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Big Blue View mailbag: Offense vs. defense, Nick Gates, Darius Slayton, more

The mail’s here!

Your New York Giants are on their summer recess. And, truth be told, as you read this yours truly is finishing up a few days of R&R in Hampton Beach, N.H. The mail keeps coming, though, so let’s open up the Big Blue View Mailbag, dive in, and see what we find.

Sean Motts asks: Howdy, Ed! We all know some head coaches take on the play calling duties on offense, but are there any out there that do the opposite and call the defensive plays? Is defensive play calling different than offense? Are the communication rules the same, for example how long coaches have to communicate through the headset?

Ed says: Sean, there are far more coaches around the NFL calling offensive than defensive plays. That, of course, is largely because of the modern trend toward hiring offensive-minded head coaches. As for coaches who call the defensive schemes, there are some. Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers has done it at times. Mike Zimmer (Vikings) and Vic Fangio (Broncos) did it for years before losing their jobs after the 2021 season. Lovie Smith will do so in Houston and has not even added a defensive coordinator. Dennis Allen will run the defense in New Orleans.

As for differences in play-calling, the basic difference is that defensive play calls are generally shorter than offensive play calls. Here are some old NFL play sheet examples via the magic of Twitter:

Finally, yes, the communication rules are the same. One-way coach to player communication that cuts off with 15 seconds left on the play clock.

Casey Hamlin asks: Hi Ed, curious to know how much of a disciplinarian is Daboll? From what I am hearing he is friendly with just about everyone which I think is fine. However, when I think back to a lot of frustrations last year was how undiscipline[d] the team was. Jumping offsides/unnecessary roughness penalties at the most inopportune times…I hope Daboll works out as I’m tired of the coaching carousel. I do get a little worried when I hear about him taking it easy on a team that has been the worst in the league since 2015. Conditioning is important in sports at any level. I’m more of a Coughlin or Parcells guy. A coach which demands respect and discipline. I guess we will see how it plays out.

Ed says: Casey, look around. How many old-school Tom Coughlin or Bill Parcells types are coaching in the NFL these days? Bill Belichick, sure, but not many others. Besides, don’t forget that tough-guy Coughlin didn’t win with the Giants until he was forced to learn to open up and relate to his players, to deal with them on a more personal level.

Everyone I have ever spoken with about Brian Daboll has warned not to take Daboll’s affable nature for a guy who can’t be hard when he needs to be.

Consider these quotes from my recent post on Daboll’s first spring as a head coach:

  • Giants center Jon Feliciano said Daboll is “authentic” and is “going to shoot it to you straight.”
  • Jerry Smith, Daboll’s football coach at St. Francis High School in Athol Springs, N.Y., told me that Daboll “is a nice guy, but don’t take niceness for meekness.”
  • GM Joe Schoen told me that “You’ll see it (Daboll’s tough side). He’s got a very good sense of when to put his thumb on guys and press ‘em and be stern, and he’s got a good feel for when he can let his foot off the gas.”

Not every winning coach has been a Vince Lombardi clone. I don’t think Sean McVay of the Rams carries a “disciplinarian” label. Nor does Andy Reid. Back in his day, Jim Fassel had a lot of success and he was a player’s coach rather than a tough guy.

In terms of Daboll “taking it easy” on guys, the first priority has to be to get guys healthy and get to the September starting line with as healthy a team as possible. There are an awful lot of players still rehabbing injuries that occurred last season, and the first priority has to be to get those guys to the starting line. As Daboll indicated, spring is not the time to push guys who aren’t fully healthy.

Only five teams committed fewer penalties in 2021 than Joe Judge’s Giants, yet the Giants still resembled an undisciplined team that made its mistakes at the worst possible times. Judge preached discipline, but didn’t get disciplined results.

Let’s just see how it plays out.

