Our 20223 NFL Preview takes us to the Empire State, where the Giants look to build upon the success of advancing to the playoffs for the first time since 2016. Indeed, the first season under the stewardship of (Head Coach) Brian Daboll and (General Manager) Joe Schoen was a smashing success for Big Blue, who recorded just their second winning record in a decade. (Young Quarterback) Daniel Jones really began to flourish under Daboll’s tutelage, while (Pro-Bowl Tailback) Saquon Barkley bounced back after consecutive injury-riddled campaigns, amassing a career-high in rushing yards along the way. So, what’s next for New York? Will Jones continue his growth under the current regime? Will Barkley replicate his production now that he has returned on a one-year deal? Let’s take a stroll through the Meadowlands for a look into all things G-Men…
One of the mandates of the new regime upon their arrival last season was finding a solution at Quarterback, and whether or not that would in fact be Daniel Jones, whom they drafted sixth overall back in 2019. Needless to say, the first three seasons of his career left a lot to be desired, as Jones (pictured right) amassed a disappointing 12-25 record (.324) as the starter, completing 62.8% of his passes for an average of 221.0 yards per game on 6.6 yards per attempt, with forty-five touchdowns in comparison to twenty-nine interceptions. Furthermore, fumbles were a HUGE issue for the Duke product, coughing up the pigskin on THIRTY-SEVEN occasions and losing TWENTY of them, the most in the NFL between 2019 and 2021. Entering the final season of his initial rookie contract, 2022 was to be a make-or-break year for the QB, who thankfully exhibited a wealth of growth in his first season within Daboll’s scheme; Jones posted career-highs in a slew of categories, including completion percentage (67.2%), yards per attempt (6.8), QBR (60.8), game-winning drives (5) and fourth quarter comebacks (4), all the while tossing a career-low five interceptions. However, his biggest impact came as a rusher, with Daboll opting to put his mobility to use rather than continuously forcing a proverbial round peg into a square hole. Jones logged a career-best 708 rushing yards and seven scores on 5.9 yards per carry, many of which were designed run plays. Though there is still plenty of room for the 26-year-old to improve, it’s clear that Daboll and Schoen have seen enough from his progress to warrant keeping him in New York for the foreseeable future, inking him to a four-year, $160 million contract, including $92 million in total guarantees. With that said, the deal is overly frontloaded, affording the franchise the opportunity to release him with just $18 million in dead cap space in 2025. Furthermore, the G-Men continued to open the check book for his supporting cast, signing (Left Tackle) Andrew Thomas to a mammoth five-year contract worth $117.5 million, including $67 million in total guarantees, making him the second-highest paid Offensive Lineman in the league. Similar to Jones, the Georgia product struggled throughout the first few seasons of his career with Big Blue, though developed into a second-team All-Pro under Daboll’s watch, turning a position group that was previously a glaring weakness into a strength. The Giants ranked fourth in the NFL in rushing yards (148.2) and touchdowns (21), along with fifth in yards per carry (4.8), and these two figures were major components of that. With that being said, there is another large piece of the puzzle that has commanded the bulk of headlines this offseason, whose immediate future looms greatly over that of the club….
The Barkley Dilemma
If there is one takeaway to be had from this offseason, it is that the devaluation of the Running Back position has reached rather ridiculous levels. When it came to issue franchise tags prior to the onset of free agency, a number of high-profile rushers were tagged by the respective teams, chief among them being Saquon Barkley, who similar to the aforementioned Jones, balled out in a contract year. Drafted second overall back in 2018, Barkley (pictured right) led the NFL with a whopping 2,208 yards from scrimmage en route to taking home Offensive Rookie of the Year honors, though would struggle with injuries over the following three seasons, setting up a crucial 2022 campaign that would ultimately decide whether or not his future would remain in the Big Apple. And thus, the Penn State product turned in a career year, logging personal bests in rushes (295), rushing yards (1,312), and yards per game (4.4), while continuing to be a factor in the passing attack with fifty-seven receptions for another 338 yards. All in all, the two-time Pro-Bowler accounted for 1,650 of the Giants’ 5,676 total yardage, equating to 29.0% of their offense, most of any non-Quarterback in the league. Understandably, Barkley sought to be paid as such, which inevitably meant that he was to be tagged by New York. Unwilling to sign the franchise tender, the deadline for the 26-year-old to put pen to paper came and went, while he turned heads in a number of interviews in which he stated that he would consider sitting out the entire season if it meant achieving his aims of a lucrative payday. However, credit Daboll and Schoen for coming up with an uncommon, yet creative solution; New York offered their star Tailback a revised one-year deal that improved upon the terms of the franchise tag for the position, consisting of $10.9 million with a $2 million signing bonus. While this pact will keep Barkley’s services with Big Blue for one more season, it all but guarantees that the two parties will find themselves in this very same position next Spring, though tagging him once again would result in a 120% increase over the previous deal, while only further alienating arguably their top performer. However, this simply appears to be the reality for players at his position, for in an offseason in which the club handed out bags to the aforementioned Jones and Thomas along with (Defensive Tackle) Dexter Lawrence totaling over $85 million in salary this season, the offense’s most indispensable player finds himself left making a fraction of that.
