We have reached the time for our first off-season edition of the Big Blue View Mailbag. So, let’s see what New York Giants questions we can answer as we begin the wait for the 2023 season.
Andrew Graf asks: First time writing in, but a long-time viewer of your written work and podcasts. You and Patricia Traina are my go-to’s for Giants news. So thanks for all the work that you do for us Giants fans. Thoughts on bringing Evan Engram back?
Ed says: Andrew, thanks for writing. You asked three questions. I will answer the Engram one. Yes, the Giants could use a tight end — or hybrid tight end/wide receiver — with Engram’s skill set. It’s just going to have to be someone other than Engram.
First of all, after the year he has had in Jacksonville, I don’t think the Jaguars are going to let him get away. Second of all, there is a lot of scar tissue from Engram’s time with the Giants. The best year of his career has come now that he got away from New York. If he came back, the first time he dropped a pass it would start all over again. I just don’t see any way Engram would have interest in coming back, even though Brian Daboll and Mike Kafka are offensive coaches who would know how to use him.
Jacob Willett asks: Do you think that the failures that the Buffalo Bills have had in the playoffs will have any effect on how Schoen and Dabs will build the GIANTS going forward? They seemed to de-prioritize the RB position which has been a glaring weakness on offense and used high draft picks at LB (Edwards) but still have had problems stopping teams.
Ed says: Jacob, I think Joe Schoen and Brian Daboll will worry about what is best for the New York Giants. They aren’t trying to build the New Jersey Bills. They will make decisions and set priorities based on what they think is the best way to build their team.
Now, would Schoen have drafted Saquon Barkley No. 2 overall? Probably not. At his core, does he believe in spending big on or building around a running back? Probably not. But, Barkley is a Giant and he is the team’s best offensive player. You don’t get better by letting your best players leave.
In short, I think people have to get past the whole “the Bills did this, so that is exactly what the Giants will do” thing. Schoen and Daboll are running the Giants now. They obviously learned some valuable things from their time in Buffalo, but they can’t follow that exact blueprint.
Mark Cicio asks: So, now the season is over and the strategy for next season begins. But with the playoffs still going (of course), who are you rooting for to win it all? I’m going with the Bengals, as they have never won before. They are what I hope the Giants soon look like. Really anyone but the Eagles.
Ed says: Mark, other than “anyone but the Eagles” I have no real rooting interest. I do love a good story, though, so I would get a kick out of it if Brock Purdy, Mr. Irrelevant, can lead the San Francisco 49ers to a title as a rookie.
Two questions about run defense this week.
Jim Merrill asks: For a couple of years now the Eagles have O-line plays to the left and right in which it seems there is a corridor for the running back that the front seven can not penetrate. What do the Eagles do that prevents the NYG from seven from penetrating and tackling the ball carrier?
Robert Forgione asks: The Giants have been carved up by the run all year, the Philly game just showed what a problem it is. I know the Giants’ lack of talent at the LB spot is a huge problem, but what am I missing in the fact that Dex and Leo are part of that run-stopping defense? It seems they get a pass when it comes to stopping the run, am I just not seeing the big picture? Also, the elephant in the room is Leo’s cap number in 2023, Giants just can’t rebuild with a cap hit at a non-skill position of 32 million per year.
Ed says: Guys, I’m not the right person to give you a schematic breakdown of individual plays. That’s Nick’s department. I don’t think the answer is schematics, anyway. The answer is talent.
Dexter Lawrence is a tremendous player. Per Pro Football Focus, Lawrence had the highest run-defense grade (81.2) of any defensive tackle in the NFL in 2022. He is not part of the problem. He has the advantage over most NFL centers. Not against Jason Kelce, a possible future Hall of Fame center. That ends up being a wash. The Eagles have a tremendous offensive line. They have good backs. They have a quarterback you have to account for in the run game.
The Giants don’t have good off-ball linebackers and haven’t for a while. They don’t have enough depth behind Lawrence and Leonard Williams, and they have no chance to defend the run without those guys on the field. They are inconsistent in setting the edge.
It’s about talent.
As for Leonard Williams’s cap hit, cutting him is not happening. That would cost $14.26M in dead money as a post-June 1 cut, and $20.22M in dead money before then. I’m confident the Giants will extend Williams. As an FYI, there is a little more on Williams farther down in the mailbag.
Here are a pair of salary cap questions:
Jeffrey Phillips asks: Ed, I’d like your thoughts on how the Giants and Joe Schoen can create more cap space this off-season. Two obvious ones seem to be cutting Golladay and extending Leo Williams (32mil cap hit for 2023). Do you see any other possibilities? And how much cap room do you think they will end up with?
