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Giants’ free agents: Which offensive players should the Giants bring back?

Let’s go beyond talking about Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley

Washington Commanders v New York Giants
Nick Gates
Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

On Tuesday we looked at the unrestricted free agent defensive players the New York Giants should or should not bring back in 2023. Let’s do the same today for the team’s offensive free agents.

WR Sterling Shepard — Giants fans know the deal with Shepard. A really good but probably never great player for a numbers of years. Devastating Achilles and knee injuries cost him most of the past two seasons, and he had a lengthy injury history before that. Yet, he loves the Giants and the organization loves him. He’s a great veteran presence and maybe a guy who has a future in the front office.

Question is, at 30 next season and after two terrible leg injuries does he have anything left in the tank?

GM Joe Schoen on Monday said “love Shep” and called him a “juice guy.” He would not, though, commit to giving him a chance to play in 2023. He said only that the Giants would monitor the rehab from Shepard’s torn ACL and “may or may not entertain” giving him a chance next season.

Verdict — If Shepard is going to be healthy enough to participate in training camp, and perhaps some of the offseason program, I would be OK with giving him an incentive-laden veteran minimum type deal to compete for a job. I think that’s how the Giants will approach it.

WR Darius Slayton — The 2019 fifth-round pick had a bounce back year similar in production to his first two seasons. He finished with 46 receptions for 724 yards (15.7 yards per catch) and two touchdowns. He was the one Giants’ wide receiver who could at least threaten to take the top off the defense. As he has been throughout his career, Slayton was plagued by drops with seven of them in 71 targets (9.9 percent). he had a career-worst 10.3 percent drop in 2021.

Verdict — I think the Giants might want to bring Slayton back on a low-cost deal and that’s fine, but I don’t think he is coming back. He was forced to take a pay cut from $2.54M to $965K in 2022. I think Slayton is going to want to test the market and see how other teams value him, and I doubt the Giants will have an appetite for a bidding war. Spotrac estimates Slayton’s market value at two years, $7 million ($3.5M per year).

WR Marcus Johnson — The six-year veteran had a stretch from Weeks 5-8 where he played no fewer than 47 offensive snaps in a game. After catching just one pass in six targets vs. the Seattle Seahawks in Week 8, however, Johnson fell out of the playing rotation. He ended up with nine receptions.

Verdict — There is no reason to bring Johnson back. I don’t think the Giants will.

WR Richie James — James was far more productive than could have been expected with career highs in receptions (57), yards receiving (569) and touchdowns (4). James had an excellent 119.6 passer rating when targeted. He also handled punt returns for most of the season, averaging 7.3 yards on 24 returns. James will be 28 next season.

Verdict — A really difficult decision here. He was dependable, but not dynamic. In the end, I think I would let him test the market and that is what I think the Giants will do. With Wan’Dale Robinson, perhaps Shepard, practice squad guys like Kalil Pimpleton and Makai Polk and maybe even Colllin Johnson coming back from injury they can probably move on.

RB Matt Breida — The six-year veteran had a nice year backing up Barkley — 54 carries, 220 yards, 4.1 yards per carry along with 20 receptions for 116 yards. He still has speed.

Verdict — I don’t see any reason not to bring him back on a one-year veteran minimum type deal. I believe the Giants will do just that.

C Jon Feliciano — A full-time center for the first time in his career, the eight-year veteran started 15 games. He was pretty much league average. Of 31 centers who played more than 600 offensive snaps, Pro Football Focus graded Feliciano 15th. His run blocking, where he graded 27th of 31 qualifiers, left something to be desired but Feliciano did an acceptable job.

Verdict — I believe that if the Giants can find the right value early in the draft they might select a center on Day 2. Whether they do or not, they need a veteran center on the roster and Schoen, head coach Brian Daboll and offensive line coach Bobby Johnson have history with Feliciano and like the work he did in 2022. It would not be my choice, but I think they bring him back on another one-year deal.

OL Nick Gates — Made an incredible recovery from his gross 2021 leg injury to play in 10 games. For me, he is NFL Comeback player of the Year. Gates appeared in 10 regular season games with three starts, then started both playoff games at left guard while rotating with Ben Bredeson.

Verdict — If it’s me, I bring Gates back next season as a backup and potential stop-gap starting center while potentially developing a young player. I think the Giants are going to let him go, despite his popularity. When you really listen closely to some of the things the coaching staff said during the season it is apparent they like Feliciano better than Gates. Also, judging from recent snap counts Bredeson is also higher on the pecking order than Gates. With rookies Josh Ezeudu and Marcus McKethan returning, plus free agency the draft, there won’t be room for everybody.

QB Daniel Jones — The cat is already out of the bag on this one, and I’m not going to waste a lot of words here. The Giants intend to keep Jones. The question is how much it will cost.

Verdict — The Giants are keeping him, and I’m fine with that. The real curiosity is going to be what sort of deal eventually gets done.

RB Saquon Barkley — Barkley had a terrific season, but more reminiscent of his 2019 sophomore season than his Superman-like 2018 rookie season. He averaged 4.4 yards per carry, third-best of his career and 5.9 yards per reception, lowest of his career. His 1,650 total yards from scrimmage were his best since his rookie year, and he did not miss a game due to injury.

In my view, he might not be the incredibly explosive Barkley of 2018 any longer, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t explosive. Barkley also showed more ability and willingness to fight for what Pat Shurmur used to all “dirty yards” than he has in the past.

Verdict — The Giants want Barkley back. I would like to see Barkley come back. It would be hard for the Giants to field a more talented team in 2023 if Barkley isn’t part of it. Schoen was clear on Monday, though, that the Giants are not breaking the bank to make it happen. They will do it on their terms, within what they believe is the financial value they want to assign to the position, or it won’t happen. If Barkley wants Christian McCaffrey money ($16M annually) he is going to have to find it somewhere else.