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Big Blue View mailbag: Part 2, non-Saquon Barkley edition

The mail’s here — again!

This is Part 2 of the final Big Blue View Mailbag before the New York Giants open training camp. Hopefully, you are done reading the nearly 4,000-word Part 1 that was all about Saquon Barkley. This will be a non-Barkley edition of the mailbag.

Jimmy Siegel asks: Here’s my concern with Evan Neal. Everybody — including you I believe — has said don’t panic — remember how Andrew Thomas played his first year and look at him now. Except I find a flaw in that reasoning. Andrew Thomas — even in his admittedly very poor first year — IMPROVED in the last quarter of that first season. He showed real signs of getting better. Evan Neal was as horrible in his last few games as he was in his first few games. There was zero improvement. So my question is — what do you see in him that makes you think he’s closer to Andrew Thomas than Ereck Flowers?

Ed says: Jimmy, I see two things.

First, Ereck Flowers was a guy who really didn’t know how to work at his craft. Maybe he didn’t care to. I don’t know. Neal is a guy who genuinely cares, and who really wants to master his craft. Go read about some of the work he did this offseason.

As an extension of that, he is accountable. Flowers barely spoke to media, and I don’t think he spoke to a lot of his teammates, either. I can remember games where Flowers would play terribly. Rather than being accountable, he would bail from the locker room and leave teammates to speak for, and about, him. I know that never won him any points with teammates.

After giving up three sacks vs. the Dallas Cowboys last year in the worst game of his life, Neal sat on a stool in front of his locker and answered all the questions from waves of reporters. He was accountable. That’s important, and teammates notice.

Second, there was a stretch last season where Neal did show improvement. After that Dallas game, there was a stretch of three-plus games where he did not give up a sack. Then, he got hurt. When he came back, there were references to Neal “fighting through some things,” which is NFL code for “he’s playing hurt.” No one would ever confirm anything specific, and I don’t recall him being on the injury report the final few weeks, but I suspect he was never healthy after the midseason knee injury.

Sal Ambrosino asks: I wonder if the OL is still at least a year away from emerging from the bottom third of the league? Thomas and Neal were taken at the top of their classes. Both were arguably the best when drafted. Then they were introduced to the NFL. Schmitz was also taken at the top of his class. The potential is exciting, but am I being naive to think the same learning curve won’t apply because he’s a center?

Ed says: Sal, the potential is certainly there for the offensive line to take a step forward, and Giants fans should be excited about that.

In recent years, there are several examples of rookie centers who started immediately and played well. Tyler Linderbaum (picked 25th by the Baltimore Ravens) started all 17 games and was named to the All-Rookie Team in 2022. Creed Humphrey was drafted 63rd overall by the Kansas City Chiefs in 2021, has started every game over two seasons, was on the All-Rookie Team in 2021 and was named to the Pro Bowl last year. Frank Ragnow was picked 20th by the Detroit Lions in 2018, started immediately, and has always been a good player.

That is what the Giants are hoping for from John Michael Schmitz. If they get that, and league average play from Evan Neal, the line should be better. I am optimistic about Schmitz, but he has to go prove he can do it.

Ron Jackson asks: With Waller’s recent injury history, shouldn’t the Giants mainly use him on third downs and red zone downs? Why he is useful on all downs, those are the downs where he will have maximum value. Limiting his use on first and second downs should result in less chance of injury and more downs where he can help the most.

Ed says: No, Ron. Darren Waller is the best receiver on the roster. Teams don’t only throw in the red zone or on third down. Because he is, technically, a tight end and will be used in a variety of spots, Waller causes matchup problems on every down in the passing game, and helps the running game.

Now, there are probably some short-yardage downs or occasional heavy packages where you could get him off the field because his blocking won’t help, but as long as he is healthy you want him on the field as much as possible. If Waller is sitting on the sideline to protect him you aren’t giving yourself the best chance to win.

Phillip Grubler asks: I was very much in favor of addressing middle linebacker this offseason. However, it seems the giants paid dramatically more for Okereke than the other available options (Edwards, Pratt, Long, White, Tranquil, etc...) who seemed to produce at a similar level. What did the Giants see? Do you see it? Did we overpay?

