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Big Blue View mailbag: Patrick Graham, offensive line, Jabrill Peppers, more

The mail’s here!

It’s a party weekend, as we celebrate the Fourth of July. I know that. Before you get busy, though, here is your weekly Big Blue View mailbag. Let’s see what summertime questions you have about the New York Giants.

Jim Jordan asks: The general consensus is that, probably sooner rather than later, Patrick Graham will be lured away by the opportunity to be a head coach. If that does happen, is there anyone on the current defensive coaching staff that you feel would be a worthy successor? I know every new coordinator is going to want to put their own stamp on things with their own scheme. But assuming the defense performs as well as we all hope they will (which would seem to be a precursor for any HC offers for Graham), is there someone with a similar philosophy and creativity that could implement more of a transition than a completely different approach? Maybe Pruitt?

Ed says: Jim, if the Giants become a playoff team and continue to play excellent defense over the next few seasons Patrick Graham will deservedly get an opportunity to be a head coach. That may come quickly, or, like Eric Bienemy, it might take years to happen. We know it hasn’t happened yet for Bienemy, even though many think it should have.

The thought of a “transition” type of hire might send shudders down the spines of Giants fans. Remember when the Giants tried to transition from Steve Spagnuolo to Bill Sheridan so that players would not have to learn a new scheme? Well, that didn’t work very well. Sheridan was simply over his head as a defensive coordinator, and was removed from the role after a year.

That said, there are some intriguing defensive coaches working under Graham.

The first guy you mentioned is Jeremy Pruitt. The former Tennessee head coach has a reputation as a terrific defensive coach and was hired by Joe Judge as a senior defensive assistant. Judge called Pruitt “one of the best teachers I’ve ever been around.”

Pruitt has been a collegiate head coach, and was defensive coordinator at both Georgia and Alabama. Terry Lambert of SB Nation’s Tennessee website, Rocky Top Talk, told Big Blue View that “the guy can flat out coach up some defense.”

If you are thinking about internal candidates, Pruitt would have to be one.

The other possibility I wonder about is defensive backs coach Jerome Henderson. He played for five NFL teams. He has been defensive backs coach for six teams, and was New York Jets director of player development for two years. He seems to be a really good coach, though he has never ventured beyond coaching defensive backs.

One thing makes me wonder about the 51-year-old Henderson, though. At one point last season Graham said that his weekly game plans begin with a report from Henderson detailing what he recommends doing with coverage of the opposing team’s receivers that week. That made me think Graham saw Henderson as more than “just” a position coach. I’m curious if he wants, or will one day get, an opportunity to run his own defense.

So, I would also consider Henderson a possibility.

Steven Alessandrini asks: By not pursuing a proven veteran like Turner, it seems clear the Giants are content to stick with the group they’ve assembled. I am curious if you think this decision is being driven by a longer term view on roster building which prioritizes giving the young guys experience or if they truly believe the guys they have are better than Turner and other available veterans? If it’s the former, this approach seems inconsistent with their win now moves in free agency. Can teams successfully do both - build a roster to win now and for the future?

Ed says: Steven, you are of course referring to offensive guard Trai Turner signing with the Pittsburgh Steelers after apparently not even getting passing interest from the Giants.

This is an interesting philosophical question, and I think the answer has some layers to it. Let’s see if I can coherently explain what I think is going on here.

Remember that GM Dave Gettleman tried to have his cake and eat it, too, in 2018 and maybe beyond that. He believed that by staying the course with Eli Manning, signing some stop-gap veterans and drafting Saquon Barkley to team with Odell Beckham Jr. that the Giants could win enough games to perhaps sneak into the playoffs while he rebuilt the underbelly of the roster with young talent.

He has since admitted that he was wrong about that. It is insanely difficult to thread the needle with a middle of the road approach, trying to do both things at the same time. You need to pick a lane, and the rebuild the Giants needed was slowed by the reality that they didn’t.

