The New York Giants are entering a crucial offseason for their franchise -- thanks to their rebuild being a year ahead of schedule. New York was the NFL's most surprising team this past season, going 9-7-1 and winning a playoff game on the road to advance to the divisional round.
While the Giants were a surprise in 2022, they did end the season 3-6-1 in their final 10 games. New York doesn't have the luxury of possessing a top-10 draft pick, thanks to its overachieving season (the Giants pick 26th) and the franchise is at a crossroads with Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley -- who are both free agents this offseason.
The Giants have a choice to make with both, one that will spur the direction of their upswing with head coach Brian Daboll. Do they pay Jones and Barkley? Will they give money to one and not the other? Could they let both walk and rebuild the roster with the freed up money by allowing them to play elsewhere?
New York has to see how competitive it thinks it can be in 2023 and beyond, as the divisional round demonstrated the Giants clearly have a long way to go to become a Super Bowl contender. Can Jones or Barkley get them to that stage?
With $46,993,739 in projected salary cap space (per Over The Cap) and 21 unrestricted free agents, the Giants have some crucial decisions to make next month. Here's a blueprint for how they should handle this offseason, making the 2023 roster better while building a strong foundation for the future.
Don't give Daniel Jones a long-term deal
Is Jones the franchise quarterback for the Giants? That remains to be seen, yet it's hard to ignore he had the lowest interception rate in the league last season (1.1%). Jones had a career high in completion percentage (67.2%), passing yards (3,205) and in passer rating (92.5) while also adding career highs in rushing yards (708) and rushing touchdowns (seven). He only had eight turnovers on the season, by far the lowest number of his career as the Giants didn't ask him to do too much with the offense as he became more comfortable with the system.
Jones' playoff win over the Minnesota Vikings banged the drums for a long-term deal, as he finished with 301 yards and two passing touchdowns along with 78 rushing yards in a 31-24 victory. Against the Philadelphia Eagles in the divisional round, Jones only had 135 yards and one interception along with a fumble -- struggling behind a poor offensive line against one of the league's elite teams.
Can Jones take the Giants to where they need to go? Paying Jones franchise quarterback money and giving him more than two years would be a mistake. The Giants would be much wiser to reach a two-year deal with Jones that pays him around $60M-$70M, that way they can further evaluate Jones and not give him the long-term commitment.
Jones can still get paid while the Giants aren't stuck in financial hell with a bloated contract that lasts multiple years. This gives him a chance to see if he can improve in Year 2 with Brian Daboll and Mike Kafka while the Giants can potentially draft a quarterback in 2023 or 2024 and groom him for the future.
Ask the Detroit Lions how their two-year experiment with Jared Goff worked out? Goff improved and the Lions built a strong offense around a quarterback they plan to keep for the next several years. The Giants would be wise to copy this blueprint.
Franchise tag Saquon Barkley
Is this a risk by the Giants? Absolutely -- given Barkley's declining health and how he appeared a step slower in the divisional playoff loss to the Eagles. Barkley doesn't appear to have that second-level speed that made him the No. 2 overall pick in the 2018 draft, but he's still the cog that makes the Giants offense go.
Tagging Barkley, 26, is a slight pay raise for the Giants, a one-year commitment they can afford with all the salary cap space they have available. The wide receiver market in free agency isn't great and Barkley is still a dynamic player when healthy.
Barkley set a career high in rushing yards (1,312) in a Pro Bowl season, playing behind an offensive line that wasn't great. Put Barkley in an offense with playmakers at wide receiver, and his receiving numbers (338 yards, zero touchdowns) will significantly increase as a receiver out of the backfield.
The Giants can afford to pay Barkley $10.091 million on a one-year commitment, avoiding the long-term deal while still using his strengths as a difference-maker in their offense. They can use the 2023 season to decide if Barkley is worth giving top dollar to in the future.
Bring back Richie James and Darius Slayton
James and Slayton weren't difference-makers in the Giants offense, but the two would be cost efficient and valuable depth pieces on a playoff roster. Slayton, 26, has 700-plus yards and has averaged 15-plus yards per catch in three of his four seasons, proving himself as a valuable No. 2 wideout in an offense. James, 27, plays the slot receiver role well, finishing with a career-high 57 catches for 569 yards and four touchdowns as a reliable pass catcher for Jones.
Doesn't hurt the Giants to bring both Slayton and James back, keeping the rapport with Jones and the depth of the wide receiver group intact. Both shouldn't cost much -- and allow the Giants to find a playmaking wideout in the draft or via trade.
Sign Julian Love to long-term deal
Love was one of the breakout players on the Giants this season, notching a career high in tackles (124), sacks (one), tackles for loss (six) and interceptions (two). His coverage stats were good too, allowing a career low in completion rate (66.7%) as opposing quarterbacks had a 73.4 passer rating targeting him with three touchdowns.
Is Love a franchise-changing safety? The Giants can find out with a player who significantly improved in Year 1 under Wink Martindale's tutelage, as the former fourth-round pick turned into a good NFL starter. Love is only 24, so his best years are ahead of him.
If there's any free agent the Giants should commit to long term, it's Love. He'll be snatched up quickly as a free agent bargain if the Giants let him walk.
Keep Jon Feliciano on offensive line
The Giants have a good left tackle in Andrew Thomas and a first-round pick in Evan Neal heading into his second season, so New York is set there on an offensive line that improved in 2022 -- yet still wasn't very good.
The interior of the offensive line needs some work, but Feliciano was solid in his first year with the team. Coming over as a reliable starter from the Buffalo Bills, Feliciano started 15 games (the majority of them at center), allowing three sacks and 19 pressures. The pressure rate allowed of 3.6% was Feliciano's lowest in three years, showcasing how valuable he was in the Giants offense.
Feliciano was worth the $2.9 million the Giants paid him last season, showcasing his versatility by playing center with all the injuries New York had on the offensive line. Moving Feliciano back to guard should help the Giants offensive line improve in 2023, while New York can find other options to improve the other guard and center spot.
The Giants should still have money in free agency to improve the offensive line, search for a No. 1 wide receiver and patch up some other holes on the roster. They won't be committing long term to Jones or Barkley, keeping their cap situation flexible after former general manager Dave Gettleman put the organization in cap hell that current general manager Joe Schoen has worked his way out of over the past year.
This team can use free agency and their projected 11 picks (two projected compensatory) to improve the roster and still remain competitive in the daunting NFC East. While the divisional round may be hard to reach in 2023 with minimal roster improvements, the Giants will be a better team and set up to compete in the long run if things work out with Jones.
New York may have to take one step back with a better roster in 2023 to take two steps forward in 2024 and become a Super Bowl contender. The goal for the Giants is to build that championship contender and not get caught up in the moment of a surprising 2022 season.
This plan may not be the sexiest blueprint, but it should breed long term success for the franchise that hasn't experienced that in over a decade.