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Top 10 New York Giants stories of 2023

Let’s revisit the stories that dominated the 2023 calendar year for the Giants

New York Giants v Las Vegas Raiders Photo by Ian Maule/Getty Images

The 2023 calendar year has been a roller coaster for the New York Giants. There have been enjoyable highs and miserable lows. Let’s look at our take on the top 10 Giants’ stories of the year.

10 — Darren Waller disappoints

The Giants’ acquisition of Waller from the Las Vegas Raiders with the third-round compensatory pick they got shipping Kadarius Toney to the unsuspecting Kansas City Chiefs was greeted with much joy.

The Giants turned Toney into Waller? An unreliable misfit who hardly ever played and they didn’t want morphed into a great tight end the Giants could build their passing attack around? Joe Schoen was a wizard. He had magical powers to bend the will of other teams to make the Giants better.

Only, it hasn’t worked out that way.

There was always risk in acquiring the 31-year-old Waller. He was great with the Raiders in 2019 and 2020, compiling back-to-back seasons of more than 1,100 receiving yards. He was an injury-riddled mess in 2021 and 2022. He missed five games in 2021. He missed five games with a back injury and also had ankle and knee issues. In 2022, he missed seven games with serious hamstring issues.

Waller looked unguardable in training camp, raising hopes that he could be the Giants’ clear No. 1 receiver and give them a weapon unlike any they have had since Odell Beckham Jr. worse a Giants uniform.

Waller, though, has not been that guy. When he has played, he has been OK. He has 42 receptions (4.2 per game) for 456 yards (45.6 per game) and a touchdown. He hasn’t been close to the dominant, double-team forcing player the Giants hoped for.

Hamstring injuries have again been an issue as Waller has missed five games.

The Giants converted Waller’s contract, which had no guaranteed money in it beyond 2023 when they signed him, into a deal that pays out a pro-rated signing bonus through 2026 to save cap space in the current season.

It’s a move they probably had to make to get through this season. Still, you have to wonder if Waller has a future with the Giants beyond this season. The team could save $12 million against the 2024 salary cap with just $2.458 million in dead money if they make him a post-June 1 cut.

9 — Two big guys get big deals

Schoen made it clear entering the offseason that taking care of the players the Giants considered to be part of their core was a priority. He proved those were more than words by signing left tackle Andrew Thomas and defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence, both drafted by previous Giants administrations, to lucrative long-term deals.

Thomas signed a five-year, $117.5 million contract extension ($67 million guaranteed) with the Giants that could keep him in blue through the 2029 season. The Giants have an out after the 2027 that would leave them with a $3 million cap hit while saving $19.4 million, but the big news is they have a dominant left tackle for the next several seasons.

Lawrence signed a four-year extension worth $90 million in new money with $46.5 million. The deal ties Lawrence with Daron Payne for the fourth-highest contract for a defensive lineman in terms of total value.

8 — Evan Neal, Azeez Ojulari disappoint

Evan Neal, a second-year player, and Azeez Ojulari, a third-year player, are two youngsters the Giants entered the season looking at a potential core players for the next several years.

They may have to recalibrate.

The Giants drafted Neal No. 7 overall in 2022, choosing him over Charles Cross (No. 9 to the Seattle Seahawks) as a right tackle they hoped would bookend their offensive line with Andrew Thomas for years to come.

Neal had a miserable rookie season. He was the worst-graded tackle (by far) among 57 qualifiers graded by Pro Football Focus. His pass-rushing efficiency score was 57th among 59 regular-season qualifiers.

The Giants anticipated/hoped/prayed that Neal would be better in 2023. He wasn’t. His PFF grade dropped from 44.1 to 39.8. His pass rushing efficiency, including last season’s playoffs, remained level — 94.6 in 2022 and 94.4 this season.

To make matters worse, Neal suffered a pair of ankle injuries, played just seven games and is now headed for ankle surgery.

Can the Giants put him at tackle again in 2024? Do they have to move him to guard? Should he even be part of the starting lineup? The problem is the answers to those questions are ‘don,’t know,’ don’t know,’ and ‘don’t know.’

Ojulari looked like a second-round steal when he compiled 8.0 sacks as an edge defender after the Giants made him the 50th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.

Now?

He looks like a player they can’t count on.

Leg injuries limited him to only seven regular-season games a season ago, though he did produce 5.5 sacks. This year, Ojulari has again been beset by leg injuries, playing in only nine games. Worse, he has been invisible when he has been on the field with just a half-sack, four quarterback hits and 12 tackles.

The Giants need more pass rushers. It’s anybody’s guess as to whether or not Ojulari can be one.