Alan Goldstein asks: At this time of year the mind tends to go to some interesting places with nothing real going on. Every year a team goes from worst to first in their division and makes the playoffs. I have noticed that there are some key factors that contribute to this phenomenon, among them:

  • Key players returning from injury
  • New coaching staff
  • Draft picks contribute significantly
  • No dominant team in their division

While there may be more commonalities than those it seems to me that the Giants have several of these factors going for them. If Saquon and the receivers bounce back from injury that is a huge step right there and also Martinez on the other side of the ball. That’s 4 quality starters added to the team. After two seasons of Timmy Toughnuts having a guy like Daboll along with Wink can be a breath of fresh air and provide a boost to a downtrodden and moribund franchise. Even if just the two first rounders live up to their potential that would be a huge shot in the arm at two positions of acute need but if the TE from San Diego State winds up starting and contributing that is three huge holes filled right there. Finally this division might be a mess. Every team has holes and the potential to implode, including us, but since I’m a Giants fan I choose to believe that we can beat those mugs from Dallas and Philly and the WTF’s as well.

Am I completely drunk on Blue Kool-Aid or is this possible?

Ed says: Geesh, what is this with the ‘Kool-Aid?’ We talked about Kool-Aid last week, too, if memory serves. Anyway, Alan, you go right ahead and drink all the Kool-Aid you want. It’s June, and that makes it a great time to dream.

Anything can happen. That’s what the 17 games are for. Sometimes teams are better than expected. Sometimes they are worse than expected. Injuries happen. Crazy bounces that change outcomes. Bad calls. All of those things are what make sports unpredictable, and great.

No one should “expect” the kind of year you are talking about. But, sure, go ahead and hope for it. Why not? Be optimistic.

I have said before I do think Giants fans should feel good about the work Joe Schoen has done, and that he seems to recognize that there is no quick fix, no magic bullet that will turn the Giants into a championship team. I think you should feel good about this coaching staff — it hasn’t yet given you any reason to have doubts.

So, yeah, drink the Kool-Aid. Just keep some Alka-Seltzer handy once the games start.

Dave asks: Why is it taking so long to get the last three draft picks under contract. Is it a money availability issue or something else?

Ed says: Dave, it’s not a “money availability issue.” Per Over The Cap, the Giants have $6.22 million in cap space. The Giants need roughly $3.5 million of that to get second-round pick Wan’Dale Robinson and fourth-round picks Daniel Bellinger and Dane Belton signed.

Contract values are slotted per the Collective Bargaining Agreement, so we know how much each contract will be worth. But, things like offset language and how bonuses are apportioned can still be haggled over.

This is not a “Giants problem.” This is a league-wide problem. Check out this rookie contract signings tracker from Spotrac.

What do you see? Only one of the 10 Round 2 picks taken before the Giants selected Robinson has signed. In Round 4, only one of the first 15 fourth-round picks taken has signed.

What gives in those two rounds? I asked Jason Fitzgerald of Over The Cap for help. He said:

“Second rounders are trying to maximize how much guaranteed salary they receive in third contract year while fourth rounders are hoping for yearly salaries above the minimum.”

Fitzgerald explained further how agents are working within the CBA parameters to increase guarantees for their players.

“Every year the guarantees get a little more for the second rounders. Houston over-guaranteed one of their players (Dameon Pierce, the second player selected in Round 4) which made expectations higher. Fourth round is simply because the third round has finally maximized the contract value so they are trying to move to more money in Round 4.”

These contracts are a little bit like dominoes. Agents don’t always want their guy to sign until the guys above him are signed. They don’t want to feel like they left something on the table. When the guys above Robinson in Round 2 start to sign, a deal for Robinson will likely follow. Same with Bellinger and Belton in Round 4.

Doug Mollin asks: Even in a “best case scenario” where DJ finishes as a top 8-12 QB, I believe his future really comes down to the QB scouting that Schoen does over the coming months. If he identifies a college QB that he has a high level of confidence in — and has a plan to draft them — then I think they move on from DJ in that scenario.

If he doesn’t identify a QB worth drafting, or simply doesn’t have the capital to draft one, which of these scenarios do you see unfolding:

  • franchise DJ to buy another year.
  • negotiate a “reasonable” longer term contract with DJ. Depends who else would be bidding on him as a free agent QB.
  • trade for or sign a veteran QB to come in. This might be an option if we have a playoff caliber roster for 2023.
  • let Taylor start 2023 and draft a developmental QB; kick the can down the road a year.

Ed says: Doug, for me this is a long question with a short answer. Taylor was signed to a two-year deal, and I believe strongly that was with an eye toward 2023. Having Taylor signed through next season gives them the flexibility to move on from Jones while making sure they have an adequate veteran quarterback to — at least — begin the season.

