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March 26, 2023

NFC East 2023 free agency grades: New York Giants edition

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031423DanielJones Eric Hartline/USA TODAY Sports

Daniel Jones is rich.

The 2022 New York Giants made the playoffs for the first time since 2016 and even managed to win a playoff game 🥳🎉, but they had some difficult decisions to make during the 2023 offseason. Here's a roundup of what they did, with analysis.

Players retained

QB Daniel Jones: Jones was a turnover machine the first couple years of his career, but protected the ball far better over the last two. He even had the lowest INT percentage in the NFL in 2022, at 1.1 percent. However, his improved ball security came at a cost. According to the NFL’s NextGen stats, Jones was the most conservative quarterback in the NFL in “intended average air yards,” at 6.3 yards through the air per throw, and “air yards to the sticks.” On average his passes landed 2.8 yards short of the first down marker. 

The Giants' offense didn’t hit big plays in the passing game in 2022. They had 28 pass plays of 20+ yards, fewest in the NFL. For comparative purposes, the Eagles had 63. The league average was 49. Certainly the Giants' lack of quality receivers played a part in the Giants' ultra-conservative passing game, but there's still context that says that Jones' ball security improvements weren't as impressive as the numbers suggest.

In the wake of Jones' OK-ish 2022 season, the Giants were faced with three unappealing decisions on his future with the team:

  1. Let him walk in free agency, thus starting over at quarterback after making the playoffs for the first time since the 2016 season.
  2. Franchise-tag him, paying him roughly $32.4 million for one year and punting on a decision on Jones' long-term standing with the team until next offseason, and likely losing Saquon Barkley in free agency because the team wouldn't be able to tag him instead.
  3. Hitch their wagon to Jones, long-term.

They chose option No. 3, signing Jones to a four-year deal worth $160 million, tying him for seventh among NFL quarterbacks at an average annual value of $40 million per season. In my opinion, option No. 3 was the least appealing of the three, as Jones is a borderline top half of the league starter. Exactly how high is his ceiling after four full NFL seasons? Will he grow as a quarterback to the point where you can win a Super Bowl because of him? Probably not. Is he OK enough to win with if you have a loaded roster around him? Eh, not sure, but the Giants don't have anything close to a loaded roster. Whatever you believe, he's their guy for at least the next two seasons.

RB Saquon Barkley: The Giants franchise tagged Barkley at a little over $10 million, a wholly defensible decision.

WR Darius Slayton: Because we have a lot of Giants receivers to get to here, we should probably show their 2022 regular season stats:

Giants WRs Rec Yards YPC TD 
Darius Slayton 46 724 15.7 
Richie James 57 569 10.0 
 Isaiah Hodgins33 351 10.6 
Wan'Dale Robinson 23 227 9.9 
Sterling Shepard 13 154 11.8 
David Sills 11 106 9.6 
Marcus Johnson 99 11.0 
Kenny Golladay 81 13.5 
Kadarius Toney (while w/NYG) 0.0 

The Giants lost Robinson, Shepard, and Collin Johnson (during training camp) for the season due to injuries, and they traded away Toney. The best receiver left standing was Slayton, who was clearly not a part of the Giants' initial plans in 2022, as he was a healthy scratch Week 1 and didn't get any targets until Week 4. He proved to be their most dangerous receiver, as he had 12 of the Giants' aforementioned 28 receptions of 20+ yards, and three of their five receptions of 40+ yards.

Slayton will return on a two-year deal worth $12 million. More on that in a bit.

WR Isaiah Hodgins: Hodgins will return as an exclusive rights free agent.

• WR Sterling Shepard: Shepard was Jones' original go-to guy in 2022, as he got 24 targets over the first three games, but he was lost for the season with a torn ACL.

• LB Jarrad Davis: The Giants signed Davis off of the Lions' practice squad late in the 2022 season. He started against the Eagles in the Birds' 38-7 drubbing of the Giants in the playoffs. The Giants evidently liked enough of what they saw to bring him back.

• RB Matt Breida: Breida had 54 carries for 220 yards (4.1 YPC) and 1 TD in 2022 as Barkley's backup.

• P Jamie Gillan: Gillan re-signed for two years, $4 million. He had one of the highlights of the 2022 NFL season:

• LS Casey Kreiter: I won't pretend to know how well Kreiter threw the ball through his legs for the Giants, but he re-signed.

Players gained

• TE Darren Waller: The Giants traded a third-round pick for Waller, who will have a $11 million base salary with up to $1.275 million in per game roster bonuses and $200K in workout bonuses due in 2023. The immediate reaction on Twitter was something to the effect of "The Raiders are idiots," and "Holy crap what a steal for the Giants."

