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New York Giants offseason plan: Addressing the numerous needs on offense

Laying out a plan for upgrading the Giants’ offense in 2021

NFL: New York Giants at Baltimore Ravens Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

NFL free agency doesn’t officially begin for a few more days, though with veterans being shed by teams as cost-cutting measures the market is actually already open. The 2021 NFL Draft is only a few weeks away.

With those things in mind, it’s about time I laid out a comprehensive offseason plan for the New York Giants. This will be in two parts, with Part 1 focused on a position-by-position look at a plan for beefing up the league’s 31st-ranked offense.

Quarterback

Under contract: Daniel Jones, Clayton Thorson, Joe Webb
UFA: Colt McCoy

The only real 2021 decision to make here is whether or not to resign McCoy, or seek a backup with a higher ceiling. My vote? If it’s my decision, I’m keeping McCoy.

McCoy proved to be exactly what the Giants expected when they signed him to a one-year, $2.25 million contract last offseason to back up Daniel Jones. McCoy was an excellent veteran teammate and mentor for Jones, and played adequately when called upon.

McCoy will be 35 this September. Near the end of last season, he spoke about how much he had enjoyed the season.

“I feel pretty confident in the way that I’ve played this year. First time being out there in a while and it kind of rejuvenated myself. I’ve enjoyed it, I’ve had fun, I really enjoy being part of this team and this group of guys and these coaches,” McCoy said. “I feel very confident that I’ll keep going, yeah.”

If you have been paying attention, you know there will be a ton of quarterback movement around the NFL this offseason. There already has been. There will be recognizable names available.

As for the draft, I would hate to see the Giants waste a middle- or late-round pick on a developmental arm. Been there, done that too many times — Rhett Bomar, Andre Woodson, Ryan Nassib, Davis Webb, Kyle Lauletta. That’s 0 for 5 over two regimes on developmental quarterbacks.

Bringing back McCoy, though, seems like the best — and perhaps least expensive — option.

Running back

Under contract: Saquon Barkley, Eli Penny, Jordan Chunn
UFA: Wayne Gallman, Dion Lewis, Alfred Morris

Maybe the best news of the offseason thus far are the images below which show Barkley working out with Odell Beckham Jr. sans any type of brace or wrap on his surgically-repaired knee.

Still, beyond the big question of “will Barkley still be Barkley?” after his 2020 season-ending torn ACL the other burning question is who will be the backup running backs?

The Giants enter the offseason with all three of the players who backed up Barkley or shared carries in his absence — Wayne Gallman, Alfred Morris and Dion Lewis — headed to free agency. The only one who seems like a logical candidate to retain is Gallman.

Question is, can the Giants do that?

The market, with a depressed salary cap already beginning to force teams to flood it with mid-level free agents they would like to keep but simply can’t in the face of the first-ever cap downturn, could work in the Giants’ favor should they want to keep Gallman.

Gallman is coming off a career year, finally having established in his fourth season that he is indeed a capable NFL running back. You wonder, though, if there will be a team out there that will offer Gallman the pay day and the opportunity to be a lead back that he is likely seeking.

Remember Orleans Darkwa? Like Gallman, he waited years for a full opportunity with the Giants. He got it in 2017 and responded with a career year, gaining 751 yards and averaging 4.4 yards per carry. Did he find a pot of free agent gold waiting for him? Nope? Darkwa never played in the NFL again.

There is one other thing that might help the Giants. Using a veteran’s salary benefit that is part of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the Giants could offer Gallman a “four-year qualifying contract” in which $1.25 million of his salary would not count against the cap. For example, they could offer him a one-year, $4.25 million deal and be hit only with a $3 million cap charge.

Here is a full explanation of this salary benefit:

Four-year qualifying contract: Another type of veteran salary benefit, it can be offered to a player with at least four credited seasons whose contract with a team has expired after being on said team for four or more consecutive, uninterrupted league years prior to his contract expiring. Such a player must have been on the team’s 90-man active/inactive list for said seasons (and every regular-season and postseason game). Teams can sign a maximum of two eligible players to this type of salary benefit.

A qualifying contract under this benefit is a one-year deal with a base salary of up to $1.25 million more (set to increase in 2022) than the minimum base salary for said player. However, if a team does sign two players to a qualifying contract, it can only give a combined $1.25 million in additional base salary between the two deals. Under such agreements, only the applicable minimum base salary (not the $1.25 million benefit) is charged against the salary cap.

