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Where did it all go wrong for the Giants?

Injuries, pitiful offensive line play and a plethora of debatable decisions have led to an awful season

Photo by Sam Hodde/Getty Images

The New York Giants’ 2023-24 season has been a mess. Just about everything thing that could go wrong has gone wrong. Just about every major decision, even ones that seemed correct at the time, has gone sideways.

Just a year after almost everything went right for GM Joe Schoen and head coach Brian Daboll in a surprising season that actually saw the Giants win a playoff game, very little has gone according to plan this time around. Let’s break down the various decisions and things that have turned out badly this season.

Daniel Jones’ contract

In my view, this is one of those ‘right decision, wrong result’ things. Go back to where the Giants were at the end of last season, and they really had no choice but to sign Jones, hope that what he showed them during the best year of his career wasn’t a mirage, and try to continue building around him.

Before last season, the Giants declined Jones’ fifth-year option. That was, in my view, the right decision since the Giants had to make it before Jones had ever gotten on the practice field with Daboll as head coach.

Jones then had the best season of his career, being a key figure as the Giants made the playoffs for the first time since 2016 and won a playoff game for the first time since 2012.

The Giants had the 25th pick in the draft. They weren’t in position to draft Bryce Young or C.J. Stroud, the first two players selected. There weren’t any obvious veteran upgrades to Jones available via free agency. Jettisoning Jones and turning the team over to Tyrod Taylor without a long-term successor in place after the season Jones and the Giants had risked alienating the locker room.

The best thing the Giants could do is what they did — re-sign Jones to the most team friendly deal they could negotiate, a four-year, $160 million deal with only two years of guaranteed money.

Unfortunately, considering his second neck injury in three seasons, a season-ending torn ACL, regression in his play when he was healthy and the Giants perhaps being in position to draft a top rookie quarterback and reset the franchise financially and — hopefully — competitively, that contract now looks like a short-term albatross.

Jones has to be a Giant next season. The Giants would be on the hook for $69.315 million in dead money ($47.105 in 2024 cap hit and $22.21 million in pro-rated bonuses) should they cut him.

What his status will be depends on how the draft plays out. The Giants, though, could end up keeping him only because they have to pay him and no one is taking his $35.5 million base salary coming off a severe knee injury.

New York Giants v Dallas Cowboys
Saquon Barkley
Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

Saquon Barkley’s franchise tag

Schoen made it clear when he held his postseason press conference after the Giants’ playoff loss to the Philadelphia Eagles that Jones and not Barkley would be his top priority. Getting deals done with both was always the goal, but it was always apparent the Giants felt it was more important to get the quarterback signed first. I thought that was right — quarterback is a much more important position.

The way the Giants ended up handling the Barkley situation, though, was befuddling.

The Giants ended up using their franchise tag on Barkley, adding slightly less than $1 million in incentives to the $10.1 million tag. There were reports that the sides were only a couple million dollars apart at the tag deadline on a multi-year deal, with the Giants’ final offer said to be about $11 million annually with $23 million guaranteed.

Throughout the offseason, I had advocated for a three-year, $39 million deal with the first two seasons ($26 million) guaranteed. It seems that it would have taken less than that, perhaps three years, $36 million with the first two seasons ($24 million) guaranteed to get a deal done.

The Giants were given credit for holding the line on spending at a position that is not considered high-value in terms of allocation of financial resources. In retrospect, though, it is both stunning and problematic that the Giants refused to put a couple million extra dollars in the pot to get their best offensive player to sign a multi-year contract.

Barkley took the high road, accepting the amended tag and not pushing his fight into training camp or beyond like Josh Jacobs of the Raiders or Jonathan Taylor of the Colts.

The Giants can, theoretically, tag him again for the 2024 at a value slightly above $12 million. If they try that again, though, the guess here is Barkley won’t play nice this time. Not after watching Taylor get a three-year, $42 million deal with more than $19 million guaranteed. Not after watching Nick Chubb of the Cleveland Browns destroy his knee. Not after another year of again being asked to carry a bad offense — and a bad team — on his back. Barkley’s comments on Thursday could indicate as much.

Barkley and the Giants are going to be right back where they were a year ago, and probably talking about the same numbers. With a tag value of $12 million next year, best guess is we are again looking at negotiations hovering around the deal I suggested last offseason, three years in the neighborhood of $39 million, with the first two guaranteed.

