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BLOWING IT UP…NEW YORK GIANTS EDITION

The New York Giants are an abomination. They are barreling towards a 4-13 finish that would bring them to a 22-59 record over the last five seasons. John Mara’s vision for a football team that could pass as a polo club has not come to fruition, believe it or not. Within the last four years alone since Dave Gettleman became the GM to the surprise of everyone – including Dave Gettleman – the team has “rebuilt” for two of those non-consecutive years and has “gone all in” for the other two non-consecutive years. It’s fraudulent and malpractice, and even though the fans and select media know it, nothing has changed because the luxury suites at MetLife Stadium are still stocked and sold. It’s painful for one of the historically proudest American sports franchises that now sincerely belongs in the depths with the likes of Washington and Jacksonville.

I know these things for certain: there are going to be countless articles like this one written in the coming months, Dave Gettleman will be allowed to retire on his own terms following the season, and the Mara Family will own the team for the rest of our lives. There is nothing the fans can do to force a sale of the team, and there is probably nothing we can do to influence the next GM selection either. So instead of making unbearably sad predictions about what will actually happen with the future of the front office of the Giants, I am going to lay out what I would do with control of the personnel of the Giants. You know, a Giants team that actually reestablishes themselves with the class of the league instead of one that takes pride in combover haircut quarterbacks and good effort so long as it isn’t intentional tanking.

I have STRONG thoughts on the GM and Head Coach processes, but for the sake of this blog I’m going to focus on the players. Quick on those topics though: it absolutely sucks that we are pigeonholing ourselves with GM candidates only to make sure that he is aligned with our NYPD cosplayer of a head coach. Like, why does Joe Judge have any sway…at all? He has been objectively bad through a not-so-small sample size any longer. He brings nothing to the table with game strategy and for a tough guy the team has lacked discipline under his watch. I could actually appreciate honesty and a behind-the-scenes culture change after the slimy tenures of Ben McAdoo and Pat Shurmur (though Judge too is now on liar watch after his bizarre post-game tirade in Chicago), but the most important fact of the matter is that he has been a net negative on the field and has not proved anyone wrong in that regard as someone who was hired as a young Special Teams Coordinator. Possibly the most hair-ripping-out element of it all is that the Giants DO have a potential Bill Belichick offspring on the coaching staff in the impressive Patrick Graham, but he doesn’t look the part for the Maras so the Giants will probably let him walk to another team who acknowledges his potential or just let Graham stick around so long as Judge is the one making the final decisions. But alas, this blog is still about the players!

My general philosophies as an Internet GM with 300 Twitter followers is to 1) rebuild for real where it will take multiple years to meaningfully contend but the fans have a clear picture into the long-term vision and 2) avoid outright tanking because it’s lame and football is a vicious sport where that isn’t really possible to ask grown men to do over the course of a season. So I’m shooting for a 2024 contending Giants team here with 2022-2023 seasons that aren’t glory years but not depressing to watch. 

A few rules of this game:

1. We are abiding by salary cap projections, per OverTheCap.com. The Giants 2022 cap situation is dismal for any team, let alone a bad team, currently sitting at 29th in the league with -$16mil of effective space. So just to sign a draft class and operate in 2022 with some breathing room, by the end of this exercise we need to clear $21mil off the 2022 books.

2. We are also abiding by roster rules. Fortunately, this is pretty easy for the Giants, since they currently have 41 players contracted for 2022 and 11 picks in the upcoming draft. I’ll be reinforcing the draft stock throughout the words ahead, so assuming they sign most of their draft picks, what we need to do here is basically add a player for every player subtracted to finish at a full roster. I’m only going for a Week 1 active roster…look elsewhere for practice squad projections.

3. We care about compensatory picks for the next two years while this team actually rebuilds, so putting it out there now that I’m opting to have the Giants avoid splurging in free agency so we can recoup some value for solid players when they decide to leave this miserable franchise.

THE QUARTERBACK CONUNDRUM 

While not the natural starting point of this exercise, I am going to kick this off with a focus on Daniel Jones because he’s at the center of everything. Now, if I had to guess, Jones will return to the Giants for a fourth year starting under center but he’ll do so without his fifth-year option exercised. (Even for a team as delusional as the Giants, I don’t know how you could guarantee Jones’ fifth year based on his play and neck injury.) But still, the whole point of this is to see what would happen if I ran the circus, and putting any disdain that I have for Jones aside (which I do), it is imperative to cut the cord with him if the Giants are going to truly rebuild and evolve beyond the Gettleman Era.

