Giants GM Joe Schoen said the team’s owners still have faith in his and coach Brian Daboll’s vision for the franchise despite this disappointing second season.
“Absolutely,” Schoen said Monday during his bye week press conference. “We have constant communication with the Mara family, with the Tisch family and articulate the plan. And they’re all on board with it.
“As much as it hurts to go through this,” the GM added, “there are a lot of young players who are getting valuable experience. And [with] another offseason and another draft, we’ll continue to build it.”
Schoen said Mara’s accessibility helps him be transparent with ownership when times are tough.
“The communication is very helpful, the fact that John Mara is here on a daily basis,” Schoen said. “We can explain the why: why we’re doing things, how we’re gonna do them. And they’re in the loop, and they’re on board.”
Mara and Tisch have remained silent this season. The Giants (4-8) have five games remaining. They are last in the NFL in points per game (13.3), offensive yards per game (258.7) and passing yards per game (151.6) through 12 weeks.
Schoen’s description of his roster decisions amounted to a plea for continued patience given what he inherited from Dave Gettleman in 2022.
“You’re only afforded so many resources to build the roster,” he said. “And we’ve been here for I think it’s 22 months and a day. So you have to decide how you’re gonna build it as you build it with a big picture in mind. And you can’t do it overnight.
“Like what does it cost to go get more pass rushers, financially or draft capital, based on all the needs that you have and where you are financially or in the draft,” he continued. “So no regrets. We’ll continue to evaluate our process and were there other players available, were there other players you could have taken, did you miss on something? We’ll evaluate the entire process at the end of the season.”
Schoen mentioned the free agent signing of middle linebacker Bobby Okereke several times as an encouraging hit, which is undoubtedly true. A lot of miscalculations elsewhere, however, brought the Giants where they are now.
DON’T QUESTION THE LINE
Schoen defended his evaluation of former No. 7 overall pick Evan Neal and said injuries were the main reason for his offensive line’s poor play this season.
“Evan got off to a really good camp, had a concussion, missed a couple weeks, came back and needs to play better,” Schoen said. “Evan needs to play better. He knows that. Look forward to getting him back here when he’s healthy, but I think he’d admit there’s some things he could do better and we look forward to him continuing to improve.”
He said switching Neal to guard would not be a consideration.
“I went back and watched the Alabama stuff; the kid can play,” the GM said. “We just got to get him to be more consistent. I’ve got a lot of confidence in Evan, he’s a hard worker.”
Schoen was even more prepared to defend his construction of this year’s offensive line. He had fancy stats to explain their lack of continuity.
“Andrew Thomas getting hurt the first series of the game, of the season: that doesn’t help when you lose an All-Pro left tackle,” Schoen said. “Through 11 weeks we had nine different starting O-line combinations, which is the second most in 15 years. We have 21 different O-line combinations, which is the fourth most in 15 years. So we were down to our 5th and 6th offensive tackles. It’s hard to prepare for that when you have eight or nine on a roster.”
It isn’t clear why Schoen called Matt Peart and Josh Ezeudu his fifth and sixth tackles when they were his top backup tackles on the roster at that time. Regardless, Schoen proceeded with his extensive defense, which included an apparent swipe at the Daily News’ criticism of the Giants’ sour ending with former center/guard Nick Gates, who was benched this season in Washington.
“We won 10 games with the same offensive line last year with the exception of [center] John Michael Schmitz,” Schoen said. “We inserted him for Gates, who went on to Washington — I know you’d asked about him. And [Jon] Feliciano went on to San Francisco. We ran it back with the same guys. We thought John Michael would be an upgrade there, which he’s done a good job for us.”
Obviously, Neal’s underperformance, Schoen’s poor 2022 NFL Draft of linemen and the play of Schoen 2022 free agent signing Mark Glowinski at guard all contributed to a poor line. His current starting five features a tackle in Tyre Phillips that Schoen cut and re-signed, and a veteran left guard Justin Pugh whom Schoen signed straight off the couch.
Eventually, Schoen settled into a less defensive explanation and said he couldn’t fix everything on the team at once. He said continuity will help the unit gel, too.
“As you’re building this, was it more weapons for Daniel? Was it outside backers? Was it [a] corner?” he said. “We’re trying to build this thing. As much as we want instant gratification and instant results, there is an element of patience you build it and try to build it the right way. You can’t address everything overnight. And we’re gonna continue to work on it. I do believe in building it upfront. Offensive line’s important.”
INJURIES: NO ANSWERS YET
Schoen said the Giants’ injuries haven’t been the same player to player, but he allowed that it’s a problem without assigning or taking any blame: “There hasn’t been a [constant], other than we’ve been injured often.”
The GM said he has “a lot of confidence” in the training staff, led by head athletic trainer Ronnie Barnes, and the strength staff. But he said the Giants will continue to look for “any competitive advantage” in areas like “sports science, training, strength and conditioning … because it’s hard to go in and compete week in and week out if you don’t have your best players.”
It was no coincidence the Giants struggled to stay healthy early and often this season given how light their offseason practice load was. Hopefully Schoen means it when he says they’ll turn over every rock to figure out a better way to keep players healthy. He also said it’s critical to build better depth on the roster so when injuries happen, the team can weather them.
SCHOEN: PUNT RETURN MY FAULT
Schoen took responsibility for forcing rookie fifth-round running back Eric Gray into a punt return role. This is reinforcement of how involved Schoen is with the gameday roster.
“That’s on me,” Schoen said. “To be honest with you, that’s another [position] we tried to address, the punt return. We knew it was an issue. In the draft, some of the guys we liked went probably higher than we deemed you take a guy. Eric had done it at Tennessee and did at Oklahoma.
“We were comfortable — the coaches were comfortable — we were comfortable going into the regular season based on what we were seeing,” the GM added. “I know [Jamison] Crowder’s having success in Washington [after the Giants cut him]. We kept seven receivers. We couldn’t keep eight. Do the math. Who do you move on from [in] the group if you kept Crowder? That’s on me, the returner.”
He said he likes Gunner Olszewski in that role now — another player he had to sign midseason to fix an evaluation mistake.
BARKLEY A GOOD LEADER
Schoen complimented Saquon Barkley for being one of the players who has kept the team fighting during a tough year.
“As you’re going through adversity, I think he’s a big part of keeping the locker room together,” the GM said. “ I respect Saquon a lot and the way he’s handled himself through this entire process. I have a lot of respect for Saquon.”
Schoen said he didn’t trade Barkley at the deadline because “he’s one of our most productive offensive players right now; to move that guy just didn’t make any sense.”
The GM said he will address free agency questions about Barkley, Xavier McKinney and other players at his end of season press conference.