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Big Blue View mailbag: Wayne Gallman, Saquon Barkley, draft philosophy

The mail’s here!

We are getting closer to New York Giants training camp. Only one Big Blue View Mailbag after this one before the July 27 start date. Let’s get to your questions.

Andre Banks asks: As far as Wayne Gallman is concerned, was it never really in the cards for him to remain with the team? He was the one person I NEVER heard anything as far as negotiations.

Ed says: Andre, it seems that way. To my knowledge, there were never any serious discussions between the Giants and Gallman. He had a nice yer in 2020, and it was inspiring to watch him run hard and fight for every yard. The Giants, though, wanted something else. They moved quickly to sign Devontae Booker. Maybe they feel Booker is more well-rounded as a back. He also plays special teams, something Gallman doesn’t do.

Frank Price asks: You are Dave Gettleman. Your phone rings. You recognize the caller immediately and don’t answer. Caller leaves a voice message. You call voicemail. You enter your password – 2459 – and you hear the following. “Hello Dave, Kim here, Saquon’s agent. We need a fair offer, Dave. The Cowboys extended Zeke and the Panthers extended McCaffrey at this point in their contracts. He is a running back, they have short careers, it’s not fair to make him wait 6 years for a new contract. I’d hate it if agents started to think that the Cowboys treat their players more fairly than the Giants. I never understood how a guy enduring a serious injury playing football makes a team willing to pay him less, but that’s for another day. I realize we may not be able to come to terms this off season, but we need a fair starting point to work up from after my client breaks the record for single-season yards from scrimmage. I have informed my client that without a good faith offer from you, he will not be attending camp. Sorry, Dave, but fair is fair.”

What do you do?

Ed says: I tell Kim Maile, Barkley’s agent — nicely — that contracts get done when they are supposed to get done. This one isn’t supposed to get done right now. Barkley will earn around $4.8 million from the Giants this season in base salary and roster bonus, and will carry a $10.025 million cap hit — due to his pro-rated signing bonus.

I tell Kim that what the Cowboys did with Ezekiel Elliott and the Panthers with Christian McCaffrey isn’t relevant. Neither one of those players missed almost all of their third NFL season with a torn ACL.

I tell Kim that, yes, fair is fair. From the Giants’ perspective it’s not fair to ask us to put a price on something when we aren’t sure what we’re getting. We know what Barkley was in 2018. I tell Kim we have no idea what he is now, and we need to see it before we buy it long term.

I tell Kim that, yes, we as an organization have always wanted Saquon to be a Giant long term. We know, though, that running backs have short life spans and the injury complicates matters. The Adrian Peterson style comeback from a knee injury is the exception rather than the rule. I also remind Kim that the head coach who is here now wasn’t here when we drafted her client, and that he hasn’t really seen her client do anything. We’re willing to talk, but we have to be able to sample the merchandise in its current form first.

Oh, and if he doesn’t want to attend camp that’s gonna cost him $50,000 a day.

ctscan123 asks: Here is another summer doldrums mailbag question that has been rattling around my head for some time. The question centers around the received wisdom that is drafting, wait for it, wait for it ... the Best Player Available. I really do not understand why this strategy is mostly preferred over drafting for need. I get that a team’s board is a combination of talent evaluation, positional value and team needs but really just don’t understand why need is typically so lost in the shadow of perceived talent.

In the first place, football is the ultimate weakest link game. Have a one-legged slot corner? Watch him get targeted all day. Have a lousy right tackle? Good luck running an offense as your signal caller spends the afternoon picking grass out of his helmet. Think about this strategy in other contexts and it becomes clear just how absurd it is. Your business is desperate for a competent salesperson, but you spend your budget on a really great accountant to upgrade your already capable accounting team ... At least you’ll have a really accurate sense of how much stuff you are not selling. At this point the pat response is probably something about depth and competition, but really? Do those responses stand scrutiny? I sure don’t think so.

At the end of the day, only one player can be on the field at each position for each snap. If you have a talented player on the bench as depth or if talented player A outcompetes talented player B who ends up on the bench, you end up with talent not on the field. This is fine if you have a solid roster, but how do you justify hiring another awesome accountant when you have Shane Lemieux selling your widgets? This becomes particularly egregious if you consider the accuracy of team’s talent evaluators. We drafted Toney because we had a better grade on him than the next best o linemen on the board, but how often are those pre-draft grades accurate down to such a granular level? How often does player 29 outperform player 35 on your board? With such variance in evaluation, how do you pass up filling an obvious need (our line is nowhere near as talented as our receivers) for a player who may or may not even end up being superior?