I will give Jones this much: he’s not horrible and he did prove some haters wrong in being a legitimate NFL quarterback, as ridiculous as that is to say about the sixth overall pick in a draft. Like, he probably was the second best QB in that 2019 class. But still, he’s just not good despite whatever manipulated deep ball or clean pocket stats his supporters will throw at you to show that he’s a victim of circumstances. Jones has received all of the organizational support in the world even if he’s had to deal with unfortunate offensive lines and playcallers. He didn’t prove anyone wrong with his talent or natural ability as a quarterback. While he looks the part and is a good athlete, he has no elite traits whatsoever and he really doesn’t have the grasp of the offense that you’d expect for the “first one in, last one out” type and his Duke pedigree. There is just no reason to believe that Jones is a winning quarterback with a sample size that has grown quite large, and all of the investment into surrounding him with better pieces did not nearly amount to the success it would have taken to justify extending Jones. The Giants tried to turn someone who kinda looks like Eli Manning into Eli Manning and it didn’t work.

While not my preference – see below for that – if Jones stuck around for another year without any guaranteed contract beyond that it might not be the worst thing. Like I said, he’s a legitimate NFL quarterback and he’s young, so some team would give him a contract if he hit the open market. The Titans got a 5th round comp pick when Marcus Mariota left town and that’s a possible outcome here. But that would require Jones having his best year yet because he isn’t as talented as Mariota. If we got more of the same from Jones, he could sign elsewhere and return more like a 7th round comp pick like the Bears are about to get for Mitch Trubisky. At that point, you count that as a loss.

Again, I know this is the Giants front office that I’m talking about, but I just don’t understand what future they see with Danny as the QB of the Giants through their warped old man glasses? Let’s say he stays healthy enough next year, plays at a league-average level (which would be an improvement) then is given a middle-class QB extension – which I think is John Mara’s dream here. The best recent comparison to this is when the Dolphins extended Ryan Tannehill going into his fourth season. Even though some people like to compare Jones to Tannehill in that they predict he will blossom into a good QB once he joins a new team like Tannehill has in Tennessee, that comparison simultaneously doesn’t really work and isn’t even promising in the first place. Tannehill through three years was better than Jones by record, stats, arm talent, eye test and health, and even then locking up Tannehill contributed towards the Dolphins being so trapped in mediocrity that they eventually salary dumped him off the team. And like I said, Tannehill was actually a promising young QB at the time of his extension. Jones is not one. The last time a team was rewarded in blind faith towards a highly drafted QB? I think it was the 49ers with Alex Smith? And that’s Alex Smith who was a first overall pick. Even then, Smith turned out to have a great career but he’s the same guy who was dumped TWICE by great coaches for a more talented replacement (decisions that both paid off for those coaches). So like I said…what are we doing here with Jones?

We could go into 2022 and just mope about Jones one last go-around until the Giants inevitably finish with a 5-12 record, but there are definitely ways for the Giants to proactively address the QB situation even with a shot salary cap for 2022 and a “bad QB draft class” (I only put that in quotations because I haven’t personally watched prospects yet and those pre-determinations can often turn out to be bogus). They could simply draft a QB this year to compete with Jones with one of their multiple high draft picks. They also should have the ammo to go trade for an established quarterback. The trendy rumor is Russell Wilson, and yes he would provide a massive immediate upgrade and a likely return to credibility as a franchise. They should definitely engage with Seattle to gauge the asking price, and they should dial up a team like the Raiders too if they are floating Derek Carr. Still, I don’t think a quick-fix is the real solution here. By mortgaging draft capital – Seattle might want three first-round picks – the Giants would box themselves in with this crappy roster that might only get worse following 2022 without more investment into young difference makers. Take Wilson…is he seriously good enough to turn THIS Giants team into contenders next year? And if not – which is my response – then shouldn’t the Giants choose to improve the roster and the salary cap THEN get aggressive in the QB trade market or free agency if that is the intention? Yes, another team could pounce on Russ but we are entering an NFL age where there will always be good QBs looking for a change. As lowly as things are for the Giants, they should aim to avoid shortcuts.