If the Giants can’t sign Gallman, there could be a number of low-cost, veteran backs who might be able to fill that role. Nick Falato listed several recently, all of whom are good ideas. I would like to add one more name to the list — Devonta Freeman.

After being released from injured reserve by the Giants last season, Freeman spent part of the playoffs on the Buffalo Bills practice squad. He is a free agent again. I believe the 28-year-old has much more in the tank than he showed with the Giants last season (54 carries, 172 yards, 3.2 yards per carry), and that Freeman has the skills to function both as a pure backup to Barkley and a pass-catching third down back.

In terms of the draft, I’d be fine with the selection of a Day 3 running back. Emory Hunt offers some ideas in the video below.

Wide receiver

Under contract: Sterling Shepard, Darius Slayton, Cody Core, Dante Pettis, Austin Mack, Alex Bachman, Derrick Dillon, David Sills, Taquan Mizzell
UFA: None

Here we go. Time to discuss the position Giants fans and mock drafters are obsessed with this offseason.

The Giants have already taken the obvious first step in trying to upgrade the receiver position by releasing the not-playing-up-to-his contract veteran Golden Tate. The hard part comes next. So, now what? The Giants could turn to free agency, the draft, or both to find play-makers for Daniel Jones.

Free agency

Bargain hunt or go big?

If the Detroit Lions allow Kenny Golladay to hit free agency rather than using the franchise tag to keep him, I try to find the money to make him a Giant. Golladay is a 6-foot-3, 214-pound 27-year-old who can win at all three levels (short, intermediate, long) and is strong in contested-catch situations. If I’m the Giants and I can make that happen, I make it happen.

If it’s not Golladay, then I’m not sure I spend big money on a wide receiver. I could talk myself into Curtis Samuel [free agent profile] or Corey Davis [free agent profile] but I’m not sure the return would make the financial investment worthwhile.

I might go bargain-hunting rather than overspending on a player and hoping he turns into something he hasn’t yet shown.

The draft

The common belief is that the Giants have to come out of the offseason with a true difference-maker at wide receiver. If I end up bargain-hunting in free agency, which finances and player availability might dictate, that means I’m probably big-game hunting in the draft with the 11th overall selection.

That means making whichever of the Big 4 receivers — Ja’Marr Chase, Kyle Pitts, Jaylen Waddle, DeVonta Smith — remains on the board my choice in Round 1. If you’re wondering, Chase-Pitts-Waddle-Smith is my order of preference — with Waddle gaining on Pitts for my No. 2 receiver slot and Smith being the player at No. 11 I would be most likely to pass on for someone like Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons or Northwestern offensive lineman Rashawn Slater.

There are plenty of receivers who could be available on Day 2 and even into Day 3 who could be really good NFL players, if not No. 1 receivers. I’m partial to Nico Collins. Others like Terrace Marshall, Rondale Moore, D’Wayne Eskridge or any of several other players. I honestly wouldn’t kick about being able to add any of the multitude of talented receivers who should be available the second and third days of the draft.

If the Giants are going to land a potential No. 1 receiver this offseason, though, it’s probably coming with the No. 11 pick.

Tight end

Under contract: Evan Engram, Levine Toilolo, Kaden Smith, Rysen John, Nakia Griffin-Stewart, Nate Wieting
UFA: None

Let’s make two things clear right away. First, if I’m making the decisions Levine Toilolo has no future with the Giants. I’m cutting him, taking the $2.925 million salary cap savings and not thinking twice about it. Second, and more importantly, unless there is a team out there that loves Evan Engram enough to offer me a Day 2 draft pick or another player I really want (and I doubt there is) Engram is in my plans for 2021.

Now, Engram or no Engram I am not passing on Kyle Pitts of Florida if he is available at No. 11 — which he probably won’t be. I don’t care if you consider Pitts a tight end or wide receiver, and I’m not going to worry about the “can Pitts and Engram play together?” stuff. I’m looking at what Pitts can do, whether it’s lined up inline against against safeties and linebackers or outside against cornerbacks, and thinking that I want that skill set on my football team. Other teams have figured out how to maximize two talented players who are, nominally, tight ends. Shame on the Giants if they draft Pitts, keep Engram and can’t do the same.

