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Big Blue View mailbag: Evan Neal, winning now, more questions

The mail’s here!

July is here, which means New York Giants training camp is less than a month away. To celebrate, let’s open the Big Blue View Mailbag and answer some questions.

Jeffrey Camp asks: I understand training camp hasn’t even started and this question is premature. Evan Neal was the seventh pick, played just one year, dealt with an injury, great attitude and work ethic, etc. I get it. My thinking is he is always going to struggle with the speed on the edge but that he can be a great guard. Obviously, tackle is a more valuable position than guard but what would it take for the Giants to decide his value as a possible top guard is more than his value as a middling RT? My thinking is he probably gets the full year. Thoughts?

Ed says: Jeffrey, here we go again with the Neal to guard stuff. Yes, I think he gets the full year. What else are the Giants going to do? Transition him to guard midseason, a position he hasn’t played since his sophomore year at Alabama? That’s not fair to him — or to Daniel Jones.

Maybe Neal ends up at guard some day. I wish, though, that Giants fans would stop trying to make him one before he has had a fair shot to prove whether or not he can be a good NFL right tackle. Those are a lot harder to find than guards, and you don’t want to give up one a potentially good one too quickly.

If Neal flops again in 2023, then the Giants have a decision to make.

Bill Heller asks: I’ve been a Giant fan for 60 years and I think one of their most significant accomplishments never gets measured. In the Super Bowl era, the Giants are 9-1 combined in NFC Championship Games and Super Bowls. To me, this is what the Giants are about: when they get to those big games, they win them. Does anyone in the league have a higher percentage?

Ed says: Bill, I looked at the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers, two of the most successful franchises of the Super Bowl era. The Steelers are 8-8 in AFC Championship games, with six Super Bowl titles. The Patriots are 11-4 in AFC title games.

What you point out is one of the unique things about the Giants. They are not as consistently successful as some teams, but they are known for those magical, sometimes unexpected, runs.

ctscan asks: Hi Ed, so we’ve had what looks on paper to be a pretty stellar offseason who centerpiece may be the acquisition of Darren Waller.

One of the things that I have not heard very much about is Waller’s age and how that might affect the urgency of team building. He’ll be 31 in September which is getting long in the tooth for a player who relies on athleticism.

Given his age and presumptive centerpiece status, do you think we should get a little more aggressive with the cap? Shift fully into win now mode and secure the services of someone like Yannick Ngakoue? Sniff around the trade block for another starting caliber middle linebacker And higher caliber safety? Do we shoot our shot and kick some cap down the road while we still have a premier (hopefully) playmaker on the roster?

Ed says: No. Kicking cap down the road and limiting options in future years is the exact thing GM Joe Schoen has been vocal about avoiding as much as possible. You don’t ever go into ‘win now at all costs’ mode for a player who is a non-quarterback.

Waller, in my view, is a Giant to help maximize this two-year window the organization created to find out if Daniel Jones is the quarterback to ultimately take them where they want to go.

Don’t fool yourself. There are no moves the Giants can make right now that would put their roster on par with the Philadelphia Eagles, San Francisco 49ers, Kansas City Chiefs or maybe even the Cincinnati Bengals.

The Giants had a surprisingly good 2022 season, but they are still building. Messing up your future salary cap and bankrupting your upcoming draft classes is not the way to achieve sustained success.

The Giants currently have $59.369 million in cap space for 2024, ninth-most in the league, with the massive contracts of Leonard Williams and Adoree’ Jackson set to come off the books and give them oodles of additional cap room.

The roster, as it is now, is better than it was a year ago. Regardless of what ESPN’s Bill Barnwell thinks. Schoen has them on the right path, and I would hate to see him try to take a shortcut for something that might not be attainable in the short term, anyway.

Chris Perle: This question isn’t about Jeff Smith:

It’s now “53 man roster projection season,” and everyone with a keyboard is a contributor. Every projection I have ever read splits 50 players roughly evenly between offense and defense and then adds 3 for Special Teams. This, of course, is NOT how rosters are built.

