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Big Blue View mailbag: 2023 Divisional Round time-killing edition

The mail’s here!

While we wait for Saturday night’s Divisional Round playoff game between the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles, let’s open the Big Blue View Mailbag and answer some questions.

Mark Cicio asks: My question is about the Giants tight ends, particularly Daniel Bellinger. He seemed to be on a good trajectory to start the season before his injury, catching most passes his way while learning the pro-level game. The injury definitely set him back, and he seems now to finally be getting back to the level he was at.

But do you see him as the answer at TE for us? Is that still an unanswered question? What’s your opinion of him at year one, with only three games left for him this season?

Ed says: Mark, I see Bellinger as part of the answer. Multiple quality tight ends increases offensive flexibility. The Giants have gotten mileage out of Lawrence Cager, Nick Vannett and Chris Myarick this season. To me, they need at least one more tight end similar to or better than Bellinger, a guy who can align inside and out, catch the ball, block from multiple alignments. So, I look at Bellinger as part of the solution, not the entire solution.

Spencer Gross asks: After the emergence of Hodgins, is the need for a receiver still paramount? I understand the importance of a true WR1 but shouldn’t cornerback or a linebacker with strong coverage ability be considered more necessary? This team has holes as does any but in my view, CB, LB and IOL take precedence in the up coming draft. What are your thoughts?

Ed says: Spencer, wide receiver — specifically a player who could develop into a WR1 — is absolutely still a need. Now, I assume by “paramount” you mean the biggest need. If I’m ranking priorities I would still put wide receiver above cornerback, but that’s not what really matters. All of those positions you mentioned are going to be on the ‘need to try and upgrade’ list when the offseason starts. What free agents are available and willing to come to the Giants? What players will be available when the Giants draft? If you have a guard/center graded higher you don’t pass on that player because you think ‘wide receiver is a bigger need.’ You take the better player.

You never fill every need. Also, you never know exactly what your needs are going to be once a season starts and injuries occur. So, you don’t pigeon-hole yourself into positions X, Y and Z.

Gino Phillips asks: We are all ready to see what the Giants can bring to Philadelphia on Saturday. The one thing that obviously has to be fixed, without compromising the rest of the offense, is the pass rush matchup with Neal and Reddick. Neal is still struggling and Reddick has owned him this year. Your thoughts on how the Giants might address that?

Ed says: Gino, yes Evan Neal has struggled in recent weeks. Yes, he has had difficulties with Haason Reddick. I don’t know that that can be ‘fixed’? What I do know is that the Giants are keenly aware of it, that they have insanely smart coaches on the offensive side of the ball, and that they will have a plan.

First and foremost, you have to hope Neal plays better. He’s had ups and downs and his rookie year hasn’t been pretty. You can assume the Giants will do all the standard things whenever possible — use a tight end to Neal’s side, chip with a back or tight end when possible, roll the protection to help Neal when they can. None of that is reinventing the wheel. It’s what teams do.

The question I have, and I don’t know the answer to, is what happens if none of it works and Neal is having a rough time? Would the Giants go to Tyre Phillips at right tackle to try and stabilize that spot temporarily? Hopefully, it doesn’t come to that.

Eric Chavis asks: I’m wondering if there are any internal candidates in case Kafka gets a head coaching job. If not internal, any thoughts who may ultimately replace him (hopefully he stays this year, though).

Ed says: Eric, if Mike Kafka gets a head-coaching job there are some things the Giants could do without going outside to hire a coordinator not currently on staff.

Wide receivers coach Mike Groh is a veteran coach who was offensive coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2018 and 2019. Of course, Doug Pederson was the head coach and Pederson called the plays.

Maybe Groh gets the job and gets his first opportunity to be a play caller. Maybe quarterbacks coach Shea Tierney, who has now been with head coach Brian Daboll for five years, gets that role. I’ll just throw this out there — maybe Tierney gets bumped up and Davis Webb becomes quarterbacks coach.

