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Big Blue View mailbag: Offensive line, QB, Graham Gano, more questions

The mail’s here!

Let’s open up the Big Blue View mailbag and answer some questions as we wait for the New York Giants to get a week closer to the end of a miserable season when they face the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday.

Bob Donnelly asks: The Giants still need to fix their O line. This MUST be done if whoever is under center in 2024 is to have any chance of success. It looks like we have our left tackle and center. The other three positions need to be figured out.

I know you have advocated waiting till next year to move Neal from tackle to guard, but I don’t think Joe Schoen can afford to wait till next year to conduct the experiment to determine if Neal can be his (left) guard of the future. He needs clarity. The hope and expectation is that Neal can play guard at a high if not an all pro level providing the Giants with a stout left side of the line for years to come. He should be given the rest of this year to learn and develop in the new position. If he is not cut out for the starting guard position it is better to know that going into the off season.

JMS is doing a good job in the middle and should improve with more experience.

Right tackle will be a priority – either draft or F/A.

They need to determine if their right guard of the future is on the roster, or if that too is a position of need to be addressed in the offseason.

If right tackle is the only O line problem in 2024 a good coaching staff, coordinator and game planning can largely mitigate that issue.

Making the change now will give Thomas, Neal, JMS and perhaps the right guard time to gel as a unit in 2023 so they can start 2024 off strong.

It may also pay dividends this year with a functional front line to help Saquon and DeVito move the ball.

Your thoughts?

Ed says: Bob, I can see both sides of the Neal argument at this point. He is the lowest-graded tackle out of 61 qualifiers scored by Pro Football Focus. On the other hand, maybe patience is beginning to pay dividends.

Neal’s two highest-graded games of the season have been the last two in which he played, Week 6 against the Buffalo Bills and last week against the Las Vegas Raiders. Granted, those grades are in the barely adequate 50s, but that does put his play on the upswing. He has been charged with only two sacks this season, and just one since Week 1. He allowed just the one sack lined up against Maxx Crosby on Sunday, and was charged with no other pressures.

Unfortunately, Neal now has another ankle injury. He is week-to-week, so he is again going to miss some time.

I am still of the opinion that they should leave him at tackle the rest of the way, especially since his season keeps getting interrupted. I’m curious to see if the modest improvement we have seen in his last two games leads to something more significant. If it doesn’t, then it doesn’t and you deal with that in the offseason.

If the Giants feel they have seen enough and want to see him at guard for a couple of games, that’s their call and I won’t grouse about it. I don’t know why you are insistent that Neal go to left guard, though. That’s Justin Pugh’s best spot, and if he’s going to play that’s where he should be. The current opening, because the Giants don’t seem to want to play Mark Glowinski no matter what he does and because Ben Bredeson can be a free agent at the end of the season, is at right guard. Neal has worked exclusively on the right side for two years, and in my view right guard would be the easier transition.

Bryan Elsworth asks: From a fellow upstater (Malta) I think you’re doing a great job with the site, keep up the good work! My question is - when did Gano get hurt? I had no idea. Was it while he was trying to make a tackle a few games back?

Ed says: I don’t know when or how placekicker Graham Gano initially got hurt. The first time he showed up on the injury report was Oct. 18, after the Sunday night loss to the Buffalo Bills in Week 5. He made all three field goals in that game, and three of four the week prior against the Miami Dolphins.

After the Buffalo game he went 1-for-4 on field goals. It is logical to connect something that happened in that game to him eventually going on IR and needing knee surgery, but I can’t be certain.

David Wright asks: I understand that the Giants suffered two untimely injuries at the quarterback positions, losing both Daniel Jones and Tyrod Taylor at roughly the same time. However, Minnesota lost Kirk Cousins for the season (arguably an even bigger blow for them) and quickly traded for Josh Dobbs for next to nothing and then won in his first start. He looked really good in that game.

I question the lack of urgency on the Giants part to at least bring in a competent veteran to help keep the ship afloat. You’re telling me the Giants couldn’t do any better than an undrafted rookie QB who probably wasn’t getting a lot of practice reps for most of the season?

