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Week 18 storylines? Nah, offseason storylines are the ones that matter for Giants

Let’s look ahead to what comes after the Giants finish their season on Sunday

Dallas Cowboys v New York Giants
What does the future look like for Saquon Barkley and Daniel Jones?
Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

Normally in this ‘storylines’ space, we take a look at the major New York Giants storylines vs. whatever opponent they are facing that week. It is, though, Week 18 of a season for the 5-11 Giants in which a playoff-less outcome has long since been determined.

The Giants-Philadelphia Eagles storyline is a simple one. If they Giants win, they guarantee the Eagles can’t win the NFC East title but could move down from No. 5 to No. 8 in the 2024 NFL Draft order. Lose, the Giants have a slim chance of rising as high as No. 2 in the draft.

More important, and far more interesting as the calendar year has turned to 2024, are the storylines to come in what will be anything but a simple offseason for the Giants. Let’s touch on the biggest ones.

This will be mostly a high-level look at each of these storylines, an appetizer for deeper dives to comes on many of the critical decisions facing GM Joe Schoen and head coach Brian Daboll heading into the 2024 season.

The quarterback question

Schoen was clear that the Giants expect Daniel Jones, in Year 2 of his four-year, $160 million contract, to be the starting quarterback as soon as he is healthy enough to return to that role. When that will be as he rehabs from his torn ACL is anyone’s guess.

The bigger questions, though, are who will join Jones in the 2024 quarterback room and how that shapes the position for the franchise beyond the 2024 season.

The Giants currently have the No. 5 overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft. They could end up picking anywhere from No. 2 to No. 8 depending upon the outcomes of the season’s final weekend of NFL games.

Caleb Williams and Drake Maye are considered the top two quarterbacks. Heisman Trophy winner Jayden Daniels is, right now, the consensus QB3. Do the Giants do what they have to do, even trading up if necessary, to snag one of those guys? Do they look to the second tier of J.J. McCarthy, Michael Penix Jr., Bo Nix? Do they punt the big question of whether or not they need to move to a post-Jones era until after next season?

Who fills out the room? Tommy DeVito is on a cheap deal, got valuable experience this season and will be back. Tyrod Taylor probably won’t be, with cost being a big factor. Even with DeVito and a potential draft pick, the Giants need at least one more quarterback to get through spring and summer practices until Jones is cleared to take the field.

Who will that be? And will it be a camp-level arm like Jacob Eason or a legitimate QB2 like Jacoby Brissett or Gardner Minshew? Probably the former, since if they wanted the latter the Giants would likely just pay Taylor to stick around.

Saquon ... and other free agents

The Giants have to make decisions on whether to try to retain or let go of several impending free agents. Xavier McKinney, Adoree’ Jackson, Justin Pugh, Ben Bredeson, Sterling Shepard, A’Shawn Robinson, Parris Campbell, Jihad Ward, Isaiah Simmons are among them.

We will dive more deeply into who should stay or go at a later date.

The biggest name, though, is Saquon Barkley. What will happen this offseason with the star running back?

The Giants and Barkley tried to negotiate a long-term deal last offseason, and failed. They were reportedly only $1-2 million apart in total value and guaranteed money on a three-year deal.

Can they come to an agreement this offseason? Do the Giants even want to, considering that Barkley is a year older, had another leg injury in 2023 and the Giants had yet another double-digit loss season with Barkley as the centerpiece?

Barkley, drafted No. 2 overall, has always been an outstanding representative for the franchise and has said he would like to be a Giant his whole career. Last week, Barkley seemed to be aware that he may not get his wish.

“I feel like everybody is in a different position. Some people know that this is their last year here, technically. You never know, you could sign back or not. Some guys have multiple-year deals where they are here. Me personally, knowing that the future is kind of unknown, it definitely crosses your mind, but I just try to take in every moment and just enjoy my time and go out there and compete with my teammates,” he said. “That’s kind of the mindset that I’ve been having. Obviously, the future is uncertain. My contract situation last year was a hot topic, but I feel like whenever that happens, I’ll worry about that then.”

Wink ... and the rest of the coaching staff

What happens to Brian Daboll’s coaching staff is going to be one of the fascinating stories of the early portion of the 2024 NFL offseason.