Maybe Groh, Tierney or someone else gets the offensive coordinator title, but Daboll steps in as play-caller. He’s been pretty successful doing that in the past.

I wouldn’t even want to speculate on who the Giants might want to bring in from outside if they had to replace Kafka. My gut instinct is they might not want to do that after making so much progress with Daniel Jones this season. Maybe they would just want to keep things in house — this really is mostly Daboll’s playbook with tweaks from Kafka. So, it might make sense to stay in-house and stay with the core offensive philosophy that has been working.

Whatever happens, I’m sure that Daboll and GM Joe Schoen will — and probably already have — put a lot of thought into the right approach. Of course, Kafka staying would be the best solution.

Seth Weissman asks: I think Daniel Jones is a gutsy player and I like his win-at-all-costs attitude. And while his running is obviously a huge factor for which defenses have to account, I am concerned about the number of hits he’s taking. Do you think the Giants are putting him in a bit too many running situations?

Ed says: I don’t think so at all, Seth. There is undoubtedly more risk when teams use their quarterbacks heavily in the run game. It is, though, one of the best things Jones does and it adds a great deal to the offense. If you don’t use his running ability you aren’t giving him — or the team — the best chance to succeed.

The Giants are in the playoffs. You do what you think you have to in order to win games. The time for protecting players, or trying to protect players by not taking certain risks — like using the quarterback a lot as a runner — is long gone.

A great many of Jones’ runs are scrambles and not designed runs. There are occasions I wish he would get down or get out of bounds, too, but he is a tough, competitive guy trying to do what he thinks needs to be done to win games. The Giants need Jones to make some plays with his legs. There are risks involved with that, just like with any running quarterback. If you want to win you can’t play — or coach — scared.

Jason Robbins asks: During the Giants-Vikings game, the announcers discussed what I had long been thinking. Evan Neal’s performance reminds us a lot of Andrew Thomas his first year. I’m hopeful it will be the same. But, what do you think? Have you seen any signs that, next year, after he’s had a full season under his belt, he will make that same leap? The Giants trajectory looks so much higher if they truly have bookend franchise tackles.

Ed says: Jason, the Thomas-Neal comparison is one that comes up quite often. The two cases are not identical. They play opposite sides, and I think much of what Thomas dealt with as a rookie was because of the mess the Giants had on the coaching staff with Marc Colombo getting fired mid-season.

I don’t see any reason Neal won’t improve in 2023. He is a terrific athlete. He is an accountable guy. He works at it. I have no doubt he will spend considerable offseason time with Duke Manyweather of OL Masterminds, with whom he has trained for several years, and will come back better next season.

Now, can he become the right tackle version of what Thomas is on the opposite side? Can he become one of the best in the league? We will just have to find out. My belief is that he will have a long, solid career.

David Adams asks: With Mike Kafka’s CV being KC quarterback coach/passing coach to NY offensive coordinator, it doesn’t seem like he has a great deal of time in grade like Dabs has. Is he really ready for all that head coaching requires, or could he become another failed wunderkind?

Ed says: David, I think that is the question with all of these mid-30s offensive coordinators who have been getting head-coaching jobs in recent years. Some prove up to the task. Some, like Nathaniel Hackett, quickly prove that they aren’t ready, or aren’t head-coaching material at all.

In terms of Kafka, I have that same question. I have no doubt about how bright he is as an offensive mind. I do wonder if he is ready to be the face of a franchise. He plays everything close to the vest when he talks to us, and reveals very little in terms of personality. We will find out what teams around the league think. Many obviously want to talk to him and try to answer that question themselves.

Frank Price asks: Not one receiver produced as expected. What would you pay to retain Sterling, James, or Slayton (Hodgins is under contract for $870k) and please describe the importance of bringing each back?

Ed says: Frank, I’m going to give you a sort of ‘first blush’ answer here. This is with perhaps just a cursory look at some other contracts. Really, it’s just my quick, initial thought.

