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The New York Giants had a phenomenal week
Nobody should be surprised if the Giants pass Philly by in 2023. Daniel Jones' contract is the perfect compromise and here comes Darren Waller with every reason to have the season of his life.
The temptation must’ve been strong. A scout doesn’t rise to the position of NFL general manager lacking self-belief.
Joe Schoen, 43, has now spent 22 years of his life in the NFL machine.
He has lived out of Marriott hotels. He has missed birthday parties and Pop Warner triumphs. Schoen, a father of three, has quite literally sacrificed many of his best memories as a young adult for this opportunity to build a Super Bowl Champion in his image. Thus, it’s totally understandable if the GM was determined to unearth his own quarterback from scratch. With his vision. His eyes. His handpicked personnel department. He earned that right.
Not to mention the rancid stench of the previous regime. No one would’ve blamed Schoen for taking a blowtorch to everything Dave Gettleman left behind.
Instead, this week, the Giants signed quarterback Daniel Jones to a new deal worth $40 million per year. Forty. Mill. Did hearing that number on the radio nearly send your vehicle careening off the road Tuesday? It shouldn’t. For starters, it’s not exactly the four-year, $160 million package initially championed in the press. The Giants can bail after two seasons, if needed. Both sides clearly made concessions at the eleventh hour to stay together and the Giants’ calculated gamble is that Jones is only getting started.
Schoen gave himself a full calendar year to study Jones for himself.
He saw the four fourth-quarter comebacks and the playoff win in Minnesota and did some simple mental math.
“The upside. I have a lot of belief in our staff and Daniel’s work ethic and their relationship,” Schoen said at his press conference this week, “that we’ll continue to grow and Daniel will get better. If this is his floor right now, I’m really excited about what his ceiling will be.”
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In 2022, the Giants returned to normalcy. Then, relevancy. In 2023, there’s no reason the Giants cannot surpass the Philadelphia Eagles as the best team in the division and compete in the NFC. No team enjoyed a more successful first week of free agency than the Giants. Laugh at the quarterback’s contract all you’d like — it’s actually quite team-friendly and, most importantly, gives the Giants a chance to keep a really good thing rolling. Saquon Barkley sticks around in his prime for another season. Acquiring Darren Waller for the 100th overall pick is a coup. The Giants retained Isaiah Hodgins and Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton for relative pocket change, all while adding ex-Colts wideout Parris Campbell at the rate of one-year, $4.7M deal.
This was Schoen’s first true stab at free agency. They were in survival mode last year. Beyond minimum deals, there was nothing the front office could do. In discussing one player on their team, this March, Schoen said his staff estimated that the market would be $2.5 million and he couldn’t help but joke aloud, “We can afford that!”
First, the entire organization needed to make a call on Jones. As we examined late last season, it’s complicated.
Central to all planning was the quarterback’s relationship with his head coach.
Brian Daboll loves his toughness, athleticism, intelligence. And he certainly made Jones earn his affection. New York didn’t pick up his fifth-year option last offseason. Instead, Daboll tested the quarterback in training camp by giving defensive coordinator Wink Martindale the play sheet. His offense failed — by design — because Daboll wanted to see how Jones would respond. New York is a different beast, after all. Jones passed the test. Jones went 9-6-1 and won a playoff game. And a GM that was likely expecting to bottom out and start over at QB hatched a new plan.
We’re all in such a rush to define quarterbacks off first impressions. The need for instant gratification is part of our human condition, and it’s only getting worse. If anyone in pro football is forcing us to consciously rewire this impulse, it’s Daboll. The steps Josh Allen took from Year 1 to Year 2 to Year 3 in this exact offense were unprecedented.
So, the Giants never analyzed Jones in a vacuum.
This scheme is ultra-complex, loaded with option routes and complex passing concepts and one play setting up the next. To the next. To the next. Fully immersed in this all for a second straight offseason — after so much turmoil pre-Daboll — all but guarantees another massive step from Jones. The continued development of quarterback under an elite coach is worth $40 million.
