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Building a New York Giants Super Bowl contender

It can take many years. But not always.

NFL: Washington Commanders at New York Giants Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

It was easy for New York Giants fans to dream about another magical Super Bowl run from a team that got into the playoffs as a low seed. After all, that’s what the 2007 New York Giants did. That team was on the verge of not making the playoffs at all. They only squeaked in with a stirring 21-point fourth quarter rally in Buffalo the next-to-last week of the season, and then they lost their meaningless final game to the Super Bowl favorite.

They then won their Wild-Card game against a weak division champion. Next they faced a hated division rival on the road, a team that had beaten them twice in the regular season, and defeated them against all odds. And all of it with a much-maligned fourth year quarterback who had finally come of age. The parallels were undeniable.

Then Saturday night the bubble burst. If we look closer, though, we can see that the parallels are actually not all that compelling.

A team of playoff veterans vs. upstarts

Philadelphia Eagles v New York Giants
Amani Toomer after a catch against the Philadelphia Eagles in 2005.
Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images

It may seem that the 2007 Giants came out of nowhere to win the Super Bowl, but in reality that was a veteran team with significant playoff experience:

  • Two of the important contributors to that team, Michael Strahan and Amani Toomer, played in the 2000 season Super Bowl vs. the Baltimore Ravens.
  • The two seasons before 2007, the Giants reached the playoffs in both years, losing their first game each time. The 2005 team, in addition to Strahan and Toomer, included Eli Manning, Brandon Jacobs, Plaxico Burress, David Tyree, Chase Blackburn, Gibril Wilson, Corey Webster, Antonio Pierce, Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck, Fred Robbins, Derrick Ward, Jeff Feagles, Chris Snee, Kareem McKenzie, Luke Petitgout, David Diehl, Shaun O’Hara, and Rich Seubert.
  • The 2006 team, in addition to those, included R.W. McQuarters, Mathias Kiwanuka, Brandon Short, Barry Cofield, Sam Madison, Sinorice Moss, and Reggie Torbor.

Some of those were bit players, but many were starters. The core was there. By 2007 the Giants were a veteran, playoff-experienced team that expected to make a deep run. That team, now revered by Giants fans, lost to Green Bay 35-13 and Minnesota (a team that didn’t even make the playoffs) 41-17 during the regular season.

Compare that to the 2022 Giants. Some of the players have small amounts of playoff game experience, mostly with other teams: Adoree’ Jackson, Sterling Shepard, Jihad Ward, Matt Breida, Jon Feliciano, Mark Glowinski, Landon Collins, Justin Ellis, Graham Gano, Jamie Gillan, Richie James, Tony Jefferson, Henry Mondeaux, Fabian Moreau, Tyre Phillips, Tyrod Taylor, Jaylon Smith, Nick Williams.

How many of those are key players? A few, but not many. Only Shepard and Collins tasted the playoffs previously in Giants blue, and the taste was brief and bitter - the infamous 2016 season boat picture game against Green Bay. But mostly the Giants are made up of young players who had never experienced the playoffs until this season.

How to build a Super Bowl contender

It’s not easy to say anything complimentary about Eagles’ General Manager Howie Roseman. But you have to give credit where credit is due. Roseman has assembled a team with no apparent weaknesses and plenty of strengths. A case can be made that the Eagles are top five in the NFL on the offensive line, defensive line, wide receivers, cornerbacks, and quarterback.

They didn’t get there overnight. Roseman has been the Eagles’ GM since 2010. Many of the Eagles’ top players have been there for a long time. Here are the results of his drafts (only players currently with the Eagles are included):

  • 2010: Brandon Graham (side note: he also drafted Mike Kafka in Round 4)
  • 2011: Jason Kelce
  • 2012: Fletcher Cox
  • 2013: Lane Johnson
  • 2014, 2015: None (What? Why didn’t they fire him? Giants Twitter would surely have “held him accountable.”)
  • 2016: Isaac Seumalo
  • 2017: Derek Barnett
  • 2018: Dallas Goedert, Avonte Maddox, Josh Sweat, Jordan Mailata
  • 2019: Andre Dillard, Miles Sanders
  • 2020: Jalen Hurts, K’Von Wallace, Jack Driscoll, Shaun Bradley, Quez Watkins,
  • 2021: Devonta Smith, Landon Dickerson, Milton Williams, Zech McPhearson, Kenneth Gainwell, Marlon Tuipolutu, Tarron Jackson, Patrick Johnson
  • 2022: Jordan Davis, Cam Jurgens, Nakobe Dean, Kyron Johnson, Grant Calcaterra

Roseman took over a team that had made the playoffs in 2009 but went one-and-done. The Eagles did the same in his first year, missed the playoffs the next, went one-and-done the next two years, and missed the playoffs the next three years. He didn’t look like a genius then. But key pieces, especially on the offensive and defensive lines, were being assembled. He finally broke through in 2017, with the Eagles winning their only Super Bowl, and they have been a playoff team all but one year since.

