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State of the New York Giants: Eye on the Enemy check-in

The Giants took a big step forward in 2022, did they do enough this spring to take another one?

NFL: NFC Divisional Round-New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

In the days leading up to the Eagles’ NFC Divisional Round playoff game against the Giants earlier this year, there was some handwringing among the faithful about beating the same team three times in one season.

During the regular season, the Birds smoked the Giants in New York, 48-22 and, with the No. 1 seed hanging in the balance and a two-game losing streak breathing down their neck, the Birds’ starters pulled out a scary 22-16 win over New York’s back-ups in Week 18.

Jalen Hurts was back, but he looked rusty in that final game, and when the Giants pulled out a solid 31-24 win in the wild card round over the Vikings in Minnesota, a fair number of analysts claimed Philadelphia was ripe for an upset in the divisional round, arguing it’s difficult to beat a team three times in one season.

Of course, that argument was debunked at the time and, true to form, the Eagles left no doubt about the size of the gap between the two teams in a dominating performance at the Linc, 38-7.

The mission for the Giants this off-season was clear.

Bridge the talent gap, both with the Cowboys and the Eagles.

On the most recent edition of the Eye on the Enemy podcast, I talked with Ed Valentine of Big Blue View for his thoughts on a busy off-season for the Giants.

Daniel Jones Gets a Big-Money Deal

Did the Giants do the right thing hitching their wagons to Daniel Jones long-term?

“When you look at the situation, if the Giants weren’t going to follow the Minnesota Vikings model and blowing everything up despite the fact they were a playoff team, if they weren’t going to blow everything up, what choice did they really have?

I think the $40 million price tag has people thrown for a loop. When you look at it, that’s more money than I think we all anticipated the Giants would pay. But when you look at it, that’s mid-tier quarterback money in this market. When you look at Joe Burrow, Trevor Lawrence and Justin Herbert, when they get paid, Daniel Jones’ contract is going to be around the 15th highest among NFL QBs, and that puts him right in the middle of the market.”

Valentine argues the structure of the deal essentially allows the Giants to get out of the contract after year two, giving them some needed flexibility.

Saquon Barkley’s Contract

Barkley had a tremendous bounce-back season for the Giants, rushing for 1312 yards and 10 TDs, but had no 100+ rushing performances after Week 9. He doesn’t appear happy to play on the franchise tag and has made that displeasure known. How much will that affect his 2023 season and off-season participation?

“It’s best for both sides if they get a long term deal done. The question becomes, just how hard-headed does Saquon want to be when it comes to the reality of the way the market is right now? Saquon would like $13 or $14 million a year, something that would make him the 2nd or 3rd highest paid running back in the league. But is this market going to sustain that, is he going to get that in this market? What it comes down to, the Giants have him on the franchise tag, that tag this year is worth $10.1 million. If you franchise him this year and he plays on it, the tag next year is slightly over $12 million. That’s about $22 million in guaranteed money if he simply plays on the tag for the next two years.

Are the Giants willing to give him a contract, no matter what the AAV is, that guarantees more money than that over the next two years? If they are, maybe they can get a deal done.

I think the sweet spot is 3 years, $39 million with the first two years guaranteed.”

Upgrading Offensive Weapons

The Giants needed to upgrade the weapons around Jones, specifically in the passing game. They retained Darius Slayton and Sterling Shephard and they still have Isaiah Hodgins, then they signed Parris Campbell and Jamison Crowder and traded for tight end Darren Waller.

Waller was acquired via trade for a third round pick, of which the Giants had two, for the upside of a potential No. 1 wide receiver, bulk tight end. However, Waller has been beset by injuries the last two seasons, with just 11 games and 665 yards in 2021 and 9 games with 388 receiving yards last year. He turns 31 later this year and will hope to replace the production lost from the departed Richie James, who led the team with 57 catches and was second in yards with 569.