Now, if you read my ‘Views’ column last week — if you didn’t, please explain yourself — you know that I thought Turner would be the guy the Giants would go after if they wanted to add an established veteran to their current group.

Obviously, they didn’t. So, what does that, combined with their aggressive free-agent moves, mean? Let’s think about this for a minute.

It’s easy to argue that they are in “win-now” mode. Remember the impatience John Mara showed during his pre-draft press conference?

“It’s been a very difficult four- or five-year period for us and I’m tired of the losing and of having the postseason press conference trying to explain what went wrong and why I think we’re making progress,” Mara said. “It’s time for us to start winning some more and that’s one of the reasons we spent the money we did.”

Thus, you can view the 2021 season through a “win or else” lens. In some ways, that is accurate. If the Giants don’t do better, if they don’t win games, they will probably be looking for a new GM. A new offensive coordinator. Maybe a new quarterback, too.

I do think the Giants believe in this young group of offensive linemen. I think they believe the lack of an offseason, the fact that they had a new coaching staff installing a new scheme, and the instability with the offensive line coaching situation set the 2020 offensive line up to fail. I think they believe more stability on the coaching staff, playing experience and continuity of working together will all bear positive results.

“We believe in these guys, they all came along, we finished the season fairly strong,” Gettleman said in March. “We’re young and we’re getting better.

“At some point in time, you have to have confidence in who’s on your club and you have to put him in there and let him play.”

Back to “win now” mode. I think there is another way to look at it. I think you could look at the Giants as being in “find out now” mode. Is Daniel Jones the right quarterback? The offseason was about getting him a multitude of weapons so that excuse was no longer there. Is Gettleman the right GM? Jason Garrett the right offensive coordinator? Is Saquon Barkley worth a long-term contract extension?

That also applies to the offensive line. The Giants invested premium draft picks in Will Hernandez, Andrew Thomas and Matt Peart. They invested a fifth-round pick and a year of work into Shane Lemieux. They have several years of work invested in Nick Gates.

Maybe it’s as simple as “find out now” in 2021 if you have the answers, or if you will need to start over with that group.

Chris Fiegler asks: With Azeez Ojulari and Elerson Smith on the Giants roster do you think that the Giants will have the best defense in 2021?

Ed says: Chris, the Giants had the league’s ninth-ranked defense in terms of points allowed in 2020. That’s pretty good. I do think they have a chance to be better this season, but it is kind of presumptuous to set the bar at “best defense in the NFL.”

Also, let’s be realistic. If they improve and get into, let’s say, the top five it is not going to be primarily because of a second-round draft pick (Ojulari) and fourth-round draft pick (Smith) playing in their rookie seasons.

It’s going to be because Leonard Williams, James Bradberry and Blake Martinez are tremendous again. Because Adoree’ Jackson is the cornerback the Giants think he is. Because Dexter Lawrence continues to get better. Because Xavier McKinney shows that the Giants were right to select him early in the second round last year. Because Logan Ryan keeps making plays. Because Lorenzo Carter makes plays. Because of Jabrill Peppers’ energy and play-making. Because Ojulari and Smith contribute to the pass rush as rookies. Because Patrick Graham has another terrific year as defensive coordinator putting players in the right spots.

New York Giants v Seattle Seahawks
Jabrill Peppers
Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Tyrone Payne asks (via Facebook): When do you think a contract extension for Jabrill Peppers will happen? I would hope the team would be able to resign him before next offseason. I understand cap and all that but after this past offseason I know it can be done. He’s young and part of the heart and soul of the team. Certain players are not expendable.

Ed says: Tyrone, I appreciate the question and I thank you for asking it. I am afraid, though, that you are not going to like my answer.

I am not at all certain that a contract extension for Peppers will happen. Ever. I am not saying I don’t think it should. Nor am I saying I do think the Giants should extend him. I am just not at all sure the Giants will extend him.

