Stay or Go: Should the Giants bring Sterling Shepard back for the 2023 NFL season?
A second-round pick in 2016, Sterling Shepard is the longest-tenured Giant and one of a handful of players still on the Giants roster that connects the Eli Manning era to today’s team.
And while the production has certainly been there for the former Oklahoma Sooner, staying healthy has been another story.
He took a pay cut to stay on the roster in 2022, after originally signing a four-year, $41 million deal (with a tad over $21 million guaranteed), so the question is how much the soon-to-be 30-year-old will want as he hits the market.
Let’s dig in to the pros and cons of bringing Shepard back…
Why Shepard should be back
While the Giants have question marks at quarterback and wide receiver, it certainly sounds like the team wants to and is planning on bringing back Daniel Jones, and retaining Saquon Barkley also feels like a strong possibility. That leaves wide receiver as the unquestioned biggest need for this offense.
Sure, the Giants won a playoff game with a ragtag group of Isaiah Hodgins, Darius Slayton, and Richie James, but that group won’t scare opposing defenses any time soon. Plus, Kenny Golladay has turned out to be a disastrous signing, and the team is likely to move on from him this offseason.
So the Giants need receiving help, and the group of free agent receivers this offseason isn’t anything to write home about. Nelson Agholor? DJ Chark? A past-his-prime Julio Jones? Shepard may be heading into his age-30 season, but there aren’t a lot of better free agent options.
Drafting at least one wideout seems to be in play, but the Giants need a veteran they can rely on. Shepard’s never cracked the 1,000-yard mark, but he’s a reliable target (credited with just 14 drops in his career) who has averaged 11.2 yards per catch with 21 career touchdowns. He can play in the slot and outside, and the Giants need all the help they can get at receiver.
Shepard has also been a very influential voice in the locker room, even while injured, and you’d have to think that not having him around would be tough on some of the younger players.
Why Shepard shouldn’t be back
Perhaps the biggest reason why Shepard hasn’t produced a 1,000-yard season is how often he’s been injured. Out of his seven pro seasons, Shepard has played more than 11 games just three times (2016, 2018, 2020). He’s played a total of only 10 games over the past two seasons, and he’s coming off an Achilles tear in 2021 and an ACL tear in 2022, which are obviously both devastating injuries.
Even if Shepard can get back on the field and stay healthy in 2023, it’s hard to say exactly what type of receiver he’ll be. Thirty years old is often when players start trending downward (Tom Brady’s of the world excluded), and a multi-year contract for any player of that age is a risk.
It’s hard to predict what kind of deal Shepard will seek, and while the Giants will have more cap space this offseason than they’ve had in previous years, the better route for acquiring talented receivers will likely be through the draft, where they can get younger, fresher, and perhaps most importantly, cost-efficient targets for Jones.
Shepard has been an important player for the Giants, but his age and injury history make it difficult to justify anything more than a one-year deal for a couple million -- even then, the Giants likely will have better options at their disposal.
There’s no discounting Shepard’s presence within the Giants’ facility, but it’s probably time to move on from him, unless he’s willing to take a very, very team-friendly deal.