They signed Parris Campbell to be a speed receiver on a one-year deal coming off a season in which he set career highs in catches (73), yards (623) and touchdowns (5). He has an extensive injury history too, but was healthy for all 17 games last season. They also still have Sterling Shepard, Darius Slayton and Isaiah Hodgins, with Slayton’s 724 receiving yards highest on the team.

The Giants have added a lot of speed on the outside, but how much better is the passing game?

“It is significantly better if these guys are healthy. If Darren Waller is healthy, he’s a guy who is still a top-5 or 6 tight end in the NFL and brings a skill set that they didn’t have. The question is, can he stay healthy, which he hasn’t done the last two yeas. If he’s healthy, the passing attack is very, very different than it was a year ago.

In terms of the depth chart, the starters are Hodgins and Slayton, probably with Parris Campbell in the slot and then it largely depends on health. Does Shepard have anything left? Is he going to be ready for the start of the season?”

It’s a really interesting thing because, you haven’t been able to look at the Giants and think of them as a fast group on the outside for a very, very long time.”

Anything to Help the Defense?

The Giants spent most of the off-season focusing on offensive upgrades, but they did add one name they hope will make a major impact, former Colts linebacker Bobby Okereke, signing him to a four-year deal. Okereke has not missed a game the last two years and, during his four-year career in Indianapolis, totaled 420 tackles, four forced fumbles, two sacks and three interceptions.

“The Giants had a revolving door at inside linebacker last year. The two guys who started Week 1 were by the end of the season. They went through three or four different iterations of groups at inside linebacker and by the end of the year, converted safeties Landon Collins and Tony Jefferson were playing linebacker snaps during passing downs, so they were searching. Okereke is a huge signing for them.”

High Marks for the Draft

The Giants were busy and most experts believe they had an outstanding first two days. In the first round, they selected Deonte Banks at cornerback, got great value on the second round pick, center John Michael Schmitz, who will like start Week 1, and in the third grabbed receiver Jalin Hyatt. The questions revolve around how much the Giants are going to depend on these rookies in their first season. Is Banks a Corner 1 able to lock down a guy like A.J. Brown and Cee Dee Lamb? Will center John Michael Schmitz be the opening week center? And given all the receiver additions and retentions this off-season, how does third rounder Jalin Hyatt factor into all of that?

“The Giants would very much like Dionte Banks to be the starter in Week 1. Whether that happens, we’ll have to see in training camp. He’s been working with the starting group and if it continues to trend that way, if he continues to play well, I think that’s what the Giants would really, really like. Can he be a cornerback 1? Sauce Gardner, Jets cornerback, Defensive Rookie of the Year, he ruined it for rookie cornerbacks everywhere. What he did is the exception, not the rule. It’s an unrealistic expectation for him to walk in and be a cornerback 1 right away.

Schmitz is penciled in as the starter, and it most definitely is in pencil. I think John Michael Schmitz can handle it, but we’ll have to wait and see. The question is can he handle the physical aspects of the job. We’ll wait until training camp and see what happens when he tries to block Dexter Lawrence.”

Hyatt will not be watching most of the season, but he won’t threaten any rookie wide receiving records. He’s a guy who has a lot to learn, coming out of that unique Tennessee offense. Speed is speed, and you can always use that straight line speed to stretch the defense and make big plays. I don’t want to say he’s a developmental project, but he’s a guy who had a lot to learn to be a complete NFL wide receiver.”

How Much Closer Have They Gotten to the Eagles?

Giants fans are feeling pretty good about things.

“You can make the argument that, across the board, at almost every position, there’s potential for the Giants to be better in 2023. When you flip that and you look at the Eagles, the Eagles are still a finished product. I think the Giants have closed the talent gap somewhat, if the additions they’ve made, if most of them work out in a positive way. Are they there yet? Absolutely not. Is there a possibility that the season goes sideways? Absolutely. But I do think that this is a better Giants roster than the one they finished 2022 with.”

The 9-7-1 Giants start the ‘23 season in Dallas vs. the Cowboys and will play the Eagles twice in three weeks, but not until Christmas Day in Week 16 and then again on Sunday, January 7th in the final game of the season once more, in New York.

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