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Big Blue View mailbag: Evan Neal ... and a few other topics

The mail’s here!

Let’s open the Big Blue View Mailbag and see what questions we can answer from a justifiably upset New York Giants fan base.

Alan Backman asks: Think you know that I’m a long time reader of BBV. I wrote the comment below with a focus on your piece today, “Beyond over-reaction, what do the Giants do now”.

“I like Valentine a lot. Been reading him for years. But this seems to be his MO and that of the kool aid drinkers. They start with obvious hyperbole ... fire Schoen. fire Daboll ... change the name of the Giants to the Tinkerbells. etc. Then they try to say it’s ok that the Giants have a talent deficit and lay it on the coaches to work miracles. Then they come back to the personnel questions, throw up their hands and say, “Bottom line is there aren’t a lot of obvious, easy changes the Giants can make.” That may be true. It’s equally true that when your car is in an out-of-control skid due to bald tires and rainy weather, “there aren’t a lot of obvious, easy changes” either. That does NOT insulate the decision makers. Rather, you’ve got to think of these things AHEAD of time. Maybe replace the tires so you don’t get into that situation ? In terms of the Giants, the clear issue (to me) was the OT spot. Sure, you’ve got to be realistic. You can’t say in the last offseason, “let’s throw out Neal and go get a pro-bowler for $2 and a Subway coupon.” I get that. But would it really be “asking for the moon” to upgrade the backup OT ? Here’s an example. In the next offseason, Cornelius Lucas will be a FA. Though he’s 32 and has mostly been a backup, he has started 35 games in the last 4 years. Over 600 snaps per year. And he’s mainly graded in the 70’s (68, 75 and 78 in the last 3 years). And here’s the key point. He cost $4 m/yr ! The Giants have $51 m in cap space next offseason. If you want to go get a top FA to be a starter, hey, more power to you ! But is it really asking too much to spend roughly $4 m/yr to upgrade the swing OT? At least, that way, we don’t need to hear as much of - ”Bottom line is there aren’t a lot of obvious, easy changes the Giants can make.” You can give yourself the capacity for choices BEFORE it becomes so desperate and a time crunch that you pretend that you don’t have any choices.”

Ed says: Alan, I will bite on trying to answer this. If you understand my MO, you will recognize the answer. And, no, I am not trying to be snarky or condescending. This is what I see as the truth.

Do you honestly think Joe Schoen, Brian Daboll and the entire Giants organization don’t think about all of these contingencies ahead of time? Daboll and Schoen discuss the roster and what they might need to do to improve it almost every day all year long.

I have said for years that you cannot fix every potential problem, you can’t plug every potential hole, in a single offseason. The NFL is a league of limitations. There is a hard salary cap that cannot be exceeded. There are a limited number of draft choices available to teams each year. Players with enough accrued service time have free agency at their disposal, so they can choose to go where they can make more money, believe they have a better opportunity to play, or both.

You have to make choices. There is only so much money to spend. The Giants prioritized their own core, many of the players who helped them make the playoffs last season. Daniel Jones, Dexter Lawrence, Andrew Thomas, and, yes, Saquon Barkley.

They prioritized adding playmakers to a team that was last in the league in explosive plays a year ago. They prioritized using resources to bulk up a run defense that was atrocious a year ago. They went out and got Wink Martindale something they couldn’t get him a year ago, two young man-to-man cornerbacks who fit his defensive system.

Joe Schoen has used first-, second-, third- and fifth-round picks on the offensive line in two drafts. I think he understands that it is a priority. He spent free agent money on Mark Glowinski. Sure, he might have like to go after a higher-tier player, but he worked with the money he had available.

Maybe they would have liked to sign or draft another swing tackle. They had to make choices, though, and there is always an opportunity cost when you make a choice. Purchase or draft one thing, you can’t purchase or draft something else.

The Giants didn’t ignore a position, they looked at what they had and made a choice. They felt Matt Peart could do the job as a swing tackle, and maybe he can. They thought Tyre Phillips would be part of their roster, but they went through training camp and decided to move on. They believe Josh Ezeudu can play all across the line, and Sunday against Arizona he might get a chance to prove them right. Or wrong. They are still high on Marcus McKethan’s future.