Isaiah Hodgins — He is an Exclusive Rights Free Agent who can be brought back for $870,000, as you mentioned. He is the best receiver the Giants have right now. I have no issue ripping up the final year of the two-year deal he signed with the Buffalo Bills. The deal that pops to mind (again, without a lot of study) is something like two years and $5-6M. An Average Annual Value of about $3M seems right when I take a quick glance at the wide receiver contracts table at Over The Cap.

Sterling Shepard — A tricky one. Shepard deserves an opportunity to come back and try one last time. Shepard’s contract, which carries a cap number fo $4.245M, voids on Feb. 10. Why not work with that number? Give him a one-year deal with maybe a $1.5M base salary and incentives that give him a chance to reach that $4M mark.

Richie James — Having the best season of his career, but retaining him is not a high priority for me. Not with Wan’Dale Robinson coming back. I might offer him a one-year deal at $1.5-2M, but I might also just let him test the market and see what he can find.

Darius Slayton — Another interesting one. I would be interested in keeping Slayton, but I’m honestly not sure how interested he will be in staying. The Giants made him take a pay cut from $2.54 million to $965,000 to stay with the team this season. If I’m the Giants, I’d rather pay Hodgins than Slayton. If I’m Slayton, I want to test the market and see if someone will pay me more than the Giants would be comfortable with.

Mike Binder asks: There’s been a number of circumstances lately (particularly in the playoffs) that the referees are changing calls after “discussion”, except there are no meetings with other referees on the field. It appears that the head ref is just getting some direction from his ear piece. Has the NFL officially or unofficially gone the college route with automatic reviews of most plays?

Ed says: Mike the NFL is increasingly leaning into what it calls “replay assist” or “expedited review.” The adjustment to the rules allows officials in the replay center to quickly correct a call or an improper rule application without having to go through a coach’s challenge and a lengthy sideline review.

I love it. It saves time and doesn’t force coaches to use challenges to correct obvious mistakes.

Check out the full explanation of how it works at NFL Operations.

Tom Wallden asks: It looks like Daniel Jones deservedly will be rewarded a more lucrative contract then originally planned. Do you think the Giants are considering trading or releasing Tyrod Taylor (four known concussions has to be concerning ) and his 5 mill contract. It looked to me that Davis Webb could adequately fill in for a game or two at a much lower contract. They could then draft a development QB and have a more manageable budget for the QB position.

Ed says: Tom, I don’t know why the Giants would do that. Jones got through this season healthy, but he missed games with injuries his first three seasons. Quarterbacks get hurt. All NFL players get hurt sooner or later. A quality backup quarterback is a must. Taylor is that, and his price tag is a perfectly reasonable one. You really aren’t going to find a guy with his pedigree for less.

As for Davis Webb, he got in a game and played well. I am happy for him — he deserved that. I don’t know what Webb’s plans are, but retirement to go into coaching is always an option — especially now that he has started a game and knocked that off the bucket list. It was a strong possibility a year ago, and is probably still on the table.

Benjamin Lawrence asks: I’m a strong supporter of Daniel Jones and hope that he is our QB going forward. However, one thing I’m curious about is his rookie season compared to this season. As a rookie, he had 4 and 5 touchdown games, plus more overall touchdowns and a similar number of yards. Fortunately, he fixed the turnovers, but why do you think he had more success as a rookie in those specific measures than now? Is it the wide receivers, offensive scheme, rookie luck, or something else?

Ed says: Benjamin, I’m not going to do a deep dive into the 2019 games. Really, what I think is that it was a different offense, different coach/coordinator (Pat Shurmur), different players and also a different time in the NFL. Scoring is down a little bit — from 2.6 touchdowns to 2.43. Not to mention the reality that the Giants have been winning more game and not having to press the ball down field to try and catch up as often.

Lots of factors.

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