Both parties wanted a resolution by noon on deadline day to avoid WiFi issues but all scrambled to the buzzer anyways. For good reason. Schoen wouldn’t detail the concessions made by both sides but it’s pretty obvious the Giants wanted that potential out. If Jones muddles in mediocrity, fine. They can draft a quarterback. You bet they’ll be scouting QB prospects heavily every year — give me Daboll’s eye for the position over anyone. The presence of Alex Smith, 50-26 as a starter in KC, didn’t stop Andy Reid and the Chiefs from trading a future first-rounder for the rights to Patrick Mahomes. The Giants are in position to make a sneaky move themselves if they please.
Yet if Jones goes Full Josh Allen, suddenly, $40 million per year is a bargain. Asked point-blank if he’s saying the Giants can win a Super Bowl with Jones, Schoen expressed such confidence… while quickly adding they’d “continue to build a team” around Jones. That was Chris Simms’ point last season in saying, “We’ve gotten too obsessed with quarterback-quarterback-quarterback. There’s only a few to go around. How about we build a f--king team? That’s what the Eagles do.”
That’s what the Giants are now doing. They also signed linebacker Bobby Okereke to a four-year deal.
It would’ve been easy for Schoen to use the Buffalo Bills’ build as a cookie-cutter template. In Year 1, he saw Brandon Beane and Sean McDermott end the team’s 17-year playoff drought and swiftly move on from Tyrod Taylor after a 10-3 loss vs. Jacksonville in the wild card. The Giants’ 38-7 blowout loss in the divisional playoff round to Philadelphia could’ve triggered a similar reset. A similar series of trades to chase a quarterback in this 2023 draft.
Instead, Schoen and Daboll wisely looked at the season as a whole and realized the grass isn’t always greener.
For every Allen, there are many more EJ Manuels.
As Schoen worked through his first big decision as GM, I couldn’t help but think back further in Bills history. To 2013. That’s when ex-Bills boss Buddy Nix played a horrible game of poker. The 73-year-old made it abundantly clear to all in the weeks leading up to the draft that he was taking a quarterback. He didn’t care who heard him. “I’ve said this from day one,” Nix told reporters, “this quarterback class is better than everybody thinks it is.” He was tragically wrong, of course. The ’13 class of Geno Smith, Ryan Nassib, EJ Manuel, Matt Barkley and Mike Glennon remains one of the worst in modern history. Stuck in tunnel vision, Nix traded down to No. 16 overall, took Florida State’s Manuel and — two weeks later — retired.
Nix believed he had delivered the organization its long-lost franchise quarterback and rode off into the sunset.
His assistant GM at the time, Doug Whaley, viewed Manuel as a third-round pick. Nonetheless, Whaley inherited Manuel and quickly became defined by Manuel much of his tenure. Maybe a GM wants his guy at quarterback, but such logic torpedos a franchise more often than it saves one.
The Bills didn’t recover until 2018, when Beane, Schoen and co. correctly chose Wyoming’s Allen over UCLA’s Josh Rosen.
In Jones, the Giants saw undeniable production — 67.2 completion percentage, 3,205 passing yards, 708 rushing yards, 22 total touchdowns, five interceptions — and believed it was worth seeing what’s next.
“All we care about is inside these walls,” Schoen said. “We have a very talented and experienced coaching staff. A very talented personnel staff I believe. What matters is what we think inside this building. That’s how we’re always going to make decisions. We’re not going to worry about the outside noise. We’re going to be convicted with what we’re doing. It’s a well-thought-out process. We’re happy with the decision we made and we’re happy to move forward with Daniel.”
Retaining Barkley on the tag is reasonable. His production warrants $10 million.
He’ll break down at some point but — for at least one more year? — the Giants wield a game-breaking running back in his prime. In 16 games, Barkley had 1,650 total yards and 10 touchdowns. No doubt, Schoen saw a host of teams seeking fire escapes from the whopping contracts they gave their dominant backs and knew anything remotely similar was not a realistic option. Carolina (Christian McCaffrey), Tennessee (Derrick Henry), Dallas (Ezekiel Elliott), Minnesota (Dalvin Cook) and New Orleans (Alvin Kamara) are likely all suffering from buyer’s remorse to some degree.