I do agree with your assessment that the Giants cannot afford to keep changing GMs and coaches, but this whole episode does make me question the competence of the people in charge.

What should us Giants fans make of all this?

Ed says: David, I have questioned a lot of things that the Giants have done this season. I do not question not using draft assets to go out and acquire another quarterback. I do believe the Giants made a mistake by not signing veteran Matt Barkley after Daniel Jones injured his neck. I don’t know that Barkley is better than Tommy DeVito at this point, but it would have been smart to get another healthy option in the building.

As for the Vikings, let’s be realistic. They were 4-4 with a shot at the playoffs when Cousins got hurt. The Giants were 2-6, realistically out of the playoff hunt, with Daniel Jones ready to return when Taylor got hurt. Different situations. I think

Chris Chianese asks: Ed, unfortunately, after a year of post season excitement, we are back to not even reaching mid-November and some of us, maybe a lot of us, are thinking about next season and the draft. Let me say that I believe Schoen and Daboll are the guys to turn this around. That being said, I’m thinking some coaches will be asked to move on and I’m wondering who you think they could be? OC Mike Kafka (rumored to be interested in Northwestern job)? O-Line Coach Bobby Johnson? Special Teams Coach Thomas McGaughey?

Ed says: Chris, I will continue to say that Joe Schoen and Brian Daboll should return. The only thing that changes that is a complete locker room implosion, which I don’t see happening. I do agree, though, that there should and will be some coaching staff changes.

I think we are heading toward Daboll taking complete control of the offense in 2024, including calling the plays. If the Giants draft a quarterback, Daboll is going to want to be the one who guides his development. As much as I like the CEO style of coach, with Wink Martindale running the defense I think Daboll focusing on the offense and calling the plays is fine.

That means Mike Kafka either becomes an offensive coordinator without play-calling duties, or gets fired. If I’m Kafka, I’m working my connections to find a college head-coaching job. I think, incidentally, he would do very well in that role.

You can also make good arguments for the dismissals of Johnson and McGaughey. Let’s see how loyal Daboll are to Johnson, who they brought with them from the Buffalo Bills. McGaughey has been with the Giants twice, once during the Tom Coughlin era, and has been in his current role since the Pat Shurmur days. I’m curious to see how loyal to him the organization is.

Brian Misdom asks: Hi Ed, thank you for continuing to provide logical and rationale coverage on the Giants in what will be another lost season.

I agree with your perspective that Schoen and Daboll should not be fired this season and finally break the 2 year merry-go-round we’ve been on.

With that said, it seems obvious that Schoen needs to make the OL his first priority this offseason. From a coaching standpoint though, what do you see as being the most important area/aspect that Daboll addresses?

It has been staggering to see how different this team feels on game day compared to just a season ago.

Ed says: Brian, coaches always say that the first part of their offseason includes self-study. For some that may be true, for others it may just be words they think they are expected to say.

So many things have gone wrong for the Giants in 2023. Sometimes you make the right decision and it still turns out wrong. Honestly, I think that was the case for the Giants with Daniel Jones. They did the right thing, it just hasn’t worked.

Now, specifically about Daboll. He needs to take a hard look at everything. The assistant coaches. The way he approached offseason practices, training camp and the preseason. In some respects, I think the Giants were so concerned about getting to Week 1 as healthy as possible that they didn’t get there actually ready to play. The way the offensive line has been handled all season. What is the culpability of the coaching staff, particularly Daboll and Mike Kafka, in the dysfunction on offense? Why have so many offensive game plans seemed odd? Why, and I don’t know if the data backs this up, has it felt like Daboll has coached less aggressively this season?

Right now, one change I think Daboll makes is taking full control of the offense next season. I think he will call plays and the offensive show himself.

Alex Sunderland asks: Positive take...what if the seasons were reversed? As in, the bad season we’re currently sitting through was year 1 of the Schoen/Daboll era and year 2 was the surprise playoff run. Excluding the huge number of personnel decisions related to such a change in history, wouldn’t the giants fan base feel like we were on the right path? Why is it so much THIS season that decides the perception and not the overall body of work?