Therefore, that is why it is my official suggestion for the Giants to eat the trash here. Dig that hole. *Joe Judge fake Southern accent voice* “Sometimes you gotta go back to actually move forward.” I want the Giants to play some Moneyball at QB for 2022. Trade Daniel Jones for the reduced but real value that he still has, take back an awful contract in the process, then reap the rewards via draft compensation that comes along with it. If this sounds familiar, it was what the Browns did with Brock Osweiler’s Texans contract that got them a 2nd round pick that turned into Nick Chubb. Now, like I said though, I don’t want the Giants to outright tank next year and that is what the Browns did in that situation. So I am not endorsing that they go out and seek a QB as bad as Osweiler, who the Browns did not even entertain playing and cut before the season. I think the only pricy 2022 QB who fits that mold is Sam Darnold, who probably wouldn’t be allowed to swipe back into MetLife Stadium anyway so cross him off the list. Then there is Baker Mayfield, who has trapped the Browns by flashing enough to kickstart extension discussions but has also been untrustworthy enough for them to halt those discussions. You gotta think Andrew Berry and Kevin Stefanski, neither of whom decided to draft Baker first overall, are desperate to make an upgrade despite Baker’s fifth year already being guaranteed. Before Daniel Jones’ neck injury, I could have written a convincing argument for the Giants and Browns as QB trade partners. I could see the appeal for Cleveland in Jones, who has cut back on turnovers, in the Browns run-heavy offense at a total bargain that would allow them to continue beefing up an already great roster. But with Jones’ injury removing the realistic option to trade for Jones on a 2 year/$25mil contract with his exercised option, it would suddenly represent a gamble for the Browns for a QB that hasn’t shown nearly enough to bank on him getting them over the hump in one year. If the Browns do choose to make a change at QB, expect them to aim higher. That leaves us with our final QB on a bad contract who I think fits the bill here perfectly: Jared Goff.

Fair Trade Prediction: Giants trade Daniel Jones, 2022 5th Round Pick, 2022 6th Round Pick to Lions for Jared Goff, 2022 2nd Round Pick, 2023 4th Round Pick

No way around it: Goff is no longer the good, young QB that took the Rams to the Super Bowl. He got banished by Sean McVay and hasn’t exactly proven anyone wrong in Detroit for the two-win Lions. His 6.5 yards/attempt is abysmal, and while QBR is a flawed stat Goff currently ranks 24th out of 31 qualifiers – which sounds about right. (Jones, for the record, is 23rd.) Goff’s contract is even worse than his recent performance too, with enough guaranteed to basically make him cut-proof for 2022 with at least a $26mil cap hit. The Lions pretty inexplicably doubled down on Goff too following the trade by massively restructuring his contract to a point where they’d absorb a $15mil dead cap hit by trading him away. So how does this make any on-field or business sense for either team?

I’ll start with Detroit. They almost need to make a QB change next year with Dan Campbell in charge. His emotional approach actually seems to be working in terms of on-field effort and attitude for a hapless team, but I don’t know how much longer that could last if they trot out Goff again and basically waive the white flag on the season in the process. Now, they could draft a QB with one of their three picks currently within the Top 35, but it’s extremely unlikely they will draft one in the Top 2 and they should be much more inclined to make their big move using their own pick with the Rams first-rounder that could be better in 2023 (maybe even much better if Matt Stafford gets hurt) for Bryce Young or CJ Stroud.

Would Lions fans who have watched their team win 7 combined games over the last two seasons want to see their team part ways with a nearly first round pick? Of course not, but there could be a lot to be gained in this move that would make the team better. Jones would come extremely cheap as a viable one-year bridge QB at $4mil for a trading team, and maybe he’d actually show that improvement that everyone has been waiting for behind an offensive line that might be the league’s best moving forward. On that note, for a team that didn’t win a game until Week 13, the Lions roster isn’t THAT bad. Their wide receivers are dreadful, but they have many solid pieces in place elsewhere – and that’s not even including the likely edge rusher they’ll add in the Top 2 in the draft. Detroit also only has 6 picks in the 2022 Draft with none in Rounds 4 and 5, so despite the big move back from Round 2 to Round 5 they would pick up an additional pick in this process. The Lions would save $12mil in 2022 alone on this trade with at minimum another $10mil off the books beyond that. To put that into real terms, they could potentially upgrade at QB in Jones, sign a free agent receiver along the likes of Christian Kirk almost exclusively with the profits gained in that upgrade, and then still use their other first round pick on either another receiver, linebacker, or whatever they choose.