I honestly can’t answer the “scenarios” because I feel like it’s premature to do so. Let’s see how the season unfolds.

ctscan123 asks: I am a little confused by the Nick Gates situation. As far as I know, players on PUP and IR count against the salary cap . How is it that Darius Slayton who is healthy at a cost of 2 million is on everyone’s lips as a cut candidate well gates, who may never play again, at a cost of 3 million is projected by many to wind up on PUP … I know he’s a formally valuable player on a team friendly contract, but do we have $3 million to throw around like that? Shouldn’t he be given an injury settlement and welcomed back if he can make it? Maybe take a pay cut to veteran minimum if they want to keep him on the team.

Ed says: CT, let’s start with Slayton. If the Giants cut Slayton, they save $2.54 million and have a miniscule cap charge of $58,497. No strings. That’s just straight up cap savings.

Gates’ salary is $2.050 million. Throw in his roster and workout bonuses, the Giants could — theoretically — save $2.125 million against the cap while incurring only $879,167 in dead money.

But ... and there is a big BUT in Gates’ case. There is an Injury Protection Benefit clause in the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

I turned to good friend Patty Traina, who has a deeper understanding of the salary cap than I do, for a little help explaining this one. She wrote:

The Injury Protection Benefit works as follows: If the player get injured in one season and then is physically unable to perform the next season and has his contract terminated before the following season starts, he is entitled to up to 100 percent of his base salary for the following year.

The Patriots went through this in 2021 with Julian Edelman last year before he retired—I think Edelman got his full salary which did count against the cap. (This clause is Article 45 Section 12, which you can read here:

Further, Section 4 of the Injury Protection Benefit clause state that the first $1.2 million of that salary will count against the cap.

So, there isn’t nearly the cap savings you might think at first blush.

Julian Roberts asks: Since the offseason is completed are the players still in training camp and continue to practice or have they left. I thought that it would be a good time for example that Daniel Jones would have his receivers around and work with them so that they can all be on the same page when they get together again.

Ed says: Julian, offseason means OFFSEASON. This period between the end of the offseason program and the beginning of training camp belongs to the players. They are gone. Now, some live in New Jersey and will be around the facility to work out. Others may be around to continue rehab from injuries. They will all continue to work out and get ready for the season in their own way. This is their time.

If Daniel Jones and the receivers want to get together for a few days at Duke University or at QB Country in Alabama, they will. That is entirely up to them.

Ronald Buchheim asks: How can a player with tremendous speed and demonstrated ability in his rookie year become a possible roster cut this year? I know the Giants would save 2.6 million in cap space, but do you have any idea why Slayton’s performance has dropped so sharply? If it was injury, did you know if he’s fully healthy now? If not injuries, has he lost confidence or some other reason? Do players’ injury-plagued performance create bad reputations that they cannot overcome? In short, what is holding this talented receiver back from returning to his previous promising form?

Ed says: Ronald, one year does not a career make. Slayton had a promising rookie year, yes. But, he was a fifth-round pick — not a first- or second-round pick — for a reason.

Slayton came out of Auburn with a reputation for having questionable hands. Well, guess what? His drop percentage keeps going up — 2.4 percent in 2019, 6.3 percent in 2020, a whopping 10.3 percent last year. His catch percentage keeps going down — 57.1 percent in 2019, 52.1 percent in 2020, 44.8 percent last year. His passer rating when targeted keeps going down — 98.3 in 2019, 79.8 in 2020, 53.7 last year.

Yes, there has been dysfunction on the part of the offense as a whole. These numbers, though, tell us that Slayton is getting open less and less often AND dropping the ball more often when he does get open.

What happened? Who knows? Maybe Slayton’s rookie performance was a mirage, maybe he played over his head. I’ve heard the theory that he got comfortable and hasn’t put in the work — which I am not saying is the case, I am just saying I have heard theorized.

I know Slayton has dealt with some injuries, but you have to catch the ball when it hits you in the hands. Slayton hasn’t consistently done that the past two seasons.

The Giants have tried to give players clean slates this spring. Guess what Slayton’s biggest issue has been thus far, though? Dropping the ball.

You can’t make a roster as a $2.54 million fifth wide receiver who doesn’t play special teams if you don’t consistently catch the football.