Ed says: Alex, I suspect you know the answer. People are emotional creatures, and they react to the last thing they saw or felt. It’s why whatever you just saw is ‘the greatest of all time’ or ‘the worst of all time.’

Last year is a memory. People aren’t feeling the high of making the playoffs for the first time in five years and winning a playoff game for the first time in 11 years. They are feeling the low of the team having a miserable season, and looking to assign blame. That’s fandom.

Reality is somewhere in the middle. The body of work under Schoen/Daboll had led to a 12-15-1 record, a winning percentage of .446. That is a whole lot better than 22-59 (.272 winning percentage) in the five prior seasons.

Ted Willard asks: Thanks for your good coverage in what has turned into a bad year for the Giants.

I understand that the salary cap is designed to control costs and promote competitiveness across the league. It is also obvious that injuries are a random factor that can greatly affect the overall quality of a team.

This has had me thinking about what it would be like if when a player was put on injured reserve, his salary would no longer be counted against the cap. (Obviously, he would still be paid.)

Clearly, this isn’t currently in place but I am curious about whether you think this would be an improvement overall for the quality of play in the NFL and a fairer system for teams, players, and fans. I am also curious as to what problems there might be in such a system, what obstacles there might be to implementing it, and how likely the NFL might embrace such a change.

Ed says: Ted, I haven’t thought about all of the various angles of this. There is an obvious one, though. I think this opens up a can of worms that the NFL tries to avoid, which is teams hiding players on IR rather than waiving them. I can see teams creating phantom injuries to IR guys who aren’t playing big roles when they need cap space to make another move during the season. That blocks player movement and impacts competitive balance.

In recent years the NFL has loosened restrictions on how many players can be brought back from injured reserve during the season. I hope they continue in that direction. I think that improves quality of play because teams don’t have to bring guys in off the street or other team’s practice squads as often.

Matt Smith asks: Perhaps this is too forward thinking or hypothetical for an answer, but is there any world where DJ returns next year as the starting quarterback, we mentor the draftee into the QB position, and trade him at the deadline next year? Obviously he has hurt his value tremendously, but if he comes back and puts some solid tape up for 6 to 8 weeks we could potentially get out of his contract with a few draft picks?

Ed says: Matt, of course that world exists. I don’t think it’s likely, but never say never. I think it is very possible that if the Giants draft a quarterback Jones could still be QB1 at the start of the season if he is healthy. Eli Manning was QB1 — until he wasn’t — at the start of Jones’ rookie season. Kurt Warner was QB1 for the Giants in 2004, until Tom Coughlin gave the keys to Manning. Ryan Tannehill started the year as QB1 in Tennessee even though the Titans have drafted quarterbacks highly the last two years. Will Levin, 2023 first-round pick, is now the starter.

When an organization is moving from one quarterback to the next there is often overlap. Whether Jones could build some value for a midseason trade, I don’t know. I won’t, though, rule it out.

Matthew Minasian asks: With the season ending injury to Jones and the season spiraling in general, the focus has shifted to drafting a new franchise QB. Caleb Williams is consistently listed as #1 prospect for the upcoming draft.

Do you see any issue with him only being 6’1”? Everybody talks about how special he is and I’ve seen the highlight reel throws, but I wonder if Drake Maye, who has a Josh Allen like frame, might ultimately be better suited for Northeast football.

Ed says: Matt, Williams is listed at 6-foot-1, 218 pounds. Maye is listed at 6-3, 232. Williams’ height doesn’t bother me at all. I never look at the kids and think he’s too small. Tua Tagavailoa is 6-1, 227 pounds. Patrick Mahomes is only 6-2. Brian Daboll and Joe Schoen might be attracted to Maye’s bigger frame, but that’s a long way off.

Julian Roberts asks: Hi Ed, do you have any idea of how much money the NYG will have for next season for free agents?

