The chaotic New York Giants train ride came to a merciless end in the season finale with a surprising victory over a reeling Philadelphia Eagles squad. The Giants finished with an ugly 6-11 record and won three meaningless contests from Week 11-14 to drop out of the race for a marquee quarterback in this year's draft. To say New York endured a disastrous campaign is an understatement.
NFL pundits shook their heads in disbelief last March when Giants general manager Joe Schoen signed quarterback Daniel Jones to a four-year, $160 million contract extension. The sixth overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft went 1-5 in six starts before suffering a season-ending knee injury. His ceiling proved to be much lower than what Schoen envisioned last spring.
We are happy with the decision we made," Schoen said after signing Jones to the lucrative deal. "If he's just at his floor right now, I'm real excited about what his ceiling is going to be."
The terrible decision to throw franchise quarterback money at Jones is just one of a long list of problems the Giants must deal with this offseason. New York's best offensive player, running back Saquon Barkley, remains underappreciated and underpaid. The leadership skills of second-year head coach Brian Daboll will be under a microscope going forward after an unexpected coaching staff makeover.
New York will have the sixth pick in this year's draft and most mock drafts have the team drafting an offensive lineman. However, the Giants are not a very good football team and have a roster that needs a significant overall to be competitive in the rugged NFC East.
The Giants have a lot to work on, and it will be interesting to see how New York's top NFL sportsbooks rate them ahead of the next season. Below are some of the major questions facing the Giants this winter:
It's no secret to Giants' fans that Schoen has the team headed in the wrong direction. The number of head-scratching decisions from the GM is beginning to pile up. The decision to overpay Jones while underpaying Barkley remains at the top of the list. But trading a third-round pick for injury-prone tight end Darren Waller was also a mistake.
Waller missed five games due to a hamstring strain and ended his first season in the Big Apple with 52 receptions for 552 yards and a lone touchdown. However, Schoen said he has no regrets pulling the trigger on the trade.
"Yeah, I would do it again," Schoen said on Black Monday. "I would do it again with Waller. I mean, you guys saw him this spring, you saw him in the summer. Unfortunately, he had the injury before the Dallas game. Again, he was still a productive part of our offense when available. I would do that again every day of the week."
Schoen extended a trio of fourth-year rookie contracts last year but opted to let starting safety Xavier McKinney play out the final year of his rookie deal. McKinney is now an unrestricted free agent and is confident of earning a big payday. If the Giants place the franchise tag on the young defensive standout, the projected cost in 2024 is $17.2 million.
"I'm the most complete safety out there, and it's about time for some respect to that, too," McKinney said earlier this week. "So, I think I am the best safety in this league and I'll continue to prove that."
Although the Giants enter the offseason with a myriad of question marks, solving the dilemma at quarterback should be their highest priority. Even if Schoen won't admit it publicly, everyone knows Jones is not worth a $40 million annual salary. New York desperately needs an upgrade at the position regardless of if Jones can return before the season opener.
"The goal is to be back by training camp," Jones said Monday as the Giants emptied their lockers, "and I feel like I'm making good progress."
Tyrod Taylor is a free agent, which means that Jones and fan-favorite Tommy DeVito are the only quarterbacks under contract for next season. New York must add a free-agent quarterback that has the talent to become a full-time starter.
While the often-injured Jones is on schedule to be fully recovered in 2024, Schoen is aware the Giants need to improve their quarterback room.
"There's a chance he's not ready Week 1," Schoen said. "Plan for the worst, hope for the best — like you plan for him not being ready, so you're going to need somebody that can hopefully win you some games early on if he's not ready."
Daboll orchestrated the resignation of defensive coordinator Wink Martindale by firing two of his key defensive assistants. The duo already had tension between them and it was no secret Martindale took offense with Daboll's hard-nosed approach with the coaching staff.
"My expectation is Wink and Kafka (offensive coordinator Mike Kafka) will both be back," Daboll said at his end-of-season press conference. But the first-time head coach fired Martindale's top assistants a few hours later, resulting in the defensive coordinator deciding to leave the organization.
The team has five openings on its coaching staff after also dismissing special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey and offensive line coach Bobby Johnson.
Martindale's exit will cause an uproar with defensive players, especially inside linebacker Bobby Okereke.
"Wink's been extremely instrumental in my growth as a player, my acclimation coming here as a free agent," Okereke said following Sunday's upset win over the Eagles. "He's just an incredible leader of men, he's an elite football coach and I feel very fortunate to be coached by him and I hope I continue to be coached by him for the near future."
Daboll has posted a 15-18-1 record in two seasons at the helm of the Giants. The former Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator had zero head coaching experience before Schoen hired him in early 2022. Known for his hard-edged treatment of players and coaches, Daboll needs a quick turnaround to avoid being the fourth straight New York head coach to get booted with a losing mark.
Barkley is hoping the Giants will offer him a multiyear contract extension or let him test free agency. But Schoen has hinted at the possibility of using a second franchise tag to keep the running back around for another season.
"They did it last year," Barkley said. "So, I'm numb to it. I really have no feelings toward that at all. If you are going to do it, just don't wait until March 5. Let's get it over with. If not, let me go. Simple."
Barkley missed three games with a high ankle sprain before playing every game over the final 13 weeks of the season. The two-time Pro Bowl running back tallied 962 yards and six touchdowns on a whopping 247 carries this past season. He also caught 41 passes for 280 yards and four scores. Despite his heavy workload, the 26-year-old heads into the offseason feeling healthy and blessed.
"Body feels well," he said. "I came out healthy. Obviously, I had an injury early in the year with the ankle but that held up pretty well for me. It held up a lot better than past ankle injuries I've had."