The Giants wouldn’t commit that to Barkley last offseason. Are they going to want to commit that to him next offseason — with him a year older, having suffered another injury, with probably 300+ more touches worth of wear and tear? Maybe not.

Which means that because they wouldn’t give him a smidgen more money last season (yes, $1-2 million qualifies as a smidgen to NFL teams) they will enter the upcoming offseason with a Barkley problem.


Roster construction

The Jones and Barkley situations are really long-term issues caused by offseason decisions. Those choices didn’t have direct impacts on the Giants being where they are. The rest of what we are about to discuss does.

Beginning with how the Giants built this roster.

First, I always caution those who ask me that no team can hope to address or solve every perceived roster weakness in a single offseason. So, I don’t want to leave the impression that every issue that has cropped up this season was preventable. Still, there were plenty of things that were done — and not done — in the building of the roster that were questionable.

In discussing the roster on the ‘Valentine’s Views’ podcast, I have jokingly said the Giants had 87 slot receivers on the 90-man roster. That is, obviously, an exaggeration. It does, though, illustrate a point.

The Giants signed Parris Campbell as a free agent in the offseason. They had veterans Jamison Crowder (now with the Washington Commanders) and Cole Beasley in training camp. They also had Wan’Dale Robinson, Sterling Shepard, Kalil Pimpleton and Jaydon Mickens on the roster. All slot receivers. They cut wide receivers David Sills (Broncos practice squad) and Collin Johnson (Bears practice squad).

I understood the Campbell signing. It was a one-year flier on a player with tremendous speed who showed upside last season with the Indianapolis Colts. Point is, the Giants entered training camp with way more rosterable receivers than they could use.

There were, though, obvious holes that weren’t addressed.

  • They made a mess of the offensive line depth. Last year’s starting center, Jon Feliciano, who could have been a valuable guard-center backup, slipped away to the San Francisco 49ers for a one-year, $2.25 million deal. Feliciano has played well for the 49ers in limited snaps at center and left guard. They kept the perennially-injured Shane Lemieux and cut Tyre Phillips, a viable backup at guard and tackle. They kept tackle Matt Peart on the roster, then when a swing tackle was needed made it clear they had no faith in him to fill that role.
  • It was clear at the end of last season that the Giants needed to upgrade their edge depth, particularly to add a viable third edge pass rusher. The only player added was Boogie Basham, a Schoen favorite acquired at the end of the preseason via trade. Problem is, Basham isn’t a pass rusher. He doesn’t have a single quarterback hit in 159 snaps. Only twice this season has he played at least 20 snaps, those coming in the back-to-back blowout losses the last two weeks.
  • They allowed veteran Fabian Moreau, at times their best cornerback last season, to leave via free agency. All season it has been clear the Giants could have used a quality veteran backup cornerback. Moreau is playing well in Denver and costing the Broncos just $1.1 million.
  • They went into the season with untested rookie Eric Gray returning punts and kickoffs despite knowing how difficult ball handling can be in the tricky MetLife Stadium winds. That backfired as Gray muffed three punts in seven games before going on IR.

Understanding, again, that not every issue can be addressed those are a few spots where resources could have been allocated differently.

New York Giants v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

Offensive line debacle

The root of all of the problems for the Giants this season has been completely ineffective offensive line play. The Giants have given up a league-worst 54 sacks. They have the lowest Pro Football Focus grades in the NFL in both run and pass blocking.

There is no issue with the line the Giants seemed likely to start the season with:

LT — Andrew Thomas
LG — Ben Bredeson or Josh Ezeudu
C — John Michael Schmitz
RG — Mark Glowinski
RT — Evan Neal

The issues, in my view, begin with the backups. Letting Feliciano escape and cutting Phillips while keeping Lemieux. Keeping Peart instead of finding a swing tackle they were willing to play.

Daboll has again and again defended the constant spring and summer rotation of players at guard and center, particularly, Bredeson, Glowinski, Ezeudu and sometimes Schmitz. Problem was, the Giants didn’t settle on their starting line until after the preseason. Players never settled into the positions they were going to play.

That rotation also never included Ezeudu getting reps at left tackle, where he ended up starting once Thomas was injured. The loss of Thomas was devastating, and it brought to light the risk of entering the season with an experienced backup tackle they trusted.

