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‘Things I think’ before Sunday’s Giants-Cowboys season opener: Daniel Jones, Evan Neal, Darren Waller, more

A few thoughts before the Giants open their season

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Carolina Panthers v New York Giants Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

We have been debating how the 2023 New York Giants will do for months. We begin to find out Sunday night against the Dallas Cowboys. Before kickoff, here are some ‘things I think’.

Daniel Jones

The New York Giants are about to enter into a fascinating two-year journey with quarterback Daniel Jones.

There was a lot of angst when the Giants gave Jones a four-year, $160 million contract this offseason. $40 million per year? For Jones? Seriously? Thing is, that number was never actually outlandish. Look at these:

Jones is now tied for 10th with Dak Prescott and Matthew Stafford in both average annual value and total contract value. He is just ahead of Derek Carr and Jared Goff. In other words, his paycheck is just about right when it comes to the quarterback pecking order.

The important thing about Jones’ contract, though, is that is includes only two years of guaranteed money.

There is pressure on Jones entering the 2023 season. Even though Jones led the Giants to a playoff berth a year ago, GM Joe Schoen didn’t pay him for what he did last year. He paid him because what Jones did last year made the Giants think he could do even more with better weapons and more time in the Brian Daboll-Mike Kafka offensive system.

So, now Jones has to do more. Can he? Will he?

Most national analysts who study quarterback play think he can, and will. So do I. Jones looked really good, and really comfortable, all summer. Jared Goff of the Detroit Lions went from 3,245 yards passing and 19 touchdown passes in 2021 to 4,438 yards and 29 TDs last year. The Giants would likely take a similar leap from Jones, who passed for 3,205 yards and 15 TDs in 2022.

Jones has to show that he is the quarterback who can help the Giants rise to the level of the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles, a quarterback who can make them a legitimate contender.

Sunday night is the first piece of data to be collected. I think it’s going to be an interesting journey.

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Rooting for Evan Neal

I have said before that I root for players. Evan Neal is one of those guys. He is a hard-working, serious, accountable young man. He is the anti-Ereck Flowers and the anti-anti-Kadarius Toney.

Neal had the worst game of his football life last year against the Dallas Cowboys. I think that if you have a heart, much less concern for whether the Giants win or lose, you have to hope Neal plays well on Sunday night.

I had a brief chat with him in the locker room this week and I know Sunday night means an awful lot to him.

I also think I am mad at myself for not doing the terrific story Charlotte Carroll of The Athletic did recently on the offseason work Neal did with Willie Anderson and Duke Manyweather during the offseason.

The story is worth your time. Here is a snippet:

“These big guys are always told to bend and get low,” Manyweather said. “Well, the fact of the matter is, you draft big physical guys to be f—— big and physical. And me and Bobby [Johnson, Giants OL coach] were on the same page with that. We want Evan to be big. We want Evan to play big, so to speak. So that means not shrinking himself in his stance, not curling up where he’s like coiled up. We want guys to (have) to rush through all 6-foot-7, 340 pounds of Evan. If Evan plays like that, staying square in his sets, being patient with his hands … it’s very difficult for guys to get around him.”

Dangers of Darren

It has been all sunshine and roses for Darren Waller and the Giants since the offseason trade that brought him from the Las Vegas Raiders to New York. The caveat to all of the rosey prognostications about what Waller could do for the Giants’ offense has always been “if he is healthy.”

Up until Friday, that was just a phrase we had to write. Now, with Waller popping up on the injury report as questionable with a hamstring injury, it’s a real thing.

It has, honestly, always been a real thing. Waller missed 14 games over the past two seasons with injuries — ankle, IT band, hamstring. The Giants and Waller were careful throughout the summer, but whether Waller suits up Sunday night or not this is a stark reminder that, tantalizing talent aside, building a passing attack with Waller as the centerpiece is a risky proposition.

Andrew Thomas selection looking better and better

Remember the days when Giants, including many at this site, were gnashing their teeth in frustration because the Giants played themselves out of position to draft Chase Young by winning two of their last three games in 2019?

Remember when the Giants had to settle for Andrew Thomas with the fourth overall pick? And, on top of that, when many thought the Giants had selected the wrong offensive tackle?

Well, Young’s continued inability to get on the field — and Thomas’s rise to becoming one of the best left tackles in football — is making that look better all the time.

Young played just nine games in 2021 with only 1.5 sacks before suffering a knee injury. He played only three games last season with no sacks. Now, Young is out again. He suffered a stinger after playing just four snaps in Washington’s preseason opener, and has not been cleared for contact since.

Just remember this circumstance the next time you go into a draft thinking all will be lost if the Giants don’t get the one player you have fallen in love with.