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Giants’ future at safety hinges on Xavier McKinney decision

Will McKinney stay with Giants, or move on?

Philadelphia Eagles v New York Giants Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

The New York Giants lost Julian Love to the Seattle Seahawks in free agency before the 2023 season, and the former team captain went on to make his first Pro Bowl. Love was the versatile adhesive of the 2022 defense, but his departure opened an opportunity for other young safeties to prove themselves.

Could the Giants find themselves in a similar situation this offseason, when Xavier McKinney can be a free agent?

2023 in review

The roster

Xavier McKinney, Jason Pinnock, Dane Belton, Gervarrius Owens

McKinney played every defensive snap for the New York Giants in 2023. He handled every assignment one can imagine: box, robber, match, man-cover (tight end/slot), post, deep-half, and a lot of creative coverages schemed up by Wink Martindale. It’s difficult to accurately describe McKinney’s importance to Martindale’s defense.

McKinney - a team captain - broke his hand in Cabo, Mexico, in an ATV accident during the Giants 2022 season. Some fans harbored resentment and deemed McKinney’s actions reckless. Entering a contract season, it was imperative for McKinney to excel, and he did just that.

He had a career-high 116 tackles, 78 solo, two for a loss, 11 passes defended, three interceptions, a forced fumble, two fumble recoveries, and four pressures, with a missed tackle rate of just 5.7%; of safeties that played at least 50% of their team’s snaps, McKinney had the lowest tackle rate in the league.

McKinney did have a public spat after the Raiders’ loss with the former Giants’ defensive coordinator, which may have added fuel to an existing fire between Martindale and Brian Daboll. The disagreement was over players’ voices not being heard, and Martindale did not take the criticism quietly. Nevertheless, McKinney’s effort, versatility, and overall competence were positive for the 2023 Giants.

The question of who would replace Love was quickly answered in training camp. The battle was mainly between Jason Pinnock and Dane Belton. The former secured the honor of starting safety, seemingly after he intercepted Daniel Jones in spectacular fashion during training camp.

Pinnock oozes upside; big, strong, long, fast, rangy, he can hit, and he’s only 24 years old. Pinnock joined McKinney in the 1,000-snap club; he was one of three Giants in the group (Bobby Okereke joined McKinney in playing every snap during the season).

Pinnock finished the year with 85 tackles, 59 solo, six for a loss, six passes defended, 10 pressures, and a pair of sacks, forced fumbles, and interceptions. He did have 13 missed tackles, which gave him a 13.7% missed tackle rate. He did appear to miss tackles that led to big plays for the offense. That is one thing that must be cleaned up next season.

Still, the tandem of Pinnock and McKinney was solid, and Belton was a solid third option who finished the season strongly after Pinnock suffered an injury early in Week 17 that kept him out of the final week of the season.

Belton often finds himself in the right place at the right time. In just 295 snaps, which mostly came in the final three weeks of the season, Belton recorded 33 tackles, 22 solo tackles, three for a loss, a sack, and a fumble recovery, with a pair of interceptions and passes defended.

His primary contribution was on special teams, where he played 347 snaps. Belton’s 2023 season appeared disappointing near the end of the season. He played a collective 22 snaps from Weeks 12-15, but he finished strong, forced turnovers, and reminded me that he’s talented in certain areas. He just may need to get more consistent as an alley defender - he missed 22.9% of his tackles.

The Giants also had Gervarrius Owens, a rookie safety out of Houston. He did not play on defense and only played 37 special teams snaps. He’s a depth option with something to prove now that Thomas McGaughey and Wink Martindale are no longer in town.

2024 outlook

McKinney is set to be a free agent, which will be a huge decision for GM Joe Schoen and the Giants. I, for one, don’t like the idea of allowing a talented and versatile 24-year-old to walk out the door. New York has allowed far too many quality young players to leave the franchise after their first contract. However, it does all come down to economics. Here are some thoughts on that:

I’m hoping the Giants and McKinney can find common ground around, or slightly more if need be, than the contract laid out by PFF’s Brad Spielberger. However, if the Giants do decide to go in another direction, they have just the three safeties listed above on their roster.

Regardless of McKinney’s presence, the Giants have to add players to the position. If McKinney remains a Giant, it can be depth pieces. But if McKinney does leave, the Giants will have to bring in serious competition at safety to push Belton. This is, of course, also dependent on what defensive coordinator Brian Daboll and the Giants select.

There’s still a lot that has to happen before the start of free agency. Still, it would be nice to secure McKinney for the foreseeable future, for he can fit into any system and handle any assignment he’s tasked to execute.