Glowinski, long an adequate veteran starting guard, was horrid in Week 1 against the Dallas Cowboys, earning a 1.0 pass blocking grade while being charged with allowing three sacks and nine total pressures. That might have been the worst game of his career. The Giants immediately benched him in favor of Marcus McKethan, a 2022 fifth-round pick who missed all of his rookie year with a torn ACL, played 20 preseason snaps and never worked with the first team throughout training camp or the preseason. McKethan has potential, but he wasn’t ready.

You have probably already seen this embarrassing play from McKethan Sunday against Dallas:

Glowinski, meanwhile, has not been able to find his way back into the lineup despite four times this season being graded at 74.7 or higher when the Giants have been forced to play him. He is the highest-graded blocker the Giants have other than Thomas, yet the Giants won’t play him unless injuries make it impossible not to.

The injury to Thomas, and the injuries to and lack of development by Evan Neal, have been devastating to the line. Much of the chaos and ineptitude, though, has been of the Giants’ own making.

Darren Waller trade

The Giants acquired Waller from the Las Vegas Raiders for the compensatory third-round pick they got when they sent the enigmatic and underproductive Kadarius Toney to the Kansas City Chiefs last season.

On its face, turning a player in Toney who was drafted by the previous regime, wasn’t helping the team and wasn’t wanted into Waller, a proven star as a tight end who gave the Giants a legitimate No. 1 receiving option, was a win.

It always came with a risk, though. Waller is 31, and played in only 20 of 33 potential games in 2021 and 2022 due to a variety of injuries, mostly soft tissue ones. His two dominant seasons were 2019 and 2020, a lifetime ago in NFL years.

The Giants are seeing the risk now. They tried to build a passing attack with Waller at its core, but he has struggled again with hamstring injuries and is now on IR. He still leads the Giants with 36 receptions, but his 4.5 catches and 48.0 yards per game with just a single touchdown are not what the Giants were hoping for.

Complicating the Waller situation is his contract. When the Giants acquired him he had only one year of guaranteed money on his contract, though the cap hit was $11.875 million. So, if things didn’t work out the Giants would have had no cap charges for 2024 by moving on. The Giants quickly re-worked Waller’s deal, lowering the 2023 cap hit substantially, but adding two years to the deal.

Now, should the Giants want to get out of the deal after this season they would incur $7.868 million in dead cap charges.

Other things

There are many other things about this season that I haven’t understood. In the interests of brevity, I will bullet-point many of them.

  • The preseason approach: The Giants did almost nothing competitive in spring practices or mini-camp. They spent training camp seemingly more worried about making sure players got to Week 1 healthy than whether they were ready to play. Many top-line players barely got on the field in preseason. Well, they didn’t look ready to play early on — and that approach still has not mitigated injuries.
  • Offensive game plans: The Giants have ridden Barkley like a trusty mule — when Tyrod Taylor and Tommy DeVito have been at quarterback. When Jones was at quarterback, they mostly ignored him. Huh?
  • In-game stuff: Last season the Giants were lauded for schematic advantages and for coaching better than their opponents. Not this year. See my comment above about offensive game plays. Offensive line coach Bobby Johnson has taken heat. Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale has been questioned. The Giants haven’t won a challenge all season, with last Sunday’s first play of the game challenge an embarrassing look for Daboll. The head coach hasn’t been the same go-for-broke guy he was a year ago. I still don’t understand putting the Jets game in the hands of an injured kicker rather than letting Barkley try to win the game outright by gaining a yard, denying in the postgame the kicker was injured, then putting him on IR and saying he needed knee surgery days later. I don’t understand not being able to get the right number of players on the field more than once this season. Sending Jones diving into a pile on a fourth-and-1 Tush Push in his first game back from a neck injury wasn’t a good look.
  • Injuries: They are part of the game, but I fail to understand how the Giants handled the Graham Gano situation. Not putting Thomas on IR and then having him miss seven games while using a roster spot also ended up not looking good.

Final thoughts

Those are some of the many things that have gone wrong or have been difficult to understand. None of that means I think Schoen or Daboll should lose their jobs. I think it means they need to honestly self-evaluate how and why they did some things this season and try to make sure some of the things could have been avoided don’t happen next season.

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