Ed says: Phillip, because Joe Schoen and Brian Daboll were familiar with Tremaine Edmunds from their days with the Buffalo Bills I always thought Edmunds was the linebacker they would most like to have. With Edmunds getting a four-year, $72 million contract with $50 million guaranteed from the Chicago Bears, that was never going to be financially realistic.

I think the Giants paid Bobby Okereke the way they did for a simple reason — they looked at the linebacker market, knew they needed one, thought he was the best player available, and made sure they got him. Okereke’s four-year, $40 million deal includes $21.8 million fully guaranteed, and another $3 million if he is on the roster in 2025 and 2026.

It was a pretty big deal, but the Giants believe Okereke can be an important player for them over the next few years. Are they right? Only Okereke’s play on the field will answer that question.

David Silver asks: Do you have any insight into what actually happened with Jarrad Davis? He signed a contract for $1,180,000 and suddenly he needs knee surgery and he is out for the season. Did the Giants know? Are they eating a million dollars so he stays in the building? Was he evaluated before signing? It seems like something is off, no?

Ed says: David, no, it does not seem like something is “off.” Why does everything have to be a conspiracy theory?

The Giants re-signed Davis in early March. He went through spring practices with the team. Did he suffer his injury during the mandatory mini-camp? I don’t know. I was there and did not see anything happen. Did he suffer his injury training on his own at some point this summer? Perhaps.

The Giants aren’t required to tell us anything since the injury occurred during the offseason.

Jim Jordan asks: By my account, the Giants will be faced with expiring contracts for at least five current starters at the end of this year (I’m not including extending Thomas, etc). Let’s leave out Gano, because I’m sure they’ll do what they have to to bring him back. Also, let’s ignore Saquon, because ...Saquon. So that leaves Leonard Williams, Xavier McKinney and Adoree’ Jackson. Even with a larger overall cap, it seems unlikely they’ll be able to bring all three back. Based solely on their play leading up to this year, if the Giants can only afford to bring back two, who do you feel is most expendable? Or do you think they might just part ways with two, or even all three.

Interested in how you see these players’ future with the Giants.

Ed says: Jim, I think you have hit on the three Giants veteran defensive players who have the most to gain — or lose — during the 2023 season. I think it’s possible — not likely, but possible — none of them are Giants in 2024. Let me go through how I see the situation with each guy.

Leonard Williams — The subject of Williams’ ridiculous $32.26 million cap hit, third-highest in the NFL, has been brought up again and again. Why haven’t the Giants, still with a need to create some cap space for the upcoming season, extended his contract to lower that cap hit?

Because they don’t want to. Williams is 29, has played a ton of snaps over eight seasons, and is coming off the first injury of his career that caused him to miss playing time. It’s clear to me that the Giants want to see what Williams gives them in 2023 before deciding what kind of commitment, if any, to make to him after this season.

Adoree’ Jackson — He is paid like a No. 1 shut down cornerback, the seventh-highest paid cornerback when it comes to guaranteed money per year and 13th in average per year. Is he really that, though? Jackson has three interceptions in 69 career NFL games. He is a good player, but not a game-changing difference maker.

Like Williams, I believe strongly that the Giants want to see what happens with Jackson this season before deciding what kind of commitment, if any, to make to him going forward. If Deonte Banks shows that he could be the team’s No. 1 cornerback, and the Giants have several other young players they like, why would they commit big money to Jackson?

Xavier McKinney — I think there is heat on McKinney entering the season. He is in the final year of his rookie contract, and the blunt truth is he has one good season out of three. He missed half of last year with a self-inflicted injury, and more than half of his rookie season.

More blunt truth is that even before he injured his hand last season McKinney wasn’t close to the impact player he had been in 2021 when he had five interceptions and a 79.2 passer rating against. He had no interceptions last season and a career-worst 116.0 passer rating against.

McKinney began last season as the team’s defensive signal-caller, a role that went to Julian Love after McKinney was injured. This year, defensive coordinator Wink Martindale did not simply hand that job back to McKinney. It could go to Bobby Okereke.

I wonder if there is a message in there. Perhaps the Giants are telling McKinney that they need to see the 2021 version of McKinney if he wants a big second contract.

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