Lastly, I feel strongly that BPA interferes with the development of young players. I was looking forward to seeing what Love, Slayton, and Holmes were going to do this year. These promising players are almost certainly going to see less time on the field and have less opportunity to grow to make room for all of our shiny new BPA’s as Lemieux, the worst graded guard in the league as per every single source in the world, continues to sell our widgets. Bottom line is that in my opinion, BPA often leads to a random surplus of talent at some spots while others are neglected with all kinds of negative downstream consequences. Where is the flaw in this argument? Why is drafting the best player available the standard?

Ed says: Whoa! There is a lot to unpack there, CT. Let’s see where this goes.

First of all, I think I am going to disagree that drafting best player available is the “standard.” I think teams will always tell you they want to draft the best player available. After a selection, teams will also always tell you the player they took was the highest-rated player on their draft board, or “best player available.”

That’s just GM-speak.

After the first couple of picks in any draft, there is no consensus from the 32 NFL teams on the order of the best players in the draft. Each team creates its own board. Those boards are affected by perceived need, offensive and defensive schemes and weight individual franchises place on any character or injury red flags.

Need ALWAYS affects who a franchise sees as the best player available. In my view it is really “best player available given the needs of your franchise at that time.”

Back in 2019 do you really think the Giants had a higher grade on Daniel Jones than they did on Kentucky pass rusher Josh Allen, who went to the Jacksonville Jaguars with the next pick? I don’t. Had the Giants felt Eli Manning had four of five winning-caliber seasons left, I think they would have drafted Allen. Quarterback, though, is the most important position in football. They knew Manning’s time was almost up. They felt Jones would be a worthy successor. They made a need-based decision. When it comes to quarterback, I can support that.

I don’t believe need gets “lost in the shadow of perceived talent.” I think that teams always know what their needs are, and what they try to do is try and find spots where need matches value. Let’s say you need a tight end. You know it and you want to select one during the draft. You don’t, though, select a tight end in Round 1 if you have a second- or third-round grade on the guy and you have 40 players on your board you think are better. If you have four or five players with roughly the same grade, you take the one you think fills the biggest need. Every year I see fans argue that the Giants have to select a player from Position A in Round 1, Position B in Round, Position C in Round 3, etc. That is need-based utter nonsense. That is how you make mistakes, and how you miss out building the best long-term roster.

Look at what happened for the Giants during this past draft. I think it’s fairly apparent they would have liked to have added a draft pick to compete at guard, but it didn’t happen. They — rightly — didn’t take a guard just to take a guard. They didn’t force a pick.

Something that fans often forget is that the draft is not primarily about the upcoming season. The Giants 2021 draft is not aimed specifically at making them better this season. It is about building talent for the long term and, hopefully, finding some core players you think will deserve second contracts with the franchise down the line.

The Giants likely think Kadarius Toney has only scratched the surface of his ability. And, oh by the way, a year from now they can save $6.5 million in cap space by moving on from Sterling Shepard. Did the Giants waste a draft pick by selecting slot cornerback Aaron Robinson in Round 3 and putting him in competition with 2020 fourth-round pick Darnay Holmes? Absolutely not. You can never have enough good players in the secondary. Besides, Robinson is thought to have safety flexibility, Logan Ryan isn’t getting younger and Jabrill Peppers might be in his last season with the Giants.

You want to help your team in the short term when you draft, but your main priority is to stockpile the best talent you can for the long-term betterment of your franchise.

That’s a lot of words to answer a long, involved question. I hope, in some way, my answer covered most of what you were looking for.

Bob Donnelly asks: We know both are needed, but which is the easiest fix for the Giants O line; pass protection or run blocking?

Ed says: Bob, I honestly don’t know that one is easier to fix than the other. I think they are different, and both pose unique challenges.

I’m not going to get into a deep dive on the techniques of run blocking vs. those of pass blocking. I’m not going to pretend to have the deep knowledge of o-line play that would require. I will, though, give you some high-level thoughts.

Pass blocking, to me, is much more individual. No matter what the blocking scheme most of the time the offensive lineman’s job is win a one-on-one matchup and keep the guy across from him off the quarterback. There is communication and study involved in handling stunts or identifying and picking up blitzes properly. Pass blocking is a mano-a-mano thing and an individual lineman either does his job or he doesn’t.

Run blocking, to me, is much more of a team thing. It takes an offensive line, a tight end and maybe a fullback and wide receiver or two working in unison to make a running game work. Footwork and timing on double teams have to be perfected. Angles of blocks have to be perfected to create the hole a running back is looking for. Each player has to learn exactly which defender he is responsible for blocking, and in which direction he is aiming to turn that defender.

Because of current rules that severely limit practice time and contact, the running game is incredibly difficult to practice and perfect.

The priority, I think, has to be helping each individual lineman improve as a pass blocker. Advanced metrics will tell you the Giants were the worst pass blocking team in the NFL last year. If that doesn’t get better, the added weapons and expected improvement from Daniel Jones aren’t going to matter.