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Big Blue View mailbag: Saquon Barkley, Malik Willis, and a whole lot more

The mail’s here!

This is a busy, overflowing Big Blue View Mailbag filled with draft and free agency questions as the New York Giants proceed through an insanely interesting offseason. Let’s get to it.

Jeffrey Mleziva asks: If the Giants retain Barkley this year then let him walk in 2023, would they be eligible to receive a compensation pick in 2024? I know future draft picks aren’t viewed as being “worth” as much as picks in the current year, but if the market isn’t there to trade him, is this something that would need to be considered?

Ed says: Jeffrey, yes, that is possible. The loss of Evan Engram to the Jacksonville Jaguars is currently projected to qualify the Giants for a fifth-round pick in 2023. I don’t want to speculate on what the pick might be, but Barkley would qualify for the compensatory formula.

Two Malik Willis questions this week.

Doug asks: Without making this a discussion about Daniel Jones — been there, done that — what do you think of Malik Willis at 7? From what I read, I see enormous upside and about average risk for a first round QB. He surely would need to sit and watch for a year.

Robert Forgione asks: Ed, the more I hear about Malik Willis, the more I like. Is it possible, at all, that even with Schoen saying all the right things about Daniel Jones, that the Giants pick Willis at 5. Just a hunch. They took Josh Allen, when there were many doubters as to Allen’s ability to perform at next level. If Schoen, Brown, Daboll think Willis could be “the guy”would they pull the trigger?

Ed says: I think I hope there is a team out there in full bloom love with Willis. Or Matt Corral. Or Kenny Pickett. Enough that they would give up a 2023 first-round pick to move up to No. 5 or No. 7 to get him. That is the scenario I think GM Joe Schoen goes to bed at night praying for.

Never say never — I hate using that phrase because it was a Ben McAdoo favorite, but it applies. I would, though, be as stunned by the Giants taking a quarterback at No. 5 or No. 7 as I’ve been by anything in the more than 15 years I have covered this team.

Walker Joyce asks: I‘ve read a ton of copy on our incumbent QB over the last several months, including the link you posted today, but one central question continues to be ignored:

Is Jones’ mysterious neck injury healed?

As far as I can tell, this hasn’t been explored since he went on IR. We don’t even know what happened to him, and whether or not it could be a chronic condition.

If Daniel is healthy, and can stay that way, I have great confidence that Daboll, et al can coach him up and have him reach his max potential. Especially as Schoen rebuilds the O-line, and the skill guys also heal. But if his cervical spine is still an issue, he’s probably finished.

So...what’s going on?

Ed says: Walker, we don’t know. The Giants are — obviously — not required to give us any injury information during the offseason. And they have not. No one around him is going to speak out of turn, either. What we heard at the end of the season was that Jones could practice, he could work out, he could lift weights. He just wasn’t cleared for contact. Pretty much all practice for quarterbacks is non-contact, anyway.

The one thing I will say is I think something would have filtered out by now if there were real long-term concern. The Giants get an extra mini-camp because they have a new head coach. As far as we know, that is likely to begin April 4. We will try to find out more then.

Ronald Buchheim asks: Ed, I was disappointed that the Giants released Carter. He was showing great potential just before he tore his Achilles, and had five sacks in the final four games of last season, possibly because he was finally back to full strength. The Giants are desperate for edge rushers. Why not give Carter a chance to prove he’s what we hoped for? You wrote that would be worthwhile if the Giants could get him at a reasonable price. But I read that they didn’t make much of an effort, if any, to sign him. Might this be a case of cleaning house without sufficient regard for Carter’s potential?

Ed says: Ronald, the Giants did not “release” Lorenzo Carter. He was an unrestricted free agent, able to negotiate with every team in the NFL, and he chose to sign with the Atlanta Falcons.

Remember the Giants have virtually no salary cap space and have — for the most part — been signing players to the most inexpensive contracts possible. Carter signed a one-year, $3.5 million deal with Atlanta. Mike Garafolo reported that the Giants tried to bring Carter back, but even that relatively small amount is too rich for the Giants at this point.