Dan Murphy asks: I believe I saw the Giants have the third-most cap room this offseason. That sounds all well and good but with Jones, Barkley, Lawrence and potentially even Love and Thomas looking at new contracts will that money dry up before they even have a chance to upgrade the roster?
Ed says: Jeffrey and Dan, I thought I would group these two questions.
In terms of how the Giants can create more cap space, the two obvious moves are making Kenny Golladay a post-June 1 cut and extending Leonard Williams’ contract. Making Golladay a post-June 1 cut saves $13.5M against the cap that could be used to sign draft picks and perhaps make some in-season acquisitions. I would be careful in extending Williams as I wouldn’t want to add more than a year, two at the most. He has been a rock throughout his eight seasons, but missed games this year for the first time and even he admitted he is worried about possible long-term neck issues.
Extending Adoree’ Jackson, who is in the final year of his deal (he has a 2024 void year) is another possibility. He carries a $19.076M cap hit.
The Giants have Dexter Lawrence on a $12.407M fifth-year option. If they can get a long-term deal done with Lawrence, which Schoen made clear Monday they would like to do, they can probably drive that 2023 cap hit down.
In terms of upgrading the roster, Daniel Jones is going to be costly. Not DeShaun Watson costly, but not cheap. Kirk Cousins is the 10th-highest-paid quarterback in terms of average annual value ($35M) and that’s probably the ballpark. We will see what happens with Saquon Barkley, though my guess is a deal lands somewhere between the $12M he reportedly turned down during the season at the $15M made by Ezekiel Elliott and Alvin Kamara, probably with bonuses and incentives to keep the cap hit down.
I would not expect the Giants to go handing out mega-contracts to a slew of outside free agents. I would expect them to be able to compete to sign some guys in the mid-range and to maybe explore the trade market.
Jeff Drummond asks: Any word on the new surface replacement? I know several sections of various turf examples were set out for player use and comment. Have players made any particular recommendations? Has management made a decision?
Ed says: Jeff, to my knowledge no decision has been made. I would guess that players have expressed their preference between the sample surfaces that have been laid down in the media parking lot next to the practice field, but I don’t know for certain.
There is one thing, though, that I think people need to understand. This is not a New York Giants decision. They share the stadium with the New York Jets. The stadium is used for concerts and other events. The Giants cannot dictate this decision.
Lee Chamberlain asks: Following the Giants’ amazing season and bitter-sweet ending, what expectations do you have for the team next season with a much-improved cap position and 11 draft picks?
Ed says: Lee, I’m reminded of the “squiggly line” story Oshane Ximines told me recently when I get this type of question. Progress does not always happen in a straight line. Just because the Giants won nine games in 2022 and made the playoffs does not mean they will win 10 or 12 in 2023 and make the playoffs again. In case you missed Ximines’ story, which he told regarding meeting Brian Daboll for the first time, here it is:
“He made an analogy about success. He got a piece of paper out, grabbed a pencil, and drew a bunch of squiggly lines going up and down, all around in circles. He said a straight line is what you think success would look like, but the squiggly line — that’s what it actually looks like.”
Daboll pointed out the other day that several teams that were in the 2021 playoffs did not make the tourney in 2022. What I think the Giants would like to do is continue trying to close the “talent gap” Schoen acknowledges exists between the Giants and the four teams still playing. In 2022, he had to add a significant number of stop-gap players to the roster due to financial constraints. With another draft class coming in, the 2022 class hopefully being healthier and more cap flexibility the Giants should be able to take strides in that direction.
One or two key injuries, and one or two crazy bounces, can change everything.
My expectation? That the Giants are a tough out every Sunday and that they are relevant in the playoff race. My hope? That they are successful in closing that talent gap.
Here are two Evan Neal questions.
Keith Wilcox asks: Clearly, Evan Neal has struggled at times this season. I may be wrong but it seems to me that a lot of his problems have to do with him getting beat by a speed rush on the outside or getting a false start (likely because of him being worried about the speed rush). If this is the case is it something that can be cleared up with technique? I worry that it may be bad at anticipating the snap and it can’t be corrected.
Ronald Buchheim asks: hope you don’t mind another Neal question, but I just saw an interesting statistic. The prevailing wisdom is that he may make a leap similar to Thomas’s after his rookie year and that he’s a terrific athlete. But Thomas’s PFF grade in 2020 was 62, compared with Neal’s 44. And Thomas improved in the second half of that year, while Neal seemed to regress. From watching Skinner’s old line reports, Neal looks like a big slow clumsy guy to me, who keeps getting beat to the outside and doesn’t seem able to correct that weakness, maybe because he’s simply too slow. What do you base your “terrific Athlete” on — college scouting reports or Combine results? He looks much more to me like a prototypical interior lineman, not a tackle, trying to cope with fast players 80 or 90 lb lighter than him. Do you think the Giants may move him inside next year? Why not try Gates at tackle, now that they’ll have a training camp to prepare? As I recall he did fairly well in his brief stint at tackle.