Green Bay Packers v New York Giants Photo by Mike Stobe/2023 Mike Stobe

7 — Bobby Okereke looks like best FA signing in a long time

Eyebrows were raised when the Giants gave Bobby Okereke a four-year, $40 million free agent contract with $21.8 million guaranteed this offseason. That paled in comparison to the five-year, $72 million deal the Chicago Bears gave Tremaine Edmunds. It was, though, far more than linebackers like Germaine Pratt ($20.25 million over three years), T.J. Edwards ($19.5 million over three years) and David Long ($10 million over two years) received on the 2023 open market.

Okereke might turn out to be the best Giants’ linebacker since Antonio Pierce, also signed as a free agent, was in blue from 2005-2009.

Okereke has played all 1,001 defensive snaps for the Giants this season, ignoring rib, finger and other injuries.

Okereke has played exceedingly well. He has a team-leading 132 tackles, two interceptions, four forced fumbles, and career bests in quarterback hits with three and tackles for loss with nine.

Okereke joins a very short list of free agent successes for the Giants since they last won a Super Bowl. Damon ‘Snacks’ Harrison, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Jackrabbit Jenkins (at least until he imploded and ran himself out of town), Rashad Jennings, Olivier Vernon, James Bradberry. I’m not sure the list goes any deeper than that.

6 — Kayvon Thibodeaux rises

Not. A. Bust.

A healthy (unhealthy?) percentage of Giants fans wanted to label Thibodeaux as such when his rookie season produced just 4.0 sacks and not as many impact plays as one would hope for from the no. 5 overall pick.

The ‘bust’ talk resurfaced when Thibodeaux started the season slowly. Now that he has 11.5 sacks, the first edge defender in a Wink Martindale defense to reach double-digit sacks, has forced three fumbles and has been a wrecking ball in a few games this season that talk has gone away.

Thibodeaux is a 22-year-old rising star.

It would be nice if Thibodeaux was a tad more consistent. He started slowly and has been quiet the past two weeks, but the overall production tells you he is turning into a tremendous player.

5 — Offensive line was offensively disastrous

As mentioned earlier, the Giants signed Andrew Thomas to a big contract to play left tackle for the next several years. They drafted John Michael Schmitz in Round 2 to play center. They expected Evan Neal to improve. They had a collection of players they thought would be capable guards, including Mark Glowinski, Ben Bredeson, Josh Ezeudu, Marcus McKethan and Shane Lemieux. They looked set in the spring with Matt Peart and Tyre Phillips to back up at tackle.

It looked like the Giants would be OK on the line, especially if Neal showed a decent amount of improvement.

They weren’t.

The Giants rotated guards all spring and summer, not settling on the Bredeson-Glowinski starting combo until just before Week 1 against the Dallas Cowboys. As they set their 53-man roster, they also mysteriously cut Phillips, who did an adequate job for them filling in at right tackle in 2022.

The problems showed up immediately.

Neal didn’t look any better against the Dallas Cowboys than he had the year before. That never got better, then he got hurt. Twice. He will end up missing more games (nine) than he played in (seven). Sadly, the line — with Phillips reacquired from the Philadelphia Eagles’ practice squad — might have benefitted from his absence.

Thomas got hurt on a blocked field goal at the end of the season’s first drive and missed seven games. With no Phillips and obviously no faith in Peart, the Giants turned to Josh Ezeudu as the backup left tackle. Yup. A player drafted as a guard, who couldn’t win a starting job at that spot and hadn’t practiced at left tackle all spring or summer, was suddenly asked to protect Daniel Jones’ blind side. Jones’ second neck injury was the result, as was a whole lot of other pressure.

Ezeudu eventually got hurt, too. That left Justin Pugh, straight off his couch and not having played left tackle since 2015, trying to play left tackle. That wasn’t good, either.

As for guard, after one awful game the Giants somehow decided McKethan was a better option at right guard than Glowinski. The same McKethan who missed his entire rookie year and half of 2023 training camp due to a torn ACL, and had never taken a snap with the starters — until he became a starter.

The Giants seemed so down on Glowinski that when they needed to replace a concussed Bredeson, they turned to the oft-injured and barely on the field in the last three years Shane Lemieux instead of Glowinski. That lasted one disastrous game.

The Giants have given up a league-worst 77 sacks, and only the mobility of Daniel Jones, Tyrod Taylor and Tommy DeVito has that number south of 100. They have the worst Pro Football Focus pass blocking grade in the league, and are 31st of 32 teams in run blocking grade.