Daboll was widely lauded for the coaching staff he put together when he first took the Giants’ head-coaching job before the 2022 season, especially for going outside his circle and hiring a number of coaches he had never worked with. That staff won praise from all corners of the NFL world as the Giants made a surprising run to the playoffs last season.

Now, cracks have appeared.

Strength coach Craig Fitzgerald has moved on to the same job at Florida. Running backs coach Jeff Nixon has been courted by Syracuse University to become its offensive coordinator. While he has not taken play-calling duties from offensive coordinator Mike Kafka, Daboll has been said to have become more involved in the offense at times this season.

Nothing has been bigger news, though, that reported friction between Daboll and defensive coordinator Wink Martindale. Jay Glazer of FOX Sports reported in November that the relationship between the two was in a “bad place” and might not survive the season.

Well, it has survived the season. Both have downplayed any issues, but where there is a Glazer report there is almost certainly at least some truth, if not significant truth.

What are the differences between Daboll and Martindale? Can they be patched up? Does Daboll want them patched up, or does he want Wink gone? Does Martindale, who will have plenty of teams banging on his door asking them to run defense should he leave on his own or be booted off the Giants’ premises, want to work it out?

I have said before that I believe it would be best for the Giants if Daboll and Martindale brokered whatever peace treaty is necessary. Martindale is good at what he does, and his experience allows Daboll to focus on other parts of his job. And the players, aside from McKinney’s midseason rant about not being heard, seem to enjoy playing for and working with Martindale.

So, what will happen there? What about Kafka, who might not want to stick around if Daboll assumes play-calling duties next year, special teams coach Thomas McGaughey or offensive line coach Bobby Johnson? What other position coaches will not be retained, or will choose on their own to seek new opportunities?

Fixing the offensive line ... again

It seems like we could pretty much cut and paste this topic from similar posts/discussions over the past 10 or 12 years. So, here we go again.

This starts with whether Johnson is the right offensive line coach. The Giants have given up a league-worst 83 sacks and, in a league filled with putrid offensive line play, the Giants have clearly had the worst play in the league at that position.

The Giants have struggled to pick up elementary defensive line stunts all season. No matter who plays, they haven’t protected the passer. There are seldom lanes for Barkley to run in.

Perhaps most alarmingly, it isn’t hard to argue that none of the four players Schoen has drafted in two seasons has improved.

We have talked at length about Evan Neal, and what to do with or about him is a problem.

What about second-round pick John Michael Schmitz? He looks like an answer at center and looks like he should be a good player. His Week 1 Pro Football Focus, though, was 39.5. His grades the last two weeks are 44.3 and 23.5. He gave up eight pressures last week against the Rams in what was clearly his worst NFL game. Is he improving? I don’t know.

Have 2022 draft picks Josh Ezeudu and Marcus McKethan gotten better?

The Giants have decisions to make about free agent guards Justin Pugh and Ben Bredeson. They have to figure out if Tyre Phillips will be available to them next season. They have to decide where Neal will play, or even if he should be part of the starting five.

The line is a mess. It’s been a mess for the Giants since Week 1. In reality, it’s been a mess since at least 2013 or before. It has to get better if the Giants are ever going to get better.

Find more difference makers

Much of the focus last offseason was about closing the talent gap between the Giants and the better teams in the league, like the Eagles, Dallas Cowboys, Kansas City Chiefs and others.

It takes more than one season to build the stockpiles of talent the better teams in the NFL have. The number of lopsided losses the Giants have suffered and their -158 point differential, third-worst in the NFL, tells you the Giants are long way from where they need to be.

We can, and will, spend the offseason arguing about what the teams priorities should be. Quarterback? Wide receiver? Offensive line? Defensive line? Edge rusher? Cornerback? Just about anywhere else?

In my view, this comes back to the same thing I say every year — the Giants need difference makers. They need a quarterback who makes the players around him better, not one who needs his surroundings to be idyllic to succeed. They need another Andrew Thomas or two on the offensive line. They need a receiver who makes Darius Slayton into what he really should be, an outstanding No. 2. They need more Dexter Lawrence, Kayvon Thibodeaux, Bobby Okereke type game-changing players on defense.

Those difference makers don’t grow on trees. They aren’t easy to find. Sometimes players you think fit the description end up not working out. Difference makers, though, is what the Giants need to be seeking.