Roseman didn’t just do it through the draft. He has been a shrewd trader and made key free agent signings, and he has manipulated the salary cap to the maximum extent (Philadelphia doesn’t have quite enough cap space to sign its 2023 draft class, per Over The Cap.)

And he’s not always right. But when he’s not, he fixes things. In 2019 he drafted WR J.J. Arcega-Whiteside No. 57, seven picks before Seattle took D.K. Metcalf. In 2020, still trying to find a WR1, he drafted Jalen Reagor at No. 21. Minnesota took Justin Jefferson with the next pick. How would Giants fans have reacted to that? Finally in 2021 he jumped past the Giants to grab Devonta Smith and in 2022 he traded for A.J. Brown. In 2016, Roseman traded up to draft QB Carson Wentz with the No. 2 pick, giving up future first, second, and third round picks to do it. But having decided Wentz was not the answer (and having used a second round pick in 2020 on Jalen Hurts as insurance), he traded Wentz to the Indianapolis Colts for first and third round picks. That third-round pick was the one he gave Dallas to trade up and beat the Giants to Devonta Smith.

Looking ahead

By comparison to the Eagles, at the present time the Giants have nothing to show for their drafts prior to 2015. From 2015, only Landon Collins in his second tour of duty. From 2016, only Sterling Shepard, who may or may not be a Giant in the 2023 season. From 2017, only Davis Webb in his Giants encore. From 2018, Saquon Barkley (if he returns) and no one else. The Eagles have 10 key contributors and several future Hall of Famers from their drafts of 2018 and before.

But that’s all right. You don’t need a decade to make a Super Bowl team. In 2019 the Cincinnati Bengals were 2-14. On the roster at that time were Joe Mixon, Jonah Williams, Tyler Boyd, Sam Hubbard, Jessie Bates, Germaine Pratt, and not many others that are still there today. Two years later they were one play away from being Super Bowl champions, and a year after that they are one game away from the Super Bowl again.

The Bengals did it differently than the Eagles. They did draft wisely, at the skill positions, aided by their high draft position: Joe Burrow and Tee Higgins in 2020, and Ja’Marr Chase in 2021. Get your franchise QB and then get him some weapons; it makes too much sense. But they have also been very effective in choosing free agents to sign: IDL D.J. Reader and S Vonn Bell in 2020; edge defender Trey Hendrickson in 2021; IDL B.J. Hill (re-signed after being obtained from the Giants) and TE Hayden Hurst in 2022.

All of which says that it’s early for the Giants, but it’s not necessarily going to take years. Joe Schoen has had one off-season, during which he had his hands tied by the Giants’ cap situation and did not yet have all of his college and pro personnel departments in place, to create a Super Bowl contender. At the moment he has $54.2M in cap space and $42.8M projected after the 2023 draft class is signed (11 picks total after two comp picks are assigned to the Giants), a far cry from the situation he inherited.

A lot of that cap space may wind up being used to bring back players whose contracts have expired such as Daniel Jones, Saquon Barkley, and Julian Love. But not all of it. Schoen can also free up money by releasing players currently under contract for 2023. Here are the players who would provide the biggest cap savings if cut:

Data from Over The Cap

Despite the potential savings, it is difficult to believe that a team currently without a dominant offense would cut a kicker of the quality and proven reliability of Graham Gano. It also seems very unlikely that Adoree’ Jackson would be released since he is the best cornerback on a team with question marks there. A contract extension and re-structure to reduce Jackson’s 2023 cap hit is always a possibility.

At the other end of the spectrum, it seems almost certain that Kenny Golladay will be released. The only question is when. If Golladay is released in March but designated as a post-June 1 cut (one of two that every NFL team is permitted each year) that creates an extra $6.8M of cap space when June 1 arrives. That might be used by the Giants to delay signing their higher draft choices until after June 1, allowing them to use the savings to sign a moderate-cost free agent in March.

Darnay Holmes is another possible cap casualty. He would only save $2.74M if released (or about $2M once the cost of a replacement is subtracted), but that would be enough to sign a low-cost free agent at a position of need such as IOL or IDL. Holmes is a sure tackler but has been a liability in pass coverage, allowing almost a 70 percent completion rate this year with a 49.5 PFF coverage grade and 44.3 overall defense grade.

The most interesting situation is that of Leonard Williams. Williams had a great first half of the season but declined after suffering a neck sprain in Week 13 vs. Washington (74.2 PFF grade before the injury, 57.2 after). When healthy Williams is a force in the middle against the run especially, an area of overall team weakness. He carries a $32.26M cap hit in 2023, though. Might the Giants consider replacing Williams with a free agent (as luck would have it, Dalvin Tomlinson is a free agent now)? If so, releasing Williams after June 1 would net $18M. A contract extension and 2023 restructure is the more likely outcome for Williams, though.

Whatever he does with the picks and cap space he has, Joe Schoen has already put the Giants in good position to become a top-tier team next year. We’ll find out whether he can create a team that can seriously compete with the Eagles and Cowboys. But he’s off to a good start.