As for the Giants, well it’s some reverse logic but Goff could potentially provide them with a short-term upgrade too. It feels like ages since Goff made back-to-back Pro Bowls but he undoubtedly has a better arm than Jones and is still only 27 years old. Even the 2019-2020 regressed version of Goff would be a welcomed sight for Giants fans, and Goff has plenty of experience in distributing the ball to skilled offensive weapons. The Giants would need big upgrades to both the offensive line and the playcalling to make this work, but I don’t think it’s hard to imagine the Giants offense looking more credible with Goff at all. He’ll finish close to as many TD passes in one year with the Lions as Jones had in his past two years with the Giants, after all.

The business of it all is honestly harder to justify for the Giants, but mainly for a draft pick that currently sits at 34th overall this would be worth it. For the team with arguably the worst 2022 cap situation to take on arguably the worst contract in football, it stretches the limits of financial possibility even in the NFL, but it could be done with corresponding moves – see the rest of this blog! And with Goff’s contract, the guarantees stop after 2022 so should his right arm appear cooked they could cut him scot-free following the season. If you think that $22mil is a lot to pay for a second round pick, well you’d be correct but this is the type of aggressive move that could lead to real change. John Mara owes us this much. Think about how few foundational players are on the Giants current roster: Andrew Thomas, Xavier McKinney, Azeez Ojulari…and that’s it? Any coincidence that those are 3/4 guys taken in the first two rounds over the last two drafts? Not at all. Giants fans should know how valuable the top of the 2nd round is. Landon Collins was the 33rd pick. Sterling Shepard was 40th. McKinney was 36th. This presents a real scenario where the Giants could draft two offensive linemen, an edge rusher, and a linebacker ALL in the Top 40 picks. And shit, maybe they even take a falling QB with that inherited pick atop the second round instead? This is how the Giants can create their own luck instead of praying that someone new buys the team.

TOTAL 2022 CAP HIT: $22mil

THE OBVIOUS CUTS 

All of these players are signed to play for the 2022 Giants. None of these players should play for the 2022 Giants.

  • Kyle Rudolph ($5mil savings) – Predictably a titanic waste of money and roster spot for this current team, Rudolph has been a non-factor despite the pretty big need at the TE2 position. He looks slow, washed up, and generally disinterested and I cannot wait for him to no longer wear blue.
  • Riley Dixon ($2.8mil savings) – A bad punter who can save your team nearly three million dollars? Uhhh yeah.
  • Oshane Ximenes ($1mil savings) – HAS to be one of the worst players in the league. His career probably ends here…Giants desperately needed him to step up and he can’t even crack the active roster nowadays.
  • Kaden Smith ($1mil savings) – He has actually looked ok when given the chance but it’s a bad sign that the team paid Rudolph to supplant him when he plays for so cheap.
  • Ben Bredeson and Wes Martin ($1.9 savings combined) – Two dart throws at the board when Nick Gates shattered his leg to fill in at offensive guard. Welp, neither stuck.
  • Gary Brightwell, Raymond Johnson III, Carter Coughlin, Justin Hilliard, TJ Brunson, Rysen John ($4.8mil savings combined) – Random depth guys who should be replaced with rookies drafted/signed by a more competent front office.

TOTAL 2022 SAVINGS: $16.5mil

TOUGH GOODBYES

Guys we actually like who just are on the wrong end of difficult decisions necessitated by the salary cap situation. AKA, you can thank Gettleman and Co. for losing these guys.