First of all, only 46 of the 53 dress for a game. Then there is the expanded Practice Squad rules, adding 2 “borderline” players able to suit up. To function for a full game with depth for rest/injuries, an offense needs about 18 core players (2 QBs, 3 RBs, 5 WR+TEs, 8 OLs), and a defense needs about 18 (6 DLs, ~5 LBs, ~7 DBs). That leaves about 10 players suited up on the sideline, and 17 on the roster at large. And yes, P/K/LS take up three, leaving 7 players of 46 and 14 of 53, to do what, exactly? Some will be recovering from injuries, surely. Others are too raw, but can’t be risked to pass waivers. Still others may be “in the doghouse” serving merely as an example to others.

And yet, that still leaves several game day and full roster slots for something every good team must have:

A good special teams core, hopefully lead by an ace. For example, Cam and Carter might be “LBs” on the stat sheet, but that is secondary to being “Core Special Teamers.” They are not, however, “aces” but neither should they count as “LBs” on the roster, except in emergency situations. And yet, they are worthy, as you suggest, of being on the 46.

The practice squad complicates the ‘Final 53’ projections for sure, but don’t you think a Jeff Smith type player (or some other special teams ace”) needs to be on the team regardless of what his offensive or defensive position (that he may never be asked to play) is? I would hate to see a GM say, “well, he’s a great specials guy, but we already have 7 WRs on the roster.”

Ed says: Folks, here is a hint about how NOT to get your mailbag ‘questions’ answered. Write a question that is really a long-winded statement disguised as question this long and I almost always will decline to answer it. I am only touching this question because there are a few things in it I want to address.

First, I think I have been clear in all my roster discussions that special teams ability always plays a role in determining the final few roster spots. If you aren’t going to play much on offense or defense, how do you help a team if not on special teams?

There are always players on teams who are more special teamers than offensive or defensive guys. Cam Brown, Gary Brightwell, Carter Coughlin recently for the Giants. In the past few years I can think of Nate Ebner, Michael Thomas and Cody Core.

I am going to take issue with the idea that the Giants don’t have a special teams ace. Cam Brown has played more than 80 of special teams snaps in each of his three seasons, including 398 last year. He plays on every special team unit. He’s an ace. Coughlin playaed an identical 398 snaps last year and has been above 80% of the snaps played in each of the past two years. He’s an ace. Brightwell has played 490 special teams snaps over two seasons and is close to that level, if not already there.

Now, I’m not sure all three players will make the roster again. If they do, though, special teams will be the reason.

I also need to clarify something about Jeff Smith. There is a perception that the Giants signed him specifically because he is a special teams ace. He is not. In four seasons with the New York Jets, Smith played a COMBINED 187 special teams snaps, with the 86 he played last season being a career high. He has potential as a punt gunner, but aligned in that role only nine times last season and 30 times in 2021. If he was an accomplished special teamer, he would be on the field a lot more.

Mark Cicio asks: I’m looking for your thoughts on what would have to go right for the Giants to make the playoffs again. Not a deep run (although that would be awesome), but if they do indeed get in I think that in of itself would make this a successful season.

Outside of the usual thoughts, growth from DJ, Saquon playing well, team staying healthy... What would you state as the main deeper factors for another trip to the postseason?

Ed says: Interesting question, Mark. I haven’t thought about that much until now. I would list a few things.

  • Doing well again in one-score games. The Giants were 8-4-1 in one-score games last season, second-best to the Minnesota Vikings in the NFL. That will need to continue.
  • More explosive plays on offense, more takeaways on defense. The Giants didn’t generate enough of either of those last season.
  • Steps forward from Evan Neal, Kayvon Thibodeaux and eventually Wan’Dale Robinson.
  • Deonte Banks and John Michael Schmitz being able to handle starting roles.

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