The Brain Trust
After spending the bulk of a decade mired in mediocrity, the Giants finally got their @#$% together last season, importing a new brain trust to lead them into what they hope will become a successful, new era. In fact, they didn’t have to look far, for the answer was residing on the state’s western front, where the aforementioned tandem of Daboll and Schoen were playing major roles in the Bills’ ascension to AFC elite. During their time together, the former was credited with the development of (All-Pro Quarterback) Josh Allen, whose meteoric rise had propelled the franchise to three consecutive division titles, while the latter earned a wealth of plaudits for continuously identifying a plethora of talent as the team’s Assistant General Manager. And it is with that said that Daboll and Schoen (pictured together above) got down to business and not only took inventory of what they had on their hands in the Meadowlands, but in many respects found ways to accentuate it. A misfiring offense that ranked thirty-first in both total yards and points scored in each of the two seasons prior to his arrival, grew exponentially in 2022; the Giants finished fifteenth in points (21.5), eighteenth in total offense (350.0), and second in turnovers (16). Furthermore, a number of players who had struggled under the previous regime began to flourish under his watch, including the aforementioned Jones and Thomas, who were both candidates to be released or traded, only to earn lucrative new second contracts with the franchise. As a result, New York not only advanced to the playoffs for the first time in seven years, but upset the Vikings in the Wild Card Round, earning their first postseason victory since winning Super Bowl XLVI back in 2012. To no surprise, Daboll became the league’s latest recipient of its Coach of the Year honors. Now, entering their second season in the Big Apple, there is mounting pressure to continue this growth into year number two. While the offense limited their mistakes and controlled games via the run, they were far from effective throwing it, ranking twenty-sixth in passing yards (201.8), twenty-fourth in passing touchdowns (17), and twenty-seventh in net yards per attempt (5.55), along with twenty-second in third down conversion rate (36.8%). Indeed, playmakers are needed in the passing game, and Schoen managed to engineer a deal for (former Pro-Bowl Tight End) Darren Waller in a trade with the Raiders, adding the kind of athletic, rangy pass-catcher that the offense needs. However, this move isn’t without its share of risk; after posting back-to-back 1,100-yard campaigns, Waller missed fourteen games over the last two seasons due to various injuries, limiting his receiving output to just eighty-three receptions for 1,053 yards and five touchdowns. The G-Men also addressed the position in last April’s Draft, selecting (Tennessee product) Jalin Hyatt in the third round; the Biletnikoff winner led the SEC with 1,267 receiving yards and fifteen touchdowns in his final season in Knoxville, thriving in the Vols’ revamped, up-tempo attack.
Projected Finish: 9-8
One of the feel-good stories of last season, the Giants were indeed a pleasant surprise in not only getting into the playoffs for the first time since 2016, but knocking off the third-seeded Vikings in the Wild Card Round along the way. Daboll and Schoen did a tremendous job of turning New York around, addressing their litany of weaknesses and turning many of them into strengths, including a number of notable players that had struggled mightily under the previous regime. After rewarding those players with lucrative contracts, expectations are rising in the Meadowlands, with Big Blue primed to make another leap. However, there is still a considerable distance between this side simply being a playoff team and a championship contender, with a few factors likely to decide to whether or not that comes to pass. Will Jones manage to improve as a passer in his second campaign within Daboll’s scheme? Will Waller turn back the clock and help facilitate his QB’s growth? Will Barkley be locked in despite being on a one-year deal? That’s a lot of ifs, folks, which may be too much for them leap either the Cowboys or Eagles in the competitive NFC East…