngakoue. They are both players entering their primes who play positions and have skill sets the Giants could obviously use.

The Giants will have to give big contracts to Saquon Barkley and Daniel Jones down the road, and they need to be mindful of that as they structure the contracts they sign players to this offseason. They can’t just backload contracts and push the money down the road.

The other thing to note, and we really don’t know how it will impact free agency and the cap going forward, is the negotiations for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. We don’t know what changes to the cap or free agency that might bring.

Andrew Arbuckle asks: Do you think there will be pre-draft trades or draft night trades for picks in the top 5? In the past few years we’ve seen really big trades before the draft. Examples being when the Eagles moved up for #2 and recently with the Jets for #3. Of course, there are always draft night trades as the board settles but this draft seems to have 3 viable QB talents that are attracting a lot of interest. What does your gut tell you or perhaps your sources, do you think trades to move up into the top 5 will happen before the draft or on the night of? The Giants are obviously going to be affected by anyone seeking the #2 or #3 picks.

Ed says: Andrew, I think there is definite potential for movement in the top five. I think the Lions could be open for business with the third overall pick. I think the Giants should be open for business at No. 4, but they are at the mercy of the Lions. I don’t think anyone is trading for the No. 4 until they know exactly what happens with No. 3, which means a draft night deal for the Giants if they move out of the fourth slot.

The Dolphins, Chargers, Panthers and maybe even the Raiders could try to move up for a quarterback. It certainly promises to be interesting.

Bruce Frazer asks: I agree with you 100% that a tackle should be at the top of the list for the Giant’s first pick in the 2020 draft. But, if by chance Jeff Okudah is still on the board when the Giants first pick is called, do they grab him and look to take a tackle in the second round? As is well known they also need edge and linebacker help but how much faith do they really have in DeAndre Baker and his potential to become a “good” corner? Some writers had labeled Baker as a definite reach when the Giants traded up to select him last year. Do they take the chance that Baker will develop, or is he another Eli Apple?

Bruce: I’m sure Okudah would be a consideration. For me, the choice is still offensive tackle — unless, of course, they land Conklin in free agency.

As for the Baker part of the equation, first of all I think it’s unfair at this point to lump him in with Eli Apple. That was a different situation. Baker flashed some good football the second half of the season, so there is that to feel good about. As for what the organization thinks of Baker, who knows? It’s a new coaching staff so we have absolutely nothing to go on.