Simply put, this is the reality of where the Giants are right now. They have extremely limited financial resources, made a calculated decision regarding their priorities of how to use those limited resources, and Carter fell outside what they could do.

Ed says: Jeffrey, I don’t know if Cross’s Pro Day puts him in Joe Schoen’s top 7 picks. I will say that I am finding fewer and fewer reasons to keep him out of mine. Don’t tell me he can’t run block. I have seen that he can. He just hasn’t been asked to do it a lot. I know he hasn’t played right tackle. He is, though, just 21 years of age. There will be an adjustment, but don’t tell me he can’t make it. The one thing that bugs me is that he never played out of a three-point stance in college. Again, though, he’s 21 and he can figure it out.

I love Ikem Ekwonu’s tenacity and his upside. He’s a home run for the Giants if they can get him. I can’t find a whole lot of reasons to complain about Evan Neal. He’s a plug and play right tackle who will be a good one.

Cross, most analysts will tell you, is the best pass blocking tackle in the class right now. It would be hard to be unhappy with the Giants landing that in the draft.

Rowland Smith asks: In free agency to date, the Giants have signed a significant number of players from either Buffalo or Baltimore, that have connections to the new coaching staff. Do you think that this is a positive or a negative? The Giants have a pro player scouting organization charged with identifying the best available free agent across the league. Its hard to imagine that all of the best free agents just happen to have played on teams where current Giants coaches previously worked. So are our pro player scouts doing their job?

On the other hand, these signings might be considered a positive because these players may place some value on continuing to play for our new coaches with a new team, and as a result we are getting better players at a bit of a bargain with these signings. A third possibility is that among the vast expanse of second tier players in the league it is so hard to make any fine distinctions, that going with guys the coaches know is as good as any other strategy.

On a final note, with the exception of Nate Ebner I don’t remember many free agent signings with connections to the previous coaching staff. If that is the case, is this recent trend a cause for some optimism?

Ed says: Rowland, I think that’s a complicated question to answer. There are both good and bad things about signing players your front office or coaching staff has a prior relationship with.

On the positive side, if you have coaches and front office people with a prior working relationship with a player, you have invaluable first-hand knowledge of what makes that player tick, how he learns, how he works, how he is in the locker and meeting rooms, how to use him on the field. On the flip side, simply signing guys you know and discarding guys you don’t can be lazy scouting. That’s how the Giants have lost players like Devon Kinnard, Romeo Okwara and Michael Thomas in the past

In this case, I do not think the Giants are being lazy. I think they are honestly assessing the roster and trying to keep players they think can help. I think they are being practical. They don’t have much money. They know and trust many of these players. These players know and trust them. They can buy GM Joe Schoen time to get the Giants’ house in order.

As for connections to the Judge coaching staff, there were several others. Logan Ryan was with Joe Judge and Patrick Graham in New England. So was Danny Shelton. Dion Lewis, who played for the Giants in 2021, was a Judge favorite from New England. Keion Crossen, acquired via trade, was a Judge guy from the Patriots. Korey Cunningham spent time with the Patriots while Judge was there. Graham Gano played for Thomas McGaughey in Carolina. Judge also had an affinity for Nate Solder from their New England days. I wouldn’t be surprised if I missed a couple.

Christopher Benfer asks: Coming up on the draft, it looks like most people (me included) want to see some significant improvement along the O-Line, particularly for the right tackle spot. Traditionally, left tackle was looked on as the more premier position and teams would pay a premium for a quality LT. With the Giants picking in the top 10 (twice), do we need to spend that high of a pick to get a solid starter at RT? Do the distinctions between the tackle positions really matter in today’s NFL? If there really is a difference between the spots, is there a general feel for guys who would specifically be starting quality RT’s a little later in the draft? I’d love to come out of this with a franchise guy at both tackle spots, but as you always say it is important to maximize resources and I’m wondering if dropping down a bit and focusing on a guy more suited to his expected role (while picking up some additional picks) wouldn’t be a better solution.