Besides, Alan, you are complaining about what they have on the roster now and the decisions they have made with limited cap and draft resources while speculating about what they could or should do when they are likely to have more cap flexibility next offseason. That’s not really fair. What backup swing tackle would you have had them sign or draft, and which player they acquired would you have sacrificed to make that happen?

Ladies and gentleman, we have reached the Evan Neal portion of the program.

William Utter asks: Why don’t they slide Neal to guard? Back in the day that is where tackles started to get better? Peart and Neal maybe?

David Wright asks: You wrote this blurb in today’s piece:

“One thing I do have to acknowledge about Neal. I believe Falato is likely correct in his analysis that Neal might not be as athletic as we thought coming out of Alabama. His footwork, balance, and ability to re-direct don’t look like a player who is a smooth athlete”

This was basically the same assessment as Ereck Flowers. I remember watching Flowers go through the OL drills at the draft combine and he kept tripping over his own feet, and I thought to myself “ how does anyone think this guy is going to hold up at the tackle position in the NFL, let alone see him as a first-round pick?”

Do you think maybe Alabama players get a little over valued? Maybe try moving Neal to guard like other teams did with Flowers? Thoughts?

Jerry Hand asks: Ed, with the trouble that Evan Neal has with speed rushers, do you think they would be able to move him inside to guard and the Giants find another tackle in free agency next year or possibly the draft? He seems to have too much potential to throw in the towel on him.

Ronald Buchheim asks: Ed, you and many others have described Neal as an athletic guy with a lot of potential. Could you please explain why you thought he was athletic? Do you think he has good foot speed or agility? If so was that based on the combine results or on your observations On the field? And of course, the inevitable question, do you now think he should switch inside to guard?

Ed says: Lots of Neal questions this week, which was predictable. I will try to break it down and answer as many facets of the various questions as I can. Hopefully, I cover most — if not all — of the ground asked about.

The guard question

I understand this question. I really do. My answer, though, is going to be the same as it was last season and during the offseason leading up to this season.

It isn’t time yet. The Giants drafted Neal No. 7 overall because they believed he could be the team’s right tackle for the next several years. One awful game into his second season isn’t time to give up yet.

Now, if the type of play he exhibited on Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys becomes the norm, or if it just becomes obvious that he isn’t up to handling the job out on the outside, then I do think a move to guard could be possible.

When? I honestly don’t think that would happen until next season. Maybe the second half of this season if things are really bad, but to be fair to the young man you actually have to give him a real opportunity to practice inside so that he has a chance to perform there.

I believe the Giants would like to give him this season, unless it simply becomes untenable. I am not giving up on the idea that Neal can take steps forward this season after one game.

Some other thoughts

I don’t necessarily believe Alabama players get over-valued. I do believe that Neal doesn’t move as smoothly and efficiently as we thought he might. Can constant work with his revised technique improve or overcome that? Maybe.

Nick Molyneux asks: First time asking a question but long time reader. After Sunday’s awful performance by the team, especially the offensive line; are there really no free agent offensive linemen out there that would be considered upgrades? I know Risner, Norwell, and Lewan are still available. Would like to hear you thoughts on these players or any others that would be worth pursuing for the Giants.

Ed says: Nick, I think there are a few players out there who are interesting, but none are quick fixes. All are flawed, and there are reasons why the season is in Week 2 and these players do not have jobs. Understand that half to two-thirds of the teams in the league would love to find offensive line upgrades. It is not a Giants-specific issue.

The player Giants fans talk about most is ex-Giant Justin Pugh. On paper, Pugh has probably been a better player than Mark Glowinski throughout his career. Question is, how well can he play right now? He is 33, coming off a major knee injury and admitted to me recently that if and when he signs somewhere he will need to ramp up for a few weeks before he is game ready.

La’el Collins got released by the Cincinnati Bengals this week. He’s been a good player in the league as a right tackle, and fans are curious. Thing is, he had a torn ACL last year and was released from the PUP list — which means he hasn’t been healthy and there has to be a question of when he would be ready to play. Plus, if you look at the data he wasn’t good last year.

