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Giants 2023 NFL free agency: About Bobby Okereke, and more ‘things I think’ after Day 1

A lot has already happened in free agency for the Giants, so let’s talk about it

NFL: DEC 26 Chargers at Colts
Bobby Okereke
Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

If you have been objectively reading the tea leaves when it comes to what New York Giants decision-makers did and said leading up to the beginning 2023 NFL free agency on Monday, nothing the Giants did should have come as a surprise.

Taking care of their own

In his season-ending press conference after the Giants lost to the Philadelphia Eagles in the Divisional Round of the playoffs, GM Joe Schoen made intentions clear.

“Ideally to me, the known commodities that are good football players that you know, that’s going to be our priority first,” Schoen said. “And then we’ll look outside the building, if we need to, to supplement the roster.”

The Giants have stuck to that script.

They gave quarterback Daniel Jones a four-year, $160-million contract. They tagged Saquon Barkley. After getting those two big fish taken care of, the Giants on Sunday began a barrage of in-house signings.

Wide receiver Sterling Shepard, running back Matt Breida, punter Jame Gillan and guard Wyatt Davis have all been brought back.

Why does Schoen have a preference for staying in-house when he can?

“The good thing about, I feel, extending people in-house (is that) you know their work ethic. You know their durability. You know their injury history. You know how they train. You know how they practice,” he said. “So, in terms of eliminating some of the margin for error, it’s a known commodity.”

A big-time linebacker!

The linebacker play for the Giants was abysmal in 2022. We knew that doing something about that would be a priority for the Giants this offseason.

The Giants were never going to pay anything like the four-year, $72 million ($50 million guaranteed) that Tremaine Edmunds got from the Chicago Bears. As Monday’s first day of the negotiating window unfolded, it was frustrating I’m sure for Giants fans to watch T.J. Edwards, Germaine Pratt and David Long Jr. — all potential targets at linebacker — come off the board before the Giants had signed anyone.

Then, Bobby Okereke happened.

Big Blue View reader Chris Chianese e-mailed Monday night to ask why the Giants paid so much (four years, $40 million, $22 million guaranteed) for Okereke when Edwards, Pratt and Long reportedly got far less money.

My take is this. Clearly, the Giants had a connection with Edmunds from Buffalo. They weren’t, though, going to spend that kind of money. The only thing I can take from the money they paid Okereke is that in looking at the other options Okereke had to be the player they really wanted — taking Edmunds out of the equation.

Think about it. Okereke is a talented player coming off 132 and 151-tackle seasons. He is going to be 27, just entering his prime.

He is also the kind of linebacker defensive coordinator Wink Martindale would seem to crave. I am paraphrasing, but Martindale said something to the effect early in the 2022 season that if you have a slow middle linebacker you have a slow defense.

Okereke’s 4.58-second 40-yard dash at the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine put him in the 82nd percentile. He has the speed Martindale craves. He also has the length, with a 98th percentile wingspan.

The Giants always say they want ‘smart, tough, dependable’ guys. Okereke went to Stanford. In four years, he has missed two games to injury. Go back and watch his 17-tackle (13 solo) game against the Giants in Week 17, a meaningless game for the Colts, and you know he is a tough, committed player.

Okereke’s presence should provide a huge boost to the Giants for the next few seasons. It is worth being excited about.

Dealing with that “not great” defensive line depth

Schoen made no secret of the fact that the Giants need to get better against the run in 2023, and that part of doing that will be finding better depth behind Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams.

“Not great” is how Schoen described the team’s defensive line depth when he was asked about it at the combine.

“That’s a premium position. Again, talk about allocating resources to a position. That’s important. We gotta be better next year stopping the run,” Schoen said. “I think some of that is our depth where Dexter doesn’t have to play the amount of snaps he played or Leo doesn’t have to be out there as much as he was out there. That’s important.”

Enter veteran defensive tackle Rakeem Nunez-Roches. The 30-year-old Nunez-Roches most likely replaces Justin Ellis, whose play left something to be desired in 2022. After his only season with the Giants, Ellis is a free agent.

Nunez-Roches is what he is after eight years in the NFL. And, what he is is a run-stopping, rotational defensive tackle. Pretty much just what the doctor ordered for the Giants. The 548 snaps Nunez-Roches played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2022 was a career-highg.

Nunez-Roches has only 3.5 sacks in 102 NFL games, 38 of which were starts. The Giants are signing him to provide depth and help them defend the run, especially when Lawrence or Williams is off the field.

Nunez-Roches is also a symbol of the mid-level depth type of player Schoen, handicapped by a salary cap mess he was left with when he became general manager, could not chase a season ago.

Bye, bye Nick

I know I am not the only one who was wishing/hoping/praying that Nick Gates would return to the Giants for the 2023 season. Alas, that was not to be as Gates agreed Monday to a three-year, $16.5 million contract with the Washington Commanders. It is a deal that reportedly could pay him as much as $18 million with incentives.

Reality is, the Giants were never going to sign the popular now ex-Giant for that kind of money, or even that kind of contract length.

Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News revealed a great story Monday of how Gates was nearly cut by the Giants before making his emotional return to the field last season.

The Giants clearly preferred Jon Feliciano, with whom GM Joe Schoen and head coach Brian Daboll have connections from the Buffalo Bills, at center. Plus, if the Giants ultimate plan is to draft and develop a center, Feliciano should not cost them what the Commanders are going to pay Gates.

At guard, while Gates and Ben Bredeson split time, Bredeson played more snaps when both were available. Plus, the Giants have youngsters they drafted in Joshua Ezeudu and Marcus McKethan.

The deck was always stacked against a Gates return to the Giants. Best of luck to him with the Commanders.

What about wide receiver?

The Giants will do something to help their passing attack. A trade for a wide receiver is always a possibility, something Ryan Dunleavy of the New York Post and I discussed on Monday’s ‘Valentine’s Views’ podcast. A mid-level free agent signing is possible. Bringing back Odell Beckham Jr. seems possible, but unlikely.

What seems to be a realistic possibility is adding a pass-catching tight end. Mike Gesicki of the Miami Dolphins is a name that keeps coming up. Jordan Ranaan of ESPN has been touting Irv Smith of the Minnesota Vikings as a possibility.

Stay tuned on that one.