That’s no knock on the talented backs themselves. Rather, supply and demand.
And while Schoen and Daboll haven’t scored their own Stefon Diggs, the trade for Waller is easily my favorite maneuver from any team this week. Why force a signing at wide receiver? Let other teams pay $10 million a year for JuJu Smith-Schuster, Allen Lazard, Jakobi Meyers and, instead, proactively land a true matchup nightmare. All it cost the Giants was the third-round pick acquired in the Kadarius Toney trade and $11 million of cap space. Waller is due zero guaranteed dollars beyond the 2023 season. He’ll every incentive to turn in the season of his life.
Waller himself was surprised by the trade. He admitted he didn’t see this coming.
One day after returning from his honeymoon with WNBA player Kelsey Plum, the former All-Pro tight end was told he was heading to New Jersey. He described the week exactly as he described Daboll’s offense: “high-octane.” If the 2019 or 2020 version of Waller still exists — he caught 197 passes for 2,341 yards with 12 touchdowns those two seasons — this is the signature move that elevates New York’s entire offense. Granted, that’s quite an “if.” Injuries have hampered Waller since then. Specifically, a nagging hamstring.
Years past, Waller believes he pushed his body too hard. He's confident a more cautious approach to the offseason will pay off. Waller doesn’t want to be downright “exhausted” by the time training camp begins and said he’s already had those conversations with the coaching staff.
Life won’t be easy for newlyweds in the middle of two different pro careers, but Waller sure sounded refreshed and eager to assimilate into Daboll’s offense. His Raiders played those Bills in 2020 and it seemed like the ball was always “flying around the yard” in this scheme.
With Waller, Daboll has a chance to unlock a completely new dimension of his offense.
“It’s an exciting brand of football,” Waller said. “And you can tell by the way he’s come here, I feel like he’s really empowered players. You can tell by me just looking at the tight end group they had — the outside looking in — receivers that the casual fan may not know a lot about, they’re making clutch plays in clutch moments. So to see how he gets everybody involved and the creativity in which he does that? I’m excited to be in the mix and a part of what this offense is trying to do.”
Waller’s personal journey is well-documented. He overcame a severe drug addiction. One drug overdose nearly ended his life.
His turnaround is one of the most remarkable in sports and one he’s leaning into at this juncture of his pro career.
Beyond the X’s and O’s, every team should seek a Darren Waller for its locker room.
“I feel the greatest lessons I’ve taken from my recovery journey to the field is to be centered in the present moment, to take things one day at a time,” Waller says. “When I got reinstated and had an opportunity to start for the Raiders, I wasn’t envisioning these huge statistical seasons or my name in headlines or lights. I was just trying to be as consistent a player as I possibly could from period to period. From practice to practice. From week to week. For me, I have “Just for today” tatted on my wrist. Messages like that keep me centered to know if I’m handling each and every moment, that moment in the future I want to happen — that success, where the team wants to go, where I want to go — it’s going to be a present moment when it comes. If I handle every moment that way with a sense of urgency and with gratitude, I’m going to like the results of it. I’m not going to be perfect. Lessons like those keep my mind in the right place. During the course of a season, things can go great or things can go not the way you expected them to be. It’s a matter of staying even. Staying in that place of equanimity and riding it out.”
Now, it’s make or break. He turns 31 years old in September and admitted he understands the “legitimate concerns” over his health. But Waller also believes he has addressed all health issues, has a clear plan of attack and can still be a dynamic weapon.
“A tool this team can use to get to that next level,” he added. “That’s exactly what I’m going to go. … I’m focused on what I can do this year and putting my best game on display.”
The Giants needed to do Jones right by surrounding him with firepower these next two seasons. They owe him that much.
Waller is a great place start. Keeping Barkley around, too.
New York isn’t finished. Joe Schoen was right to bring up the draft multiple times during his presser. That’s where teams set themselves up for long-term success.
No way did the new GM in charge anticipate his first 13 months on the job going down like this, but that’s OK. Everything’s happening sooner than expected. A five-year plan became more of a two-year plan.
Now, Schoen can allow himself to daydream about championship games in 2023, instead of 2026.
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