Trust Joe Schoen on this one
The New York Giants aren't afraid of The Middle. They want Daniel Jones back... at their price. This GM, unlike the previous GM, is smart and steady with such colossal decisions.
INDIANAPOLIS — Considering how much is at stake, Joe Schoen’s session with the media here at the NFL Combine was as honest as it gets. Practically every other NFL general manager whose starting quarterback and starting running back are free agents would stand at this podium and transform into Dominik Hasek, deflecting questions with glove saves, blocker saves, the occasional head-on dash to the blue line.
He’s in talks with reps for both Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley.
Schoen was as blunt and transparent as you’ll get from someone running a pro football team at this stage of the game.
Is he optimistic he’ll get deals done? “I would say cautiously optimistic. You have to go through hard times before you come out the other end. We’re trying to work through it. … They know how we feel about both of them.”
As for that disingenuous “franchise tag,” that ancient loophole that prevents players from maximizing their value on the open market, Schoen was honest again. He pointed out that it’s actually bad for both the player and the team. “Something everybody realizes” over time. If the Giants are forced to slap the tag on Jones, they will. He doesn’t want to.
“Especially as we try to build the team around him,” Schoen said. “With questions about receiver and positions on the other side of the ball where we may need depth. It does hurt you in terms of the team-building process.”
Speaking of that, how do you feel about the D-Line depth, Joe? “Not great.”
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Welcome to The Middle. Life can be dangerous here. Many general managers spend two, three, four years (if they’re lucky) tip-toeing through such murky terrain before they’re fired. Mainly because the NFL is a business of haves and have-nots. Acquire a transcendent quarterback and you’re golden. Hell, that’s the No. 1 reason Schoen got this Giants job. He was Brandon Beane’s right-hand man in Buffalo. Those Bills chose Josh Allen instead of Josh Rosen and everyone involved with the drafting of a talented quarterback benefits. At the complete other end of the spectrum, being terrible is oddly embraced by some organizations — at least in the short term — because it means you have a chance at landing the next Allen, Burrow, Mahomes, Herbert, etc. That’s why a team like the Houston Texans trots out Davis Mills as its starter in back-to-back years.
Teams are horrified of The Middle because, here, you may slip into .500 purgatory.
This week, Schoen forges ahead. In his ideal scenario, Jones returns as the team’s starter. Of course, he wants a deal to work at the right price. The Giants’ price. But the mere fact that the Giants are so enthusiastic about locking up Jones is telling. And admirable. Jones was inherited from the previous regime — a hapless regime — and the Giants quickly built a system that accentuated his best qualities. To the point now where they envision winning Super Bowls with the guy.
Outside of Jones’ immediate family, exactly zero human beings entertained this as a reality one year ago.
However this shakes out, count on these Giants operating in a state of logic and reason.
Schoen began his presser by noting the team’s been in constant communication with Jones’ agents. They enjoyed “productive conversations” on Monday in-person and had more scheduled for Tuesday in-person. He isn’t following any sort of order of operations. The Giants would also like to get a deal done with Barkley, though the two sides sounded further apart on that front. They weren’t close on an extension at the bye week in November. Asked if they’ve bridged that gap, Schoen only said they’re a “little bit closer.”
Right now, New York has offers out to both and he’d love to sign both players to deals without using the franchise tag.
Schoen also made a point to say the Giants never talked contract numbers with CAA about Jones and that negotiating began when Jones switched over to Athletes First. In other words, he wants everyone to know the report of Jones seeking $45 million per year did not come from the Giants. Which is smart. He needs to maintain a healthy relationship through these contract talks — Jones caught a lot of flak for that number.
The Giants do like how Jones and Barkley play off each other in the offense. Jones threw for 3,205 yards, rushed for 708 yards and scored 22 touchdowns with only five picks. Barkley had a career-high 295 carries for 1,312 yards with 10 scores himself. Both the GM and the head coach took over the Giants with an open mind. It would’ve been easy to cut ties with Jones and trade Barkley to rebuild a program from the ground up.
Instead, they sought to see how the former top 10 picks could operate in Brian Daboll’s offense.
Both shined. This is a beautiful problem to have.
