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Giants’ GM Joe Schoen on roster construction, Daboll-Wink tension, Evan Neal, more

Takeaways from Joe Schoen’s bye week press conference

NFL: Washington Commanders at New York Giants Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

New York Giants general manager Joe Schoen covered a season’s worth of topics during his Week 13 bye week press conference on Monday. Let’s go through some of the takeaways.

Wink and Daboll

Schoen downplayed the reports of tension between head coach Brian Daboll and defensive coordinator Wink Martindale. He said in the “22 months we’ve been here, [the relationship] hasn’t changed.”

“Listen, there’s always gonna be noise. I mean, there, there’s a lot of noise in this market. It is what it is,” Schoen said. “I know what we think inside those four walls and that’s what matters. I’ve got a great relationship with Wink. I don’t know where some of this stuff comes from.”

On the rocky start to the season

“Early on we had a difficult schedule right off the bat, three games in 11 days, and two of those teams being top of the NFC right now or near the top of the NFC. So, we started off, very good drive against Dallas there to open the season. You know, we get a false start, a bad snap, a blocked field goal for a touchdown and kind of snowballed from there,” Schoen said. “So again, don’t wanna make any excuses, we’ve had some injuries and, again, we just gotta continue to build the depth and we gotta continue to build the team all around so when injuries do occur that we can overcome those and still be competitive. When injuries happen, it’s gonna happen every year, it happens, it’s football, it’s a contact sport.”

The Leonard Williams trade

This is the first time we have had the opportunity to speak with Schoen since the season began. The GM was asked to explain the rationale for trading defensive lineman Leonard Williams, one of the team’s best players, at the trade deadline.

“The draft compensation, um, you know, when Seattle called and offered a second-round pick for a 29-year-old player that was on expiring contract, we had nine games left. It just made the most sense long term in terms of the build.”

Much was made at the time of Schoen giving Williams the chance to accept a trade or veto it and stay with the Giants. Schoen would not divulge details of his talks with Williams, but said “that won’t happen for everybody.”

“These aren’t just as much as you’d like it to be, transactional and fantasy football, like just drop a player, add a player, drop a player, add a player. There’s a human element to it,” Schoen said. “There’s a locker room element that you gotta think about, that ripple effect. Still a lot of games left. So that was a very difficult decision on many fronts. Just as many pros as cons ... what makes sense for the franchise moving forward vs. relationships, locker room, perception, you gotta take all that into account.”

Roster construction

A couple of weeks ago I listed some of the many decisions that have gone wrong for the Giants this season, including several concerns about how the roster was constructed. Schoen addressed roster construction on Monday.

“You’re only afforded so many resources to, to build the roster, and we’ve been here for, I guess, 22 months in a day. So it’s, again, you have to decide how you’re gonna build it as you build it with the big picture in mind. And you can’t do it overnight,” Schoen said, acknowledging there is still much to be done to strengthen the roster. “No regrets. We’ll continue to evaluate our process and were there other players available, other players you could have taken? Did you you miss on something? We’ll evaluate the entire process at the end of the season, but you can’t do it all. You can’t do it at overnight.”

Schoen pointed to the signing of linebacker Bobby Okereke as a success.

“Instead of getting to Bobby O, who’s been a very good player for us that we brought in in the offseason, do you use that money elsewhere or in terms of allocation of resources?,” Schoen said. “I like a lot of the guys that we brought in in the offseason and again, we knew this wasn’t gonna happen overnight and it takes time to build it the right way.”

There are several sub-topics under roster construction. Here are a few:

Still supporting Evan Neal

Second-year right tackle Evan Neal has experienced a second consecutive difficult season after having been the No. 7 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. He missed time during training camp with a concussion, missed Weeks 7 and 8 with an ankle injury, returning in Week 9 and has now missed the last three games with an ankle injury.

Neal played poorly as a rookie and that has continued into his 2023 season. Neal is ranked No. 62 among 63 qualifying offensive tackles graded by Pro Football Focus this season.

“Evan needs to play better. He knows that,” Schoen said.

A move inside to guard, though, does not appear to be imminent. The GM said Monday he doesn’t believe the Giants are at a point with Neal where a position switch is needed.

“I went back and watched the Alabama stuff [tape]. The kid can play. We just gotta get him to be more consistent,” Schoen said. “I’ve got a lot of confidence in Evan. He’s a hard worker. It’s killing him right now to be out there. He’s missing some valuable reps in year two, but as soon as he is healthy again, he’s scratching and clawing to get back. We’re looking forward to getting back there. But, he knows there’s some things he can do better and, that’s what we expect from him.”

Why the offensive line hasn’t been good

“Andrew Thomas getting hurt the first series of the season. I mean, that doesn’t help when you lose an All-Pro left tackle. think we have, through 11 weeks, we had nine different starting o-line combinations, which is the second-most in 15 years. We have 21 different o-line combinations, which is the fourth-most in 15 years. So, we were down to our fifth and sixth offensive offensive tackles. It’s, it’s hard to prepare for that.”

Schoen went back to roster construction and allocation of resources in discussing how the line was built.

“We won 10 games with the same offensive line last year, with the exception of John Michael Schmitz ... We inserted him for, [Nick] Gates went on to Washington, [Jon] Feliciano went on to San Francisco. So again, we ran it back with the same guys we thought John Michael would be an upgrade in there, which he’s done a good job for us.

“As you’re building this was it more weapons for Daniel? Was it outside backers? Was it corner? We’re trying to build this thing, we want instant gratification and instant results. There’s an element of patience as you build it and try to build it the right way, and you can’t address everything overnight and we’re gonna continue to work on it. And I do believe in building it up front and offensive line’s important and probably didn’t play as well as we needed to early on.”

Eric Gray as punt and kickoff returner

Schoen said the team’s struggles with rookie fifth-round pick Eric Gray as a returner early in the season are “on me.”

“We tried to address the punt return, we knew it was an issue,” Schoen said. “And the draft, some of the guys we liked went probably higher than where we deemed you take a guy. Eric had done it at Tennessee and he did it at Oklahoma. And we were comfortable, the coaches were comfortable going into the regular season based off what we were seeing.”

Schoen acknowledged keeping veteran wide receiver/punt returner Jamison Crowder was a consideration, but they didn’t feel there was roster space for him.

“I know Crowder’s having success in Washington,” Schoen said. “We kept seven receivers. We couldn’t keep eight. Do the math, who do you move on from if you kept Crowder? So there were some moving parts in there.”

Ownership support

Schoen admitted the Giants are “not where we want to be right now,” but insisted he and Daboll still have the support of ownership.

“Absolutely. We have constant communication with the Mara family, the Tisch family, and articulate the plan. They’re all on board with it,” Schoen said. “As much as it hurts to go through this there are a lot of young players who are getting a valuable experience and another offseason, another draft, we’ll continue to build it and the communication is very helpful. The fact that, John Mara is here on a daily basis, we can explain the why while we’re doing things, how we’re gonna do ‘em, and they’re in the loop and they’re on board.”