Via the New York Post:

“There is no reason why this kid can’t be the best tight end to ever play the game,” Gators assistant head coach Tim Brewster told The Post. “You speak it into existence. We’ve talked about it. He’s got that type of ability. And, more importantly, he has the mindset to match his ability.” ...

“The great thing is he’s going into the league without a lot of wear and tear on his body. This guy is a Lamborghini,” Brewster said. “I think I’ve heard from all 32 teams about Kyle. All I’ve said is, ‘If you have an opportunity to get this guy, he’s generational.’ ”

I’m honestly not looking to spend money on the tight end position in free agency. If I can’t land Pitts in the draft, I might look in the free agent bargain bin for depth. I’m kind of curious to see if former first-round pick David Njoku would take a one-year “prove it” deal should the Cleveland Browns let him go. In the draft, I’d select Pat Freiermuth of Penn State or Brevin Jordan of Miami on Day 2 under the right circumstances.

When it comes to Engram, I think it’s time to give up on the idea that he can or should be the focal point of a passing attack. I do not think it’s time to quit on the idea that he can be a good player who helps an offense.

Offensive line

Under contract: Nate Solder, Matt Peart, Andrew Thomas, Kevin Zeitler, Will Hernandez, Shane Lemieux, Nick Gates, Jonotthan Harrison, Kyle Murphy, Jackson Barton, Chad Slade, Kenny Wiggins
UFA: Cam Fleming, Spencer Pulley

I have said this before, but I wish GM Dave Gettleman had never said that last offseason, when he drafted three offensive linemen and signed Cam Fleming in free agency, that he was aiming to fix the offensive line “once and for all.”

Why do I wish he hadn’t said that? Because no matter what, even if you have the best offensive line in the league, you can’t just ignore it and hope it stays that way. You have. to keep supplementing it, keep adding resources. When the Giants won the 2007 Super Bowl they had, arguably, the league’s best line. Over the next six or seven seasons they did not do enough to supplement that line, and they are still chasing the fix to a problem they created for themselves.

So, what is my plan for the Giants’ 2021 offensive line?

We have to start with Kevin Zeitler. As I write this there are rumors that the Giants are trying to trade Zeitler in an effort to save $12 million on the salary cap. Well, the Los Angeles Chargers are trying to trade veteran guard Trai Turner, and the Jacksonville Jaguars are trying to trade veteran guard Andrew Norwell. NFL teams know that, and they know all of these players — and some others — will hit the open market if they hold their water and keep their draft picks. So, trading Zeitler isn’t happening.

If I’m making the decision, and in this case I am, I don’t think I have any choice but to move on from the 31-year-old guard. He’s a good player, but he is coming off his worst NFL season. In this market with the cap going down and a plethora of players likely available at a lower cost, I can’t pay a guard $12 million when there will be plenty of cheaper options. Also, I don’t feel good about restructuring his contract and adding years to it considering the decline in his play last season. So, unfortunately, moving on from Zeitler and saving the cap space is the way to go.

There are two spots on the offensive line that, in my view, don’t need to be discussed as it pertains to the 2021 season — left tackle and center. I have been consistent in expressing the view that I’m fine with Andrew Thomas at left tackle, and believe he will have a long, solid career. I’m also content with Nick Gates at center.

I think the Giants have decisions to make at both guard spots and right tackle.

Are Shane Lemieux and Will Hernandez starting-caliber guards? Can you put one on the left, one on the right and be done with the guard spot? I’m not at all sure the answer is yes on either count. That means there is a need to supplement the guard spot in free agency or the draft, perhaps with at least one starting-caliber player.

After moving on from Zeitler, I’m going bargain hunting for an experienced, cost-effective guard. The aforementioned Turner and Norwell were both in Carolina with Gettleman, Turner as a draft pick and Norwell an undrafted free agent. There will be plenty of other choices.

In the draft, I have. already said that in the right circumstance I’d be fine with selecting Rashawn Slater. If I strike out in an effort to land an affordable free agent guard, I could be convinced Slater is the best play should Chase, Pitts and Waddle be off the board. That said, I would at least be looking for value at guard on Day 2 and early in Day 3 after moving on from Zeitler.