Dalton Risner and Andrew Norwell have been good players. In a league where there a lot of bad offensive linemen, I’d ask why are these guys jobless with the season going on? Is it money? Is it that guys want specific opportunities if they are going to play? I don’t know the answer to that. It’s possible one of these guys would be an upgrade. Again though, even if you bring one of them in it would likely be a few weeks before he would be ready to play.

So, there are no quick fixes from the outside. I think the Giants will try their young players first.

Seth Weissman asks: Yes, every aspect of the Giants’ game against Dallas was pathetic. But what eats at me is that the offensive line has now been bad for more than a decade. A decade. Regardless of whether guys have been drafted or signed as free agents, the line has been porous. So, my question is this: Is it more difficult to evaluate offensive linemen than other positions?

Ed says: Seth, I think quarterback is the most difficult position to evaluate at the college level. Look at how many teams miss on highly-drafted quarterbacks — more than actually hit, to be honest.

There are a ton of factors. The college game is different and it’s not easy for NFL teams to see the things they are going to want an offensive lineman to do. A lot of these guys never play in a 3-point stance, and some hardly do any run-blocking.

I asked Nick Falato his opinion. He said this:

“I wouldn’t say it’s more difficult to evaluate OL, but OL are just more difficult to find…it’s unnatural, especially in pass protection. You’re moving backward against an insane athlete running at you with momentum.”

Chris Pflum, who has done our pre-draft scouting reports for years, said this:

“I think my best answer is probably “Yes and no”. On the one hand, there’s uncertainty in projection at every position — and let’s be real, QB is definitely the hardest, since it’s the most complicated position. But also, there’s a pretty big jump in the level of competition from college to the NFL that puts deficiencies on display and can make early development rocky.

“College linemen only see the types of pass rushers they’ll see at the NFL level once or twice a season in school, and even in a really strong year for pass rushers, there scattered around the various conferences. But the NFL is made up of the Top 1 Percent of college players. So not only are young linemen seeing elite pass rushing athletes every week, the pass rushers they see are able to concentrate on football and really hone their craft. The difference in athleticism and more polished technique can put any deficiencies in a lineman’s game on stark display. They can’t really compensate by just being bigger, stronger, or on a better team, than the other guy, and defenses are getting pretty good at isolating and exploiting issues in their game. That’s not even counting the importance chemistry within the offensive line and five players being able to function as one unit.

“So while OL might not be the most difficult position group to scout, it’s definitely one of the harder ones. The players are always at an athletic disadvantage in the NFL and defenses are getting better and better at isolating and attacking weaknesses. Size and athleticism are great traits to have, but they need to enable good technique. It was probably easier to hit on linemen years ago, when teams only had one really good pass rusher, they weren’t running 4.5s 40’s, and defenses weren’t quite as creative in their defensive scheming. Now, scouting and developing young linemen is definitely tough.”

My final thought is that when you are scouting college players there is always projection involved. What do you think the player can become? What flaws does he have and are they things that can be improved or worked around? Sometimes players just don’t develop the way you think they will.

Edwin Gommers asks: What’s going on with McKinney. The contract extension for AT came probably somewhat early but maybe not completely unexpected given the Giants need for cap. Based on the draft order, McKinney was probably next. However Schoen keeps holding off on it. Yet on the other hand he went out and signed Gano to a new contract. The Giants signing DJ to a contract that was above Carr/Geno signaled something to Barkley. What signal does extending Gano, but holding off on McKinney give to McKinney? Are they still holding the ATV accident over him or is there more brewing?

Ed says: Edwin, Joe Schoen has been clear that he is not negotiating an extension with Xavier McKinney during the season. They will discuss a new contract with McKinney at the end of the season. I honestly wonder if they will do so at all.

I have addressed this before. In three seasons, McKinney has had one good, healthy year. He really wasn’t doing anything out of the ordinary last season before the ATV accident, and one good season out of three does not get you an extension.

The Giants won’t say it but I absolutely believe the ATV accident caused the Giants to lose some trust in McKinney. Say what you want, but that was a self-inflicted injury that happened because he put his desire to go have fun and see the world ahead of making certain he stayed healthy and available to do his job.

The Giants, I think rightly, want to see what McKinney does this year before deciding whether to be tied to him long-term. He needs to prove he deserves it.

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