The key for the Giants is now having flexibility to acquire wide receiver talent after paying up for Jones and Barkley. They went 9-7-1. Brian Daboll was named the NFL’s Coach of the Year. But they’re not going to kid themselves. This remains a team in need of major upgrades. As Schoen navigates through his first quarterback contract negotiation, he’s going to embrace that middle so it doesn’t cripple him elsewhere. Don’t expect a Kyler Murray-sized deal.
There’s zero need to act out of desperation and overpay. Especially when you’ve got the best teacher of the position as your head coach.
“If it gets out of hand — and it’s out of our comfort zone — we have the tag,” Schoen said. “We can only tag one player. If we use that, and somebody has to walk, it’s unfortunate but it’s part of the business. We’re still building a team. That’s important to keep in mind.”
Remember, the Giants declined to pick up Jones’ fifth-year option last May. They needed to see it to believe it. As Schoen correctly pointed out, they wouldn’t be ironing out a contract with Jones if they didn’t believe in him as their quarterback today.
How they reached this point was “an ongoing process.” Right to the end.
“We evaluated every game that he played,” Schoen said, “all the way up through the playoffs. I thought we felt good at the end of the season that he’s the guy that we’d like to have back moving forward and be our guy.”
If a deal is reached, the Giants shouldn’t stop looking at the quarterback position.
Daniel Jones was not Jalen Hurts in 2022. If his game does plateau or if old turnover warts resurface, the Giants would like to be in a position to pivot.
Yet Jones certainly did enough to warrant the team adding weapons around him to see if he can elevate to that level. That’s why this is so tricky. Schoen’s hoping to thread that needle — to reach a deal with the quarterback that still gives the Giants a chance to add some blue-chip talent. Maybe trading for a No. 1 wide receiver is the move that gets the Giants over the championship hump, but they’ll need to cap space to do it. Schoen drew a lot from his experience in Buffalo his first year as the Giants boss. He pointed out that the Bills had $50 million in dead cap space in ’18 but found a way to compete by scavenging the waiver wire for players like wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie, our intrepid podcaster. In taking over the Giants, it was his goal to similarly “compete today and build for tomorrow.”
Ironically enough, they did that by poaching one of McKenzie’s best friends from Buffalo in wideout Isaiah Hodgins.
Yet when the Bills went 6-10 in ‘18, practically everyone expected them to go 6-10.
These Giants are not completely clearing the books like Buffalo. Mainly because they see Jones improving. Schoen views the quarterback position as so much more than what the film reveals. “The makeup,” he said, is more important. And through this lens, the Giants envision Jones taking another step.
Whatever contract the team has offered the quarterback likely reflects such a middle ground.
“Daniel did have a good year but he’ll be the first to tell you there’s still a lot of meat left on the bone and room for improvement,” Schoen said. “Dabes will tell you that. The coaching staff will tell you that. He came a long way. He’s still 25. I still think there’s room for improvement as he continues to mature and be around the staff. I think the continuity of the staff, getting Kafka back, Shea (Tierney) interviewed for a coordinator job. Getting those guys back — our entire offensive staff will be back outside of Tony Sparano Jr., the assistant O-Line coach — and same for the defense. The entire defensive staff’s coming back. Continuity, Year 2, familiarity with the system, we’ll be that much further ahead as we go into the offseason program.
“I think everybody will benefit from that, especially Daniel.”
What gives me even more confidence that the Giants are going to win for a long time is that Schoen and Daboll are two individuals grounded in reality.
The GM is right to say New York needs to build through the draft. Adding “young, cost-controlled players over four years,” as he said, is what feeds sustained winning. Not the occasional big splash. When asked if the totality of Barkley, the person, factors into the negotiating equation, Schoen said he loves that Barkley was a Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee. But he’s also right to note how much durability factors into any contract given to any running back.
“We’ve got to draw a line in the sand — ‘we’re not going any further’ — and if it goes past this, OK, let’s shift to Plan B,” Schoen said.
Deadlines spur action. Schoen has precisely one week to tag either player.
Unlike the old GM, this one won’t overreact. On and off the field, these new Giants are managed down to the decimals.
When that buzzer blares, and the numbers are revealed, expect the team to be in a good place to win both in the present and the future.
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