If Waller is still the same player he was in 2019 and 2020, when he had 197 catches for 2,341 yards and 12 TDs, then yep, that will absolutely be a steal. If he's the injury-prone player in 2021 and 2022 who had 83 catches for 1,053 yards and 5 TDs over those two seasons, then the Raiders won't look so foolish, and the Giants won't have themselves a steal.

When healthy, Waller is an athletic beast with downfield playmaking ability, so his fit with the Giants is an interesting one. As noted above, the Giants were arguably the most conservative passing team in the NFL in 2022. Will Waller make them capable of more vertical concepts, or will his talents go to waste? Waller and the Giants will be a fun pairing to judge over the next year or two. 

• LB Bobby Okereke: Okereke was a nice player for the Colts in 2022, collecting 151 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, and 5 pass breakups. Okereke landed an above-market four-year deal worth $40 million, while comparable off-ball linebackers like T.J. Edwards and Germaine Pratt signed deals for under $7 million per season.

• DT Rakeem Nuñez-Roches: Nuñez-Roches is going to be 30 in July, and he's not much more than a depth guy. I'm not sure why the Giants felt he was a priority Day 1 signing at $4 million per season.

CB Amani Oruwariye: Oruwariye filled up the stat sheet in 2021 for the Lions when he had 57 tackles, 6 INTs, and 11 pass breakups. However, he had a brutal 2022, as PFF has him down for an atrocious 130.6 passer rating allowed. He also had 10 penalties, including 6 (!) in one game.

• S Bobby McCain: McCain is an 8-year vet. Solid but unspectacular. 76 tackles, 5 pass breakups, 1 forced fumble, 0 INTs in 2021. 87 career starts. We'll get to more on McCain shortly when we cover Julian Love.

• WR Parris Campbell: The free agent wide receiver market stunk this year, so the Giants were forced to bring in bargain players to try to help Jones. Campbell had his best season in 2022 in Indy, when he had 63 catches for 623 yards and 3 TDs. Campbell is known as a speedster, but he has a career 10.1 yards per catch average.

• WR Jamison Crowder: This will be Crowder's ninth season. He had 6 catches for 60 yards in four games for the Bills last season. He'll compete for work in the slot.

WR Jeff Smith: Undrafted guy who had 34 catches for 426 yards and 0 TDs in four years with the Jets.

Players lost

S Julian Love: Before we get to Love, I think that it's worth re-visiting what the Giants did with James Bradberry a season ago. If you'll recall, they unsuccessfully tried to trade Bradberry before eventually dumping him in May, long after teams around the league had already filled holes at cornerback either in free agency or the draft. The Eagles then capitalized by signing Bradberry to a bargain one-year deal worth $7.5 million. Bradberry proceeded to earn second-team All-Pro honors after a stellar season, and he signed yet another team-friendly deal with the Eagles worth $38 million over three years.

He also had an INT against the Giants in the playoffs, while the Giants had the No. 22 ranked pass defense (via DVOA).

When the Giants released Bradberry in 2022, he was set to make $13.5 million and count for $21.9 million on the Giants' salary cap. By releasing him, the Giants saved a little over $10 million on their cap. 

The reason they needed that savings? 

"Where we are financially, we still have to sign our draft picks," Joe Schoen said on WFAN a few days before his release. "We have to be able to sign our practice squad and have replacement costs during the season." (Schoen also repeated that sentiment in other media sessions. At the time, the Giants had around $6 million in cap space and the they needed about $13 million to sign their draft picks.)

That answer is disingenuous, as it is implies that the only answer was to release Bradberry, which really couldn't be further from the truth. The Giants could have very easily converted Bradberry's base salary into a signing bonus and dumped that money into void years in 2023 and beyond. A couple weeks ago, I tweeted that very fact.

To my surprise, I had multiple Giants beat writers, bloggers, podcasters, and subsequently a slew of fans swarm to disagree with that tweet, which again, is an inarguable statement of fact. Apparently the Giants universe doesn't know much about void years (?), which I suppose makes sense since the Giants don't often utilize them. (I mean that genuinely, as I'll forget cap minutiae sometimes when certain things don't apply to the Eagles for years at a time.)

So that begs the question, "What is a void year?" I'll try to simplify it by comparing it to a mortgage. 

As you're aware, a mortgage is a loan you get from a lender to finance a home purchase. When you take out a mortgage, you promise to repay the money you’ve borrowed in future years with an agreed-upon interest rate tacked on.

