Here is the worst of what Neal said to Slater:
“Why would a lion concern himself with the opinion of a sheep? ... I genuinely don’t care. Why should I? I’m in the National Football League. The person that’s commenting on my performance, what does he do? Flip hot dogs and hamburgers somewhere?”
Things have not gone well for Neal since the Giants made him the No. 7 overall pick in the draft in 2022. As a rookie, Neal was last among 57 qualifying tackles graded by Pro Football Focus. He missed time with a knee injury, as well.
This season, Neal is currently ranked 60th among 63 qualifying tackles graded by PFF. He has only allowed one sack, but his 20 pressures allowed is tied for most by any NFL tackle after four games.
Neal’s play, including ‘blocks’ like the one below, has given fans plenty of fodder:
On top of that, the Giants are off to a miserable 1-3 start this season. They have been outscored 64-3 in two home games. Fans at MetLife Stadium voiced their displeasure during Monday’s 24-3 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
Neal didn’t handle it well.
Slater reported that Neal gestured at booing fans, though he did not flip them off. For full disclosure, I was in the press box Monday night but did not see this reaction by Neal.
“They were booing us, so I said, ‘Boo louder!’,” Neal told Slater.
“A lot of fans are bandwagoners. I mean, I get it: They want to see us perform well,” Neal told NJ Advance Media. ”And I respect all of that. But no one wants us to perform well more than we do.
“And how can you say you’re really a fan when we’re out there battling our asses off — and the game wasn’t going well — but the best you can do is boo your home team? So how much of a fan are you, really?”
I was shocked by Neal’s outburst. I have talked to the 23-year-old a number of times, including when things weren’t good. After the Dallas game a year ago when he gave up three sacks, Neal sat at his locker and was accountable, patiently answering questions about his poor play.
Monday night, Neal was the spokesperson for the offensive line. Surrounded by media in a somber post-game locker room, he was again accountable. Not angry. Not accusatory. Not loud. He didn’t blame anyone else or point fingers. He was mature.
I also know from a few private moments that Neal is sensitive to the criticism he has been receiving.
This is a 23-year-old young man who has never experienced failure. He was one of the most highly-recruited high school players in the country. He went to Alabama, where he was one of the best linemen in the country and won a national championship.
This is the first time he is experiencing failure as a player. It is the first time in his life he is playing for a team that appears to be failing.
Neal, obviously, is not handling it well.
Players usually tell you they don’t see or hear the social media criticism. That’s a lie. We know they hear it or see it. Even if it’s not first-hand, we know players have friends and family members who let them know what is being said about them online.
Still, it is never, never, never a good idea to engage fans in anger — in the stadium or online.
My guess is there will be an apology issued by Neal on Thursday, probably one the organization tells him he has to deliver.
Neal, in fact, took to Twitter (yes, I’m going to call it Twitter) Wednesday night to apologize.
What happens now?
I have said before that Neal is not Ereck Flowers, even though it is understandable that his play thus far makes Giants fans think about the 2015 10th overall pick who failed as the Giants’ left tackle. Flowers was the opposite of accountable, barely spoke to media, did not appear to be well-liked in the locker room and didn’t really appear to know how to work at his craft.
Neal is none of those things.
Did Neal, though, just make it impossible for him to ever succeed as a Giant? Did he just put the Giants in a situation where they will have no choice but to move on from a player they hoped would be a cornerstone piece for them?
I am not convinced that Neal’s mistakes means the Giants MUST move on from him. Neal, though, hasn’t made his life as a Giant easier. Fans have loooong memories. Every time he has a terrible rep or a bad game Wednesday’s outburst is going to come up.
The only way Neal can fix it, if he can fix it, is to play the way the Giants expected him to when they drafted him.