Ed says: Christopher, there are a number of layers to your question. I’m going to try to hit them all, but not in the order you asked them.

Is there really a difference between the two positions? Well, yes and no. Teams still generally want the better pass protector at left tackle and the better, more powerful run blocker at right tackle.

First, almost all NFL quarterbacks are right-handed. That makes the left tackle the “blind side” protector. In theory, the quarterback can see the rusher coming from his right — the side faces — and should be able to react better. So, theoretically, pressure you can see is less impactful than pressure you can’t see.

The other reality, and I don’t know the reason for this, is that many teams are right-handed in the run game. Per NFL Savant, the Giants ran 120 times (37.98) percent of the time to the right of center last season and 95 times (30.06) to the left. The Baltimore Ravens ran to the right 53.52 percent of the time in 2021.

Do the distinctions really matter? Well, they shouldn’t. It’s a matchup league and defenses no longer line up a standard three- or four-man front with the same players in the same spots all the time. Guys float all around as coordinators seek matchups and seek to stress whoever they identify as the weak players on an offensive line. Still, left tackles get the big paychecks. The four highest-paid tackles and 15 of the top 20 tackle wage earners play on the left. So, the NFL still values left tackles over right tackles.

Now, do the Giants “need” to spend a pick at No. 5 or No. 7 to get their right tackle? No, but their odds of finding a long-term solution are better if they do. The top five right tackles by paycheck are Ryan Ramcyzk, Brian O’Neill, Lane Johnson, Braden Smith and Taylor Moton. Ramczyk and Johnson were first-round picks. O’Neill, Smith and Moton were second-round picks. The Bills found Spencer Brown, their starting left tackle, in the third round of the 2021 draft.

You can always find guards and centers in the middle to late portions of the draft. Those guys don’t necessarily need some manner of elite athletic traits. Tackle is different. I would have to do an in-depth study to get accurate numbers, but I would say in general your return on investment is going to be greater the earlier you dive into the tackle pool.

As for trading down, I’ve said over and over I think moving down with one of those two top-10 picks is a strategy that has to be in play. You have to see what happens before the Giants are on the clock and who does or does not want to move up. It has to be a consideration, but you just have to wait and see what is on the table when it’s time to make a decision.

William Bowman asks: Does Saquon have the potential to be used in the same way as the 49ers used Deebo Samuel?

Ed says: William, they can both catch passes and run with the ball but they are very different players.

Saquon Barkley is a running back with pass-catching ability. Yes, sometimes pass-catching ability the Giants have not been able to use well enough. Still, he is a running back first.

Deebo Samuel is a wide receiver who has the ability to occasionally run the ball out of the backfield. He had 77 receptions and 59 carries in 2021.

They are both “offensive weapons.” They are not, though, the same player.

Scott Coghlan asks: Hey Ed, I’ve seen a few national football journalists push for a Baker Mayfield trade to the Giants. I am not in favor, as I question whether he is much better than DJ. What do you think of the idea?

Ed says: Scott, I think Skip Bayless is an idiot. I think it’s a dumb idea, and that’s all I’m going to say.

Jesse Sorel asks: If the top 2 tackles (Neal and Ekwonu) are off the board and Giants take Sauce with the 5th pick and can’t find a trade partner for the 7th pick and Charles Cross is still on the board. Do you think the Giants pick Cross with the possible intentions on moving him to left tackle and Thomas to right tackle? Thomas at this point seems like a better and more experienced run blocker. Cross seems really athletic for his size. What is your opinion?

Ed says: Jesse, I understand the question. Anything is possible, but this is something I just don’t see. It makes no sense to me to move a player who is already a successful NFL left tackle — generally considered the most important position on your offensive line — for a player who has never played an NFL snap. I would not surprised if the Giants draft Cross. I would be shocked if they do that and then move Thomas.