The 1-5 start to the season has, no doubt been bad. Has it, though, been ‘the sky is falling’ bad? Has it been time to tank for a quarterback bad? Has it been GM Joe Schoen doesn’t know how to do his job bad? Fire a bunch of coaches bad? Sell everything that isn’t nailed down at the upcoming trade deadline bad?
I don’t think so.
Maybe you think my view is skewed by Sunday’s better-than-expected performance against the Bills, but I don’t. This is a piece I began thinking about writing, and a viewpoint I felt I needed to express, before the game against Buffalo.
A realistic expectation for the start of the Giants’ season would have been 2-4 over the first six games, with victories over the Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks being most likely. The Giants got the victory over Arizona but played a clunker and lost to Seattle. Anything above 2-4 at this point would probably have been an over-achievement.
The problem has been the aesthetics. It’s the fact that the Giants have looked like a competent offensive football team for precisely two of the 24 quarters they have played this season. It is the fact that the Giants’ -96 point differential (71 points scored, 167 allowed) is the worst in football.
Now for that perspective.
It is clear that the Giants’ 9-7-1 record in 2022, the first season with GM Joe Schoen and head coach Brian Daboll as decision-makers, was an overachievement.
It was fun, no doubt. You can, though, look back on fortunate early-season victories over the Tennessee Titans (who finished 7-10) and Green Bay Packers (who finished 8-9), and even the playoff victory over the 13-4 Minnesota Vikings (who spent the offseason shedding veteran players) and realize those weren’t as impressive as first thought.
Making the playoffs and winning a game, the contract given to Daniel Jones, and the trade for an accomplished 31-year-old tight end in Darren Waller, led some to have unrealistic 2023-24 expectations for the Giants.
Reality is, though, they are not built. They are building. They are in Year 2 with a new, promising regime after a decade filled almost entirely with failure. That doesn’t get fixed in one season.
Yes, the Giants signed Jones to a deal many are still scoffing at. Yes, they traded for Waller to try and give him a top-shelf target. Yes, they gave Bobby Okereke a lot of money.
Thinking back on it, there have been several signs beyond Schoen’s “we’ll see” when asked how good this team might be that the organization understood the “we’re building, not built” idea.
- The Giants did not re-sign safety Julian Love in the offseason, clearing playing time for third-year player Jason Pinnock and second-year player Dane Belton.
- Defensive tackle Leonard Williams and cornerback Adoree’ Jackson, quality players but highly-paid veterans in the final years of their contracts, have not received extensions beyond this season.
- The Giants were perfectly willing to start the season with a pair of rookie cornerbacks once sixth-round pick Tre Hawkins III looked better than expected during training camp. Schoen appeared throughout the offseason, not to make a huge effort to add a veteran cornerback.
- When the Giants decided to replace Hawkins in the starting lineup, they did so with a second-year player in Cor’Dale Flott. At 22, Flott is one of the six youngest players on the Giants’ roster and is, in fact, a year younger than Hawkins.
- The Giants opted for rookie Eric Gray, who had limited collegiate return experience, over accomplished Jamison Crowder as their return man. Crowder, now with the Washington Commanders, is fifth in the NFL with an average of 14.3 yards per punt return and had a 61-yard return Sunday in the Commanders’ 24-16 victory over the Atlanta Falcons.
- When veteran Mark Glowinski was awful in the season opener against the Dallas Cowboys, the Giants quickly inserted second-year man Marcus McKethan, a 23-year-old who missed all of his rookie year with a torn ACL, into the lineup. That was a classic ‘if he’s going to struggle at least he has the potential to get better’ move.
- When he did not earn a starting job, the Giants cleared potential playing time for 2022 third-round pick Josh Ezeudu as a four-position backup by cutting Tyre Phillips and not signing a veteran swing tackle. That move, as we know, has not worked out.
- As the season has unfolded, the Giants have committed to the development of rookie Jalin Hyatt and second-year man Wan’Dale Robinson at the expense of Parris Campbell, Sterling Shepard, and even surprise 2022 sensation Isaiah Hodgins.
I think you can even argue that the Giants took a “building, not built” approach in how they dealt with Jones and Saquon Barkley during offseason negotiations.
They did not give Jones a five-plus year mega-deal with four or more years of guaranteed money. They gave him a contract that had only two years of guaranteed money. It is essentially a two-year “prove-it” deal. Really, the Giants are giving Jones an opportunity to show he can build on a promising 2022 season.
When it comes to Barkley, if the Giants thought they were “built, not building” I have a hard time believing they would have played hardball with their best player. If they truly believed they could contend this season I have to think they would have been willing to give Barkley a deal somewhere in the range of three years, $39 million with the first two years guaranteed rather than run the risk he would sit out or demand a trade.
The product on the field has undeniably not been what the Giants hoped for so far this season. The injury to Barkley, a porous offensive line devastated by injuries to Andrew Thomas and John Michael Schmitz and the lack of progress from Evan Neal, and poor play from Jones — at least partially because of the offensive line and Barkley’s absence — before his neck injury have been the reasons for that.
As you watch the Giants over the final 11 games, remember that it has really always been about the future and not the present. About where the Giants want to go, not about where they are.
That’s why so many young players are being chosen over more established veterans. It’s why Jones has to play when he’s healthy. Maybe Jones is the answer at quarterback, maybe he isn’t. As much as some would like to see Tyrod Taylor as the quarterback, the only thing the Giants would be doing for the long term by playing Taylor, a 34-year-old journeyman, is admitting Jones isn’t the guy and they will be in the quarterback market in the 2024 NFL Draft.
That “building, not built” lens is the one I will be watching through for the remainder of the season. Realistically, it is the one you should be watching through as well.