One of the strangest seasons in Giants history will leave them with a perplexing problem: Do they view themselves as a contender, since they were in the NFC East race until the very end? Or do they think they’re far away, since they only finished 6-10?
Chances are it will be a little of both, and their offseason plans won’t be impacted too much either way. They were undoubtedly a better, more talented team in 2020 than they’ve been in several seasons. But there’s also no doubt they have plenty of holes on their roster and a lot of work to do.
So where do they start? Here’s a look at the Top 5 things that should be on the Giants’ To-Do list as the offseason begins:
1. Find Daniel Jones a No. 1 receiver – There is no doubt that Jones had a bad season, but don’t discount that a lot of that was because his weapons weren't good. Getting a healthy Saquon Barkley back next season will help a lot. But who is his reliable No. 1 receiver – the guy he can go to and count on in big spots?
Certainly none of the ones he has now. Golden Tate thinks he’s a No. 1 receiver, but those days are long gone and he won’t be back in 2021. Sterling Shepard is a nice possession receiver, but five years into his career it’s clear he’s not a big-play guy. And young Darius Slayton had a big drop-off this year, possibly due to injuries, but he’s looking mostly like an occasional deep threat.
They need that one guy capable of drawing all the coverage, and lucky for them, this free agent class should be loaded. Allen Robinson, Chris Godwin, Kenny Golladay, Corey Davis, Will Fuller, and JuJu Smith-Schuster may all be available. Surely they can land one of them at a reasonable price.
2. Do whatever it takes to find that elusive, stud pass-rusher – Remember when the Giants used to always say “You can never have enough pass rushers?” At this point, even one would be nice.
They do have Leonard Williams (more on him in a moment) and he had a career year with 11 ½ sacks. But nobody thinks he’s a threat to increase that into the 12-15 range and he’s never been the kind of defensive player who can wreck a game by himself. Imagine how good this defense could have been if they had that type of player – a T.J. Watt, a Myles Garrett, or (eventually) a Chase Young.
They aren’t easy to find, but the Giants should make it a priority to get someone who could be a pass-rushing force off the edge, forcing opposing offenses to decide between focusing on him or Williams. They should at least check out the prices on one of Baltimore’s twin pass rushers – Yannick Ngakoue or Matthew Judon, whichever one comes free.
They’ll be expensive though and the Giants will have somewhat limited cap space (possibly $30-40 million, depending on their offseason cuts) and other needs. It might make more sense to make an edge-rusher their target in the first round of the draft.
3. Re-sign Leonard Williams – Clearly Dave Gettleman was all-in on Williams, trading a third- and fifth-round pick for him and then using the $16.1 million franchise tag on him. He was convinced the Giants could build him into the pass rusher everyone always expected him to be. And a career-high 11 ½ sacks later, it looks like he was right.
But the Giants didn’t get into this for the short-term. They tried to sign Williams to a long-term deal after last season, and they are convinced the 26-year-old is only beginning to tap his potential. They may be right. He’s also an integral part of this revived defense and could really be a force with a legitimate edge-rusher behind him.
Given that he’s likely looking for a deal that starts at $16 million per year, the Giants might be faced with a choice between him and free-agent-to-be Dalvin Tomlinson. Williams is the better player if they can get him at the right price.
4. Get Saquon Barkley healthy, but don’t give him a long-term contract (yet) – The Giants long ago made the decision to build everything around Barkley, and that cost them dearly the last two seasons as he battled a sprained ankle in 2019 and was lost to a torn ACL early in 2020. That’s definitely a long-term red flag, but in the short-term they need him. He’s the player who will make the offense go the next two years, like it or not.
So they need him back at 100 percent by the summer, and they’ll likely have to keep him out of competitive situations (and preseason games, if there are any) until the 2021 season opener.
But this was going to be the offseason where they talked to Barkley about a long-term contract extension, and his agent will surely approach them about it. It’s too risky, though. The expense will be far too great for a player who has had two of his first three seasons ruined by injury. He’s still signed through 2021 and the Giants will (and should) pick up his 2022 option this May, probably for about $10 million. So there’s no rush to get a long-term deal done. Make sure he can through a full season first, whether he’s happy about that or not.
5. Settle on an offensive system – Ideally this would be about not firing offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, but the offense was so horrendous this year that Joe Judge may feel he has no other choice. It wouldn’t exactly be fair to Garrett considering he lost the centerpiece of his system when Barkley went down and was hamstrung by an erratic quarterback, an offensive line that struggled early and again recently, and a weak receiving corps. But it was his job to find solutions, and he didn’t.
The real problem is this: If the Giants fire Garrett then Jones will be in his third offensive system in three years in the NFL. That can be a real problem for a young quarterback (see the early years of Alex Smith in San Francisco). Quarterbacks often talk about how much more comfortable they are and the progress they make in the second year of a system, when they can finally stop thinking so much. So a switch at coordinator would basically delay Jones’ development another year.
Maybe he’ll be better in another system, but the clock starts early on young quarterbacks. Next offseason the Giants will have to make a decision on his fifth-year option and consider a long-term extension for the first time. Or, on the flip side, it’ll be the first time they seriously think about moving on.
Whatever Judge chooses he should do it quickly and commit to it for at least a couple of seasons, so Jones doesn’t have to learn a fourth offense in his fourth year, too.