Ed says: Keith and Ronald, I will answer your questions together. To start with, anyone who reads BBV regularly or listens to my podcast knows by now that I’m tired of people trying to bury this kid after one season.
I wish everyone would stop playing amateur scout and trying to diagnose what Neal struggles with. Let the coaches and the offensive line experts, the guys who know what they are seeing and can help the young man try to get better, do their jobs.
Did Neal play up to the standard we hoped for in 2022? Absolutely not. Is he the first offensive tackle to have a rough rookie year? Nope.
One thing none of us know is how healthy Neal was down the stretch. He continued to wear a brace on his left knee, and I often wondered if the knee was right down the stretch. Or if something else unreported was going on. GM Joe Schoen mentioned on Monday only that Neal had “battled through injury.” He had an excellent pass-blocking game (no pressures allowed in 38 pass-blocking snaps) Week 13 vs. Washington in his return from the MCL issue. Then struggled the rest of the way.
The Giants aren’t moving Evan Neal from right tackle to experiment with Matt Peart, Tyre Phillips, Nick Gates, Josh Ezeudu, or me. Now, if an All-Pro right tackle lands in their lap that’s different. That also isn’t going to happen.
The Giants invested the No. 7 overall pick in this kid for a reason. He has some technical issues to clean up. I have been around him enough to know that he cares, that he will work to get better this offseason, and that some of what he put on tape this year truly bothers him.
How good will he ultimately be? I don’t know. Maybe down the road the Giants will wish they drafted Charles Cross, who went No. 9 to the Seattle Seahawks. It’s just not time to give up on the kid yet.
Tim Merrill asks: I have a curiosity question. A couple of times this year the Giants have elevated a couple of players from the practice squad on the day before a game, only to have these players inactive on game day. Is there some roster or other advantage to doing this? Maybe there is something that this does to generate organizational goodwill toward the players?
Ed says: Geez, a Jim Merrill and a Tim Merrill this week. It’s ‘Merrill-Mania.’ Toward the end of the season, the Giants did that several times. It is a good will gesture toward players who were on the practice squad all or most of the season and did good work while there. When a practice squad player is elevated he gets a pay bump for that week. His paycheck goes from his weekly practice squad salary, whatever is commensurate to his experience, to 1/17th of the league minimum for a player on the 53-man roster, again based on the player’s experience level.
The Giants found themselves healthy enough at the end of the season that they did not need to elevate players they would need on game day. They finished the year with just enough cap room (the NFLPA cap report says they have $1.521M left under the 2022 cap) to be able to throw a little bit of extra money at Davis Webb and a few other practice squad guys who they felt earned it.
John Foti asks: There are two things I think contributed to the Giants’ success this year. First, Daboll and Schoen did not bring in a bunch of “their guys” to fill out the coaching staff and the result is they put together the best staff the Giants have had in years. Second, they did not appear to have a bias against what you would call disappointing or marginal players that were holdovers from the previous regime. Players like Slayton and Ximines were given every chance to make the team and it has paid off. What differences do you see?
Ed says: John, I would agree on both counts. We have written extensively at Big Blue View about both topics — the coaching staff and the true fresh start holdover players got. It was noteworthy that Joe Schoen expressed surprise on Monday at how talent the staff discovered was already on the roster when they arrived, calling that “a unique situation.”
Jeff Bergman asks: You and the BBV team did a terrific job covering the great work of the Giants front office at acquiring pro personnel to fill holes during the season. Now that the Giants go into team building season, who do you think the Giants can bring in in FA to fill the gaps where talent is most needed? The ~$55 million of cap space is deceiving as a large chunk will be used for extensions of current players, mostly Jones. I don’t think the Giants have to shop in the bargain basement again, but I can’t see them shopping in the designer department either.
Ed says: Jeff, thanks for the kind words. I would agree that I don’t think the Giants will be shopping at Tiffany’s, but they won’t be buying plastic rings from the dollar store, either. In terms of the “who” part of players the Giants will pursue, that’s difficult to gauge. As Schoen said the other day we don’t know which potential free agents are actually going to reach the market. We annually try to profile some prospective targets, and Nick Falato will begin doing that soon.
An obvious name to keep an eye on is Buffalo Bills linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, both because of need and the organization’s familiarity with him. I might look at the cornerback market. I’m intrigued by Mike Gesicki of the Miami Dolphins as a pass-catching tight end. I know Nick likes Jacksonville tight end Chris Manhertz as a blocker. Interior defensive line, interior offensive line, wide receiver are all places the Giants might look to add without breaking the bank.
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