Ed says: Julian, I can give you the raw number but it doesn’t mean a whole lot. So many things can and will change between now and then that it is impossible to say ‘this is how much they will have.’ As of today, the Giants will have $47.615 million based on an estimated cap of $256,000. That’s middle of the pack and will be influenced by what they do about Saquon Barkley, whether they re-sign players like Xavier McKinney, Justin Pugh, Ben Bredeson, whether they move on from Adoree’ Jackson and a few other things.

Doug Mollin asks: Xavier McKinney was a second round draft pick in 2020, the #1 safety in the draft by Brugler.

He played really well as a rookie (70.0 PFF) and took another step up his second year (75.4).

Unfortunately, he does not seem to be the same player under Wink as he was under Graham (the injury obviously impacting 2022).

I know every DC has their own blessed, can’t-be-altered system, but why not consider letting McKinney play some centerfield free safety that he seemed to excel with?

Is the idea that every player has to fit Wink’s system? Or is it that Wink should tweak the system to suit the players he actually has?

It seems like Wink is capable of it — look at the role he has found for McFadden this year compared to last year (helped, no doubt, by having Okereke out there in coverage at LB). His PFF score went from 38.7 to 72.2.

Ed says: Doug, let me start by saying I don’t care even a little bit about McKinney’s PFF scores. I care about whether or not he is a game-changer.

It is absolutely true that in his five-interception 2021 season, Patrick Graham used McKinney differently than Wink Martindale does. In 2021, McKinney played 807 of 1,134 snaps (71.2%) at free safety. This season, McKinney has played 260 of 627 snaps (41.5%) at free safety.

McKinney has played 43.9% of his snaps in man coverage. The only qualifying safety who has played a higher percentage of snaps in man coverage is the Giants’ Jason Pinnock (45.3%). So, obviously, Martindale is asking for more man coverage from safeties than anyone else does. In 2021, McKinney played 21.8% of his snaps in man coverage. So, he is now playing double the amount of man coverage. I don’t think that’s what he does best.

Now, let me turn the question around. How many Pro Bowls has McKinney been to? Zero. How many times has he been named an All-Pro? Zero. How many impact seasons has he actually had in the NFL? One. Out of four. He missed most of his rookie season. He missed half of his third season because he took a selfish risk in mid-season that backfired.

McKinney is not Ed Reed. He is not Troy Polamalu. He is not Derwin James. He is not Minkah Fitzpatrick. Yes, you want to use your players to the best of their abilities as often as you can. What, though, has McKinney done to justify Martindale changing an entire defensive philosophy to suit him? In my mind, not enough.

ctscan123 asks: Hey Ed, so I want to start by saying that I understand the deterioration of support for Jones. Quarterback gets the credit in quarterback gets the blame. That said, he still hasn’t had a fair shake and I don’t believe that we are any closer to being able to evaluate him this year than we were last year. Fhow me the list of quarterbacks that have consistently succeeded with bottom tier protection. Fair or not, with the injury it is likely the end for Jones though.

Assuming that is true and assuming that we draft one of the young quarterbacks, what would the plan for Jones look like? Once he was healthy, would we be able to trade him with a $40 million salary? What might we get for him? Would we have to eat a substantial part of his salary? would we just release him? Would he be a $40 million back up?

Ed says: CT, I think I addressed most of the ‘what happens to Jones next year’ in my answer above to Matt Smith. I want, though, to talk about your “fair shake” statement.

I have been a Jones supporter. I supported Dave Gettleman’s decision to draft him because if you think he’s your guy it’s never too early to draft him. That said, at some point the “Jones hasn’t had a fair shake” stuff has got to stop.

It’s been five seasons. Jones is not a perfect quarterback, but despite the way he played this year he isn’t an awful one either. A lot of what has happened over his time with the Giants is not his fault. The organization has been a mess most of that time, and his supporting cast has almost always been inadequate.

I get and acknowledge all of that. Like I wrote earlier this week, though, at some point you have to raise the white flag and admit it’s time to try something different. Jones’ injury history, the losing, the fact that the Giants will be well-positioned to draft a quarterback in a deep quarterback class and the reality that at some point the Giants need to start over all make the situation what it is.

Whether or not that’s fair to Jones doesn’t really matter.

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