The Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles are in the 2023 Super Bowl. Let’s discuss five ways the New York Giants can bridge the “talent gap” general manager Joe Schoen admits exists between the Giants and the Super Bowl combatants, thus elevating the Giants from a good team to a Super Bowl-caliber one.
Be right about Daniel Jones
This is first, and most obvious. Coming off an impressive 2022 season, the Giants are already committed to making sure Jones is their quarterback in 2023. And probably beyond that.
If they are going to become a true Super Bowl contender in the short term, they have to be right in their bet that they can build a championship-caliber team around Jones and that he can get them there.
Honestly, though, it is more than that. They have to get the Jones contract right. Good quarterbacks cost a lot of money, and what Jones did in 2022 will lead to him getting a contract with an average annual value way above what anyone saw coming just a few months ago. Remember when some of us thought the Giants might be able to keep him for a two-year deal between $35 and $40 million total value? Not now.
What the Giants need to do, though, is get the years — and the guaranteed money — right. They need to leave themselves a way out sooner rather than later if they are wrong and a year or two from now they realize Jones won’t take them any farther than he already has.
One other thing. If it becomes apparent that tying themselves to Jones was a mistake, Schoen and coach Brian Daboll need to be willing to recognize it and move on.
Build both lines
Despite all the chatter that the Giants need a No. 1 wide receiver — and they do — football remains a game won and lost in the trenches. If you don’t have a quality offensive line, the effectiveness of your quarterback is diminished and your skill position play makers don’t get enough chances to make plays. If you don’t have quality along the defensive line slowing some of the league’s high-powered offenses becomes next to impossible.
I hate to mention it, but all you have to do is look at the Eagles to see what dominant lines on both sides of the ball can do for a team.
The Giants are not yet good enough, or deep enough, on either line. Let’s look quickly at both.
The Giants went from 2009, when the selected tackle Will Beatty in Round 2, to 2013, when they selected Justin Pugh in Round 1, without using a premium draft resource on the offensive line. During that time their once-vaunted line got old and became ineffective. The Giants have been chasing the solution ever since.
At least three times since, the Giants have faced the ‘playmaker vs. stud offensive/defensive lineman’ choice in the draft.
In 2014, they choose wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. over defensive tackle Aaron Donald or offensive lineman Zack Martin.
In 2016, they chose cornerback Eli Apple when they could have selected tackle Taylor Decker (or, yes, Laremy Tunsil).
In 2017, they chose tight end Evan Engram over right tackle Ryan Ramczyk (and, yes, edge T.J. Watt).
In 2018, they chose Saquon Barkley over guard Quenton Nelson or defensive end Bradley Chubb.
The one time they did go offensive line over play maker, when they chose Ereck Flowers over Todd Gurley in 2015, they got it wrong.
This time, Schoen could face a similar choice. While everyone is screaming for a wide receiver, maybe the smart, more effective play would be to grab the best center or guard on the board and try to shore up the questionable interior of the Giants’ offensive line.
The Giants have Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams, and that’s probably as good a duo as any pair of interior defensive linemen in the NFL. Thing is, it’s not enough. There are 300+ pound men who cannot play every snap. Giants fans saw what happened when Williams missed time with injuries, and when the 340+ pound Lawrence needed rest. The defensive line could not compete.
The Eagles bring stud defensive linemen in waves. Brandon Graham, Josh Sweat, Robert Quinn, Fletcher Cox, Jordan Davis, Ndamukong Suh, Linval Joseph, Javon Hargrave. You could probably count outside linebacker Haason Reddick, too. They just keep coming.
The Giants need to be able to survive — no, thrive — on defense even when Williams or Lawrence, or both, are not on the field. Right now, they are a long way from there.
Build your core from within
Co-owner John Mara began talking years ago about how the Giants were lacking a home grown core. A nucleus of players who had been Giants from the time they were drafted through the first six, seven, eight years or more of their NFL careers. He was right then, and he is right now.
The only real long-term core Giant on the current roster is wide receiver Sterling Shepard, who has been with the team since 2016. This, sadly, is what happens when you don’t draft well or play well. You don’t draft enough players you want to keep, and the good ones you might want to keep tire of losing and go look for something better elsewhere.
Jones, Barkley, Lawrence, Andrew Thomas, Xavier McKinney, Julian Love if the Giants can get him to stay, are all players who are part of the fabric of what the Giants are and would be wonderful foundational pieces to go forward with.
You might be curious why I included Barkley here. I have said before that I am not a fan of giving running backs big money second contracts. I would not have drafted Barkley No. 2 overall. Yet, Barkley is a Giant. He is a locker room leader. He is a mega star. A presence. The Giants will have more money available if they let Barkley walk, but will they be as attractive to other free agents?
Find more difference-makers
Jones, Barkley and Thomas were true difference-makers for the Giants on offense. Lawrence, Williams and Kayvon Thibodeaux on defense. Xavier McKinney and Azeez Ojulari might have been, but neither was on the field enough.
The Giants need more.
On offense, they need Evan Neal to become the bookend offensive tackle they drafted him to be. That will help open up their offense.
Mike Kafka did a masterful job scheming up ways to get an unspectacular group of wide receivers and tight ends open, and those players did a professional job of making the plays they were supposed to make.
The Giants need a couple more skill position players on offense who can make plays on their own, who can make catches that aren’t supposed to be made or gain yardage that isn’t supposed to be gained.
On defense, the Giants need more players who can do what Thibodeaux did last season against the Washington Commanders, with a game-changing strip sack scoop and score.
Stay salary cap healthy
The Giants have been a salary cap mess for the last couple of seasons.
In 2021, the Giants were so desperately pinching pennies to get to the end of their dismal 4-13 season that over their final few games they didn’t even bother to fill some of the open spots on the 53-man roster. They had renegotiated so many contracts there was really no other recourse.
In 2022, they dealt with the aftereffects of their 2021 spending spree that pushed gargantuan amounts of money into that season. They compounded their cap pain when they made the decision to cut ties with veteran defensive back Logan Ryan, who they did not see as a fit for the direction in which they wanted to go. They ended up with $53,752 million in dead cap money — money allocated to players who were not playing for them in 2022 — sixth-most in the league.
Dead money does not have to be a killer. The Seattle Seahawks ($57.37 million) had the fifth-most and the Eagles ($64.487 million) the fourth-most, but it does cause you to be creative and push salary cap pain into future years, commonly with the use of void years in contracts.
The Eagles used a void year to sign James Bradberry. They have void years in the contracts for several players to work around their current cap crunch.
The way the Eagles manipulated the cap allowed them to sign Bradberry, trade for A.J. Brown and, during the season, add depth pieces like Ndamukong Suh and Linval Joseph. You eventually have to pay for those void years, but they give you some short-term flexibility.
The Giants simply need to do a better job managing their cap. Thinking long term and not trying for the quick fix by doling out mega-contracts in free agency is a start. Being smarter about how they structure contracts will also help.
They need to get to the point where they can compete for players like Suh and Joseph in-season, rather than relying on players like Jack Heflin or Vernon Butler.