In terms of NFL contracts, spreading out base salaries over several years is similar to taking out a mortgage on a player, in that you get the use of that player now, while paying for him later. The big difference is that NFL teams pay no interest for that right, while interest-free mortgages on houses, you know, don't exist. 

Does that all make sense? Anyway, it's basically a way for teams to borrow from future years to expand their current spending ability, again, with no interest penalties.

“I would rather not [borrow from the future] if we don’t have to," Schoen said last March. "Again, eventually you have to pay the piper. Early on I’d rather not."

As of right now, even after Jones' new deal, the Giants have a projected $117 million in cap space in 2024 (depending on how much the cap increases next season), per OverTheCap. They have a projected $179 million in 2025. They couldn't have borrowed a small amount from the future to keep one of their rare good players? It's better to have a glaring hole at a premium position?

Anyway, I went a looooong way above to get to Love, a young (25) ascending player and team captain who signed a meager two-year deal worth $12 million with the Seahawks. By all accounts, Love was well respected by his teammates, well regarded as a player by the coaching staff, and is a versatile defensive back thought to be a great fit for Wink Martindale's scheme. So how did he get away? Well, according to a Dan Duggan of The Athletic...

Love’s market was challenging to forecast heading into free agency, with league sources projecting his average annual salary anywhere from $5 million to $9.5 million. The Giants and Love didn’t bridge their gap after the season, so the team moved on as the 25-year-old tested the market.

Love visited the Seahawks last week after the initial wave of free agency and received the two-year, $12 million offer Friday. That’s slightly less per year than the Giant’s in-season offer, according to a league source. Love presented Seattle’s offer to the Giants and the team didn’t match it, according to a league source. By that point, the Giants had already re-signed Slayton to a two-year, $12 million deal.

Lol, what? A $6 million per year deal for Slayton precluded them from also keeping Love? Again, the Giants have a projected $117 million in cap space in 2024, not to mention like double-digit vets prime for restructuring. It would have been pretty easy to dump the vast majority of Love's $12 million total cap commitment into the 2024 season. Instead they just let him walk and are replacing him with... checks notes... a 30-year-old Band-Aid in Bobby McCain?

How are more people not calling out the Giants' front office / ownership for this kind of shit?

iOL Nick Gates: Gates suffered a gruesome leg injury and faced the prospect of retirement, but he was able to return and start eight games for the Giants in 2022, and even got some votes for NFL Comeback Player of the Year. Gates has some guard/center versatility, but he has had seven leg surgeries. He signed a three-year, $16.5 million deal with Washington.

C Jon Feliciano: Brian Daboll brought Feliciano with him from Buffalo to help install his offense in NJ. He's just a guy, and he served his purpose. He signed with the 49ers.

• WR Kenny Golladay: During the 2021 offseason, Dave Gettleman signed Golladay to a four-year deal worth $72 million, and $40 million guaranteed. They gave Golladay that contract even after an injury-riddled 2020 season in which he had 20 catches for 338 yards and two TDs with Detroit. After signing his contract in 2021, he proceeded to have a season in which he caught 37 passes for 521 yards in 14 games in 2021, and 6 receptions for 81 yards and 1 TD in 2022.

He will go down as one of the worst free agent signings in Giants history.

The tale of the tape

Players retained Players gained Players lost 
QB Daniel Jones TE Darren Waller S Julian Love 
RB Saquon Barkley LB Bobby Okereke iOL Nick Gates 
WR Darius Slayton DT Rakeem Nuñez-Roches C Jon Feliciano 
WR Isaiah Hodgins CB Amani Oruwariye WR Kenny Golladay 
WR Sterling Shepard S Bobby McCain  
LB Jarrad Davis WR Parris Campbell  
RB Matt Breida WR Jamison Crowder  
P Jamie Gillan WR Jeff Smith  
LS Casey Kreider   


If you're a Giants fans and you have a truly objective eye in evaluating your team's players, be honest — it can't feel great hitching your wagon long-term to Daniel Jones. I mean, right?

Jones aside, it's hard making sense of many of the Giants' moves. They can't afford Bradberry or Love, but they can afford a non-impact off-ball linebacker in Okereke for $10 million per year? Explain that to me like I'm 4. 

Ultimately, this front office (perhaps as a directive of ownership?) has an unwillingness to restructure veterans' contracts at the expense of a better roster, and they're going to have a hard time competing with teams that are better at maximizing the use of their cap. 

Grade: C-

Other NFC East free agency grades

• Cowboys: A-
Commanders: C-

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