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Evan Neal and Micah Parsons - Tied together by a trade

The Giants’ 2021 trade down looms large this week

Carolina Panthers v New York Giants Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

There are always a bevy of storylines whenever the New York Giants take the field against the Dallas Cowboys. They are two of the most storied franchises in the NFL who are locked in a heated divisional rivalry.

Monday Night Football will pit the 2-0 Giants against the 1-1 Cowboys, and this iteration of the classic rivalry will feature a new dynamic that might impact the division for years to come. That’s the twist of fate that ties rookie right tackle Evan Neal and second-year linebacker Micah Parsons.

Obviously, the basic interaction between the two is the matchup on the field. Neal is going to have to block Parsons when the two are matched up, while Parsons will do his best to disrupt the Giants’ offense.

However, the two players will be linked by a pair of trades made before either was drafted.

Back in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Philadelphia Eagles traded up with the Dallas Cowboys to select WR DeVonta Smith, swapping the ninth and 11th picks. The Giants had been eyeing both Alabama receivers, Smith and Jaylen Waddle, in that draft. But with both off the board the Giants had a chance to select Parsons to aid their anemic pass rush. He was widely considered the best defender in the draft class and one of the three best players at any position.

However, the Giants traded back with the Chicago Bears, getting the 20th overall pick and the Bears’ first-round pick in 2022. That left Parsons to the Cowboys at 11th overall and the Giants selected Kadarius Toney — and the future first-rounder became the No. 7 overall pick the Giants used to select Neal.

Now the two will face off on one of the biggest stages in sports — Monday Night Football.

“It’s going to be fun,” Neal said on Thursday. “That’s why you always dream of playing in the NFL, to go against the best players. Micah’s a great player. He’s really fast, the guy runs a 4.3. So, it’s going to be exciting to go up against him.”

The two won’t be going against each other every play. Parsons is used all over the Cowboys’ defensive front as they look for opportunities to use his skill set, a fact of which the Giants are well aware.

“He’s a very athletic guy and he’s slippery so a lot of times it’s hard for, they play him everywhere,” Neal said. “They line him up literally everywhere, he’s a Swiss army knife for their defense, so that’s really what kind of makes it tough to prepare for him.”

But the two will certainly face off at least some of the time, and perhaps even most of the time. It’s likely that Dallas will want to test the rookie with their best defensive player.

It very well could be the toughest test of Neal’s young career. Parsons has 4.0 sacks in two games and leads the NFL in sacks, hits, pressures, and tackles for a loss. His 17 sacks in his first 18 games is the highest total since 1982 and he could be the fastest player to 20 career sacks in NFL history.

Monday night won’t be the first time the two have crossed paths. Neal says they were at the Under Armour Future 50 camp together as high school students.

“Back when we were all in high school, we were young, we went to the Future 50 together. I think we might’ve spoke one or two times, but he probably doesn’t remember anything like that. He went to Penn State, I went to Alabama, so we never really knew each other like that,” Neal said.

Parsons’ ability as a game-changing pass rusher has earned him comparisons to legendary Giant Lawrence Taylor. If Parsons’ growing reputation has Neal nervous or intimidated, he isn’t letting on.

“I mean, regardless he’s a football player just like me,” Neal said. “He puts his pants on one leg at a time just like me, straps up his shoulder pads one strap at a time just like me, and he’s a really good player. Excited to go against him for sure.”