  • James Bradberry/Trade ($12mil savings) – Bradberry is set to have the second highest cap hit on the 2022 Giants at nearly $22mil, and yet going into this I fully planned to keep him around for his final year under contract. While he definitely is not playing as well as he did in 2020, just because Bradberry is no longer an All-Pro candidate doesn’t mean that he isn’t still a good cornerback who is asked to do a ton on this defense. Fans have given him way too hard of a time for his play this season. He is always on the field and has made a ton of huge plays in just two years, and in a better situation he would have earned the right to finish out his contract. Plus, he’d return a nice comp pick to the 2023 Giants barring a fall off a cliff next year. But being that Bradberry is in the final year of a hefty deal, getting rid of him would save $12mil that would go a long way towards these other rebuilding moves. Secondary is also a rare area of strength on this Giants roster, and Bradberry is one of the very few Giants players that is tradeable.

Fair Trade Prediction: Giants trade James Bradberry to Colts for 2022 4th Round Pick

This is a fairly easy hypothetical. In 2020, Denver traded a 4th round pick for AJ Bouye on a similar deal with similar recent production. The Colts are among the best at finding value in veteran players – think Xavier Rhodes – and they might be able to get that fourth-rounder back as a comp pick in 2023 if Bradberry played well for them.

  • Sterling Shepard/Release ($4.5mil savings) – This one hurts a lot, especially since Shep is a good player and great teammate who is just cursed by a body that cannot hang with his talent. Somehow now the longest tenured Giant, he signed a team-friendly contract that as recently as a couple of weeks ago was worth either trading or keeping on the books as a valuable WR3. With the recent news that he tore his Achilles though, that injury should lead to a painful farewell for a dude who relies on his quickness and is going into his age-29 season. It’s reminiscent of the Victor Cruz injury; Shepard deserves so much better but the NFL can be a bitch sometimes.
  • Nick Gates/Release ($2.5mil savings) – Gates looked like he was going to become the rare win of Gettleman’s “hog mollies” moves. The Giants brought him in as a UDFA and he quickly became a serviceable guard/center hybrid who defied any defensive player to mess with his quarterback. His injury this year against Washington was SO bad though that we can’t be sure that he’ll ever come back the same and the Giants can’t take that bet for a guy who would make a meaningful financial contribution with his release.

TOTAL 2022 SAVINGS: $19mil

EASY GOODBYES

  • Saquon Barkley/Trade ($7mil savings) – I – *clears throat* – cannot stand Saquon Barkley and wish him off my team for just about anything. He is a self-centered prima donna who has made nothing better since we made the regrettable decision to draft him second overall. He is a direct contributor to the total nonsense narrative that he is a chosen-one player, and on the field Saquon has been overrated from the jump and now has fallen to the depths of a straight-up bad running back still on his rookie deal. He looks for home runs on every snap regardless of situation and almost never hits them but we pretend not to care because of random highlights along the way. He is laughably mediocre as a receiver even though we were spoon-fed this idea that he’s Marshall Faulk 2.0, and his pass blocking remains so bad that he comes off the field entirely on third downs for Devontae Booker. And as for the “bad luck” and “impossible roster” that many have claimed to hold Saquon back, give me a freaking break. Look, the sprained ankle against the Cowboys this year was a random occurrence but I’m not going to weep for a running back getting hurt in any context, let alone one who gallops around like he’s Gale Sayers with a lower body so disproportionate that he looks like an action figure. And yes, the Giants have been bad for the entirety of Saquon’s career and a large part of that failure stems to the offensive line, but it’s now IMPOSSIBLE to avoid putting together that Wayne Gallman and Booker have steamed ahead on this team while Saquon and his army of defenders continue to look anywhere for someone or something to blame besides Saquon himself. If the Giants were to actually extend Saquon long-term, I would question my fandom in the team.

Fair Trade Prediction: Giants trade Saquon Barkley to Dolphins for Myles Gaskin, 2022 6th Round Pick and 2023 3rd Round Pick

So, with that glowing endorsement why would anyone trade for this guy? Well, star power at the running back position still matters. We are not that long removed from Le’Veon Bell getting $35mil guaranteed. Also, while I am inclined to believe that the majority of the league has caught onto Saquon’s stink, there are always a couple of desperate teams out there who might try to recapture his rookie form two years removed from his ACL tear. The funny thing about Saquon’s contract is that the logic of taking a running back second overall is so broken that he’s actually making less money on his fifth-year option. It’s still a decent chunk of change for a running back in $7mil, but that’s doable for one year. There aren’t too many eligible teams for Saquon: I guess I could see Washington, Seattle, Kansas City or the Jets trading for him. The best fit though is the Dolphins, who have some desperation to win soon and simultaneously have the most cap space going into 2022 and the league’s worst running back committee. I also think they have Hulu and Progressive in Miami?