Peppers is a good player. Not a great player. He can do a lot of things well, especially near the line of scrimmage. Both James Bettcher in 2019 and Patrick Graham last year minimized his exposure in coverage by keeping him closer to the line. In Cleveland, his “Average Depth of Target” was 9.9 yards in 2017 and 8.2 in 2018. With the Giants, it was 6.1 yards in 2019 and 7.1 yards last season.

Peppers brings energy. He brings really good run defense. He is a decent punt returner. He is a New Jersey kid. There are lots of reasons to like him, and want to keep him.

Like Landon Collins a few years ago and Dalvin Tomlinson this past offseason, the Giants simply might not be able to.

Remember that assistant GM Kevin Abrams said before the draft that “2022 could be a little bit of a challenge depending on where the cap goes to.”

Co-owner John Mara also addressed this topic back in March.

“I loved Landon Collins and Dalvin Tomlinson, those were two great players and they were great people in the building. It broke my heart to see them go, but at the end of the day you have to make a cold hard business decision, can you afford to devote that much cap space to this particular player? But I am very cognizant of the message that it sends out, but you can’t pay everybody. We do have some important players that will be coming up for extensions pretty soon, so that is something that’s always in the back of my mind,” Mara said.

“I think players for the most part understand that you just can’t pay everybody and you have to make some very tough business decisions.”

If you look at the Giants’ roster, the secondary is deep and versatile. Julian Love is smaller than Peppers, but thrived in the box safety role when Peppers was injured in 2019. He will be on his rookie contract through 2022. They have Logan Ryan and Xavier McKinney. The Giants could be looking for ways to get both Darnay Holmes and Aaron Robinson on the field. The same with linebackers Tae Crowder, Carter Coughlin and Cam Brown.

Let’s see how the 2021 season plays out. Right now, though, I think that if the Giants are facing a financial crunch they might look at the options they have in the secondary and at linebacker and believe they could cost-effectively replace Peppers in 2022.

Will Thomas asks: What NFL podcasts do you listen to? What other sources do you use for your research? Does Vox Media reimburse you for access to paywall sites like PFF or NFL Game Pass which offers All 22 replays of every game?

Finally, apart from SB Nation, which NFL writers and analysts do you follow and respect most?

Ed says: Will, I appreciate the question. I don’t think it’s appropriate that I discuss what Vox Media pays for and does not pay for, but I will answer the other parts of it.

I quite honestly don’t listen to podcasts often enough. The shows here at BBV Radio by Chris, Joe and Nick are on my list. The SB Nation NFL Radio shows are on my list. ‘Move the Sticks’ with Daniel Jeremiah and Bucky Brooks. Pat Traina’s ‘Locked on Giants.’ There should be more, but I just don’t prioritize it enough, to be honest.

Research? Pro Football Focus. Football-Reference. Football Outsiders. Beat writers who cover other teams. People I know who are experts in their various fields or positions of interest. SB Nation NFL and college sites. Anything and anyone I can think of to find information I’m looking for about a player or a topic.

Favorite writers? On the Giants beat, Tom Rock and Bob Glauber of Newsday, Pat Traina of Giants Country, Paul Schwartz, Ryan Dunleavy and Steve Serby of the New York Post, Zack Rosenblatt of NJ Advance Media.

People often say my style is reminiscent of Peter King. I love his work and it’s not hard to see I have borrowed from it. I would love to have the access he gets to whatever and whoever he asks for. There honestly aren’t a lot of writers any more where I think “oh, I have to read that because so-and-so wrote it.” Years ago, there were several newspaper columnists who fit into that category. Not so much now. Truthfully, I love thoughtful, well-researched and well-written work. I love stuff that tells us about the people who play the games, and even a little about the writers who cover them. I love the stories behind the scenes. I probably love that stuff more than the nuts and bolts of daily coverage and the film study. I wish I could do that all the time.