They have clearly had the league’s worst offensive line. Sadly, some of that was self-inflicted with poor personnel and lineup decisions.

4 — The current season was a belly flop

The Giants entered the 2023 season feelin’ fine. They had made the playoffs the season before and actually won a playoff game. They had the reigning Coach of the Year, even with co-owner John Mara’s warning to Brian Daboll about not going from Bono to Bozo hanging in the air, they had a roster that looked like it had added speed and play-making ability, they had a widely-praised coaching staff almost completely intact from the previous season.

They seemed to have reason to feel good. Then Week 1 happened and the Dallas Cowboys punched them in the mouth at MetLife Stadium, by an embarrassing 40-0 score.

The swagger went out the window. The Giants, with a brutal schedule, started 1-5. Injuries piled up. Just about every decision the Giants made went sideways. They managed to lose games against the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets that should have been signed, sealed and delivered as victories.

They were 2-8 before the respite of DeVito-mania brought some short-lived joy to a miserable season.

At times, some wondered in Daboll had Bozo-d his way to being out of a job after two years. That won’t be the case, but there are now questions about the 2022 Coach of the Year. How well does he treat coaches behind the scenes? His relationship with Wink Martindale has been much talked about, and whether those two can work together past the end of this season is still questionable. What other coaches will look for somewhere else to work, or simply be told to find another job?

What about the way he rants on the sideline? Is there anything productive to come out of flipping a tablet in the direction of the guy you just paid to be your franchise quarterback? Can Daboll reign in his own temper?

There is a critical offseason to come because this season didn’t turn out anything like anyone thought it would.

3 — DJ got a big deal, Saquon didn’t

Schoen was up front when the 2023 offseason began that quarterback was always going to be a bigger priority than running back — which meant signing Daniel Jones would take precedence over getting a deal with Saquon Barkley. Schoen said from the beginning that Jones would be the quarterback in 2023, while also saying that if someone (meaning Barkley) had to move on because of that, so be it.

The Giants ended up getting Jones to sign a four-year, $160 million contract with $81 million fully guaranteed. The $40 million average annual value was a surprisingly large number to many. The total value placed Jones 10th on the QB paycheck pecking order, tied with Dak Prescott and Matthew Stafford.

The Giants went down to the wire with Barkley, trying to negotiate what was apparently a three-year deal. Somehow, the two sides could not bridge a gap of just $1-2 million in average salary and guarantees, and the Giants Barkley ended up with the running back playing the season on an amended franchise tag.

Handling it that way — quarterback over running back — seemed like the right thing at the time. Jones, after all, was coming off his best year and the Giants thought (and maybe still do) that there was more upside.

Still, it certainly hasn’t worked out. Jones played terribly, suffered another neck injury and then a season-ending torn ACL and the Giants now are about to enter a second straight offseason with a ‘what to do about Barkley’ question.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at New York Giants Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

2 — DeVito-mania

The Chiefs have Tay-Tay. The Jets have that quarterback who barely played but seems to love being an attention magnet. The Giants, though, had their own national headline grabbing sensational story this year.

Tommy DeVito, an undrafted rookie, was thrust into the spotlight and briefly seemed to take over the world. What could have been better?

Local kid who was a high school football hero at nearby Don Bosco. Italian kid with some swag living at home where his mom made his meals — and his bed. He won three straight games and everybody wanted a piece of him.

Fans weren’t able to get enough:

Restaurants were naming sandwiches after him:

His teammates were into it, too:

DeVito’s agent got his own 15 minutes:

Now, after two straight losses and DeVito having been benched at halftime last week against the Philadelphia Eagles, DeVito-mania appears to have run its course. It was a blast while it lasted. DeVito made himself some money, and likely extended whatever period of time he will be in the NFL.

Not bad.

1 — They won a playoff game!

That seems like a lifetime ago the way the current season has gone, but it actually did happen in the 2023 calendar year. The Giants went on the road and took down the big, bad 13-4 Minnesota Vikings, 31-24.

Daniel Jones went 24 of 35 for 301 yards and two touchdowns (remember the old days when he was good?). Saquon Barkley ran for a 2-yard touchdown with 7:47 remaining to break 24-24 tie. The defense got a stop just inside the 2:00 mark to seal the victory.

That was the Giants’ first playoff victory since their Super Bowl run at the end of the 2011 season. It wasn’t supposed to happen. The Giants had stunk for five years, tying the New York Jets for the worst record in football over that time. GM Joe Schoen and head coach Brian Daboll were first-timers in their jobs, hired away from the Buffalo Bills because somebody, somewhere had to have better ideas than the ones the Giants were using.

Yet, it happened.