There isn’t much of a precedent to compare a trade of Saquon to, especially since the league has mostly figured out running back value since the turn of the century. Besides Bill O’Brien dealing a third-rounder for Duke Johnson and the infamous Trent Richardson trade, you have to go all the way back to 2004 for the last time a running back was traded for a third-rounder or better. But still, I think this is valid, especially since it would be devalued by the Dolphins regime with it coming one year later in 2023 when they might not even be in power any longer if they miss the playoffs again. I have the Giants getting Myles Gaskin in addition to draft compensation in the trade. Gaskin had a bad 2021 season almost any way you slice it, currently dead last among 42 qualifying RBs in rushing DVOA. But he’s so cheap that he’s worth taking a flier on behind a new line that isn’t the worst in the league. Gaskin did lead all running backs in receiving DVOA as a rookie, and a good pass-catching RB has been a recent void for the Giants. Sean McVay traded a 6th and a future 4th for Sony Michel; proposing a 6th and a future 3rd with Gaskin, who is near losing his job with the Dolphins anyway, is fine for someone of Saquon’s presence – as ridiculous as it might be.

TOTAL 2022 SAVINGS: $6mil

FREE AGENTS TO LET WALK

Current Giants players who are set to hit free agency next offseason that the team should make no effort or next-to-no effort to bring back.

  • Evan Engram – Prototype example of an overvalued player who made it through his rookie deal that can still turn into fools’ gold via the comp pick system – something the Giants have continuously gotten wrong that the smarter teams leverage year after year for bonus draft picks. I don’t see Engram as a talented player that multiple Giants coaching staffs got wrong…I just don’t think he’s good. His hands are famously bad, he doesn’t inline block, and he never found consistency running anything besides underneath routes. A lot of teams will shy away, especially in a strong tight end free agent market, but it only takes one buyer to return value to the Giants.
  • Jabrill Peppers – Bummer that Peppers’ Giants tenure will end with a torn ACL, but the truth is that he probably would’ve been dealt at the trade deadline anyway if not for the injury. After two good years following the trade over from the Browns, Peppers seemingly lost his ability to cover overnight and thereby lost his regular role in Patrick Graham’s defense. Still, he’s only 26 and an excellent athlete, and there should be a few strong offers out there for Peppers for a team that wants to use him more heavily blitzing and around the line of scrimmage.
  • Nate Solder – Solder’s ill-fated contract is finally over, but not before counting $4mil against the 2022 cap in dead money. He’ll probably choose to retire, but if Solder does want to keep playing then the Giants should offer him nothing more than a veteran minimum salary to be the swing tackle and a leader for a young positional group. I can’t imagine that sounds all too appealing to him.
  • Will Hernandez – Sheesh, good riddance. Just a bad player who got so many chances to live up to his basically first-round draft position. He’ll get a surprising deal in free agency and the Giants need to just bite their tongues as it happens.
  • Austin Johnson – Decent rotational player who got paid like one. Johnson got asked to do too much this year following the departure of Dalvin Tomlinson though and he didn’t really deliver. Giants just need to aim a bit higher here.
  • Billy Price – A player like BJ Hill on the Bengals is a great example of somebody who could one-up Austin Johnson. Think we could have traded Price for him? Price wasn’t a disaster or anything for the Giants given that he stayed healthy all year for cheap and never completely imploded the line, but he continued to be the mediocre center that the Bengals gave up on. Price actually could turn into a solid comp pick for the Giants given his former first-rounder status.
  • John Ross – More of the same for Ross…made some exciting plays, splashed his talent, couldn’t stay on the field and when he did, he wasn’t impactful from drive to drive.
  • Mike Glennon – Think the time is up for one of the higher-paid frauds in NFL history. Just a putrid QB who I cannot imagine gets another primary backup gig. Fitting that the Giants were the last team to give him that shot.
  • Danny Shelton – I actually liked this signing at the time since the front office underestimated Dalvin Tomlinson’s impact and Shelton had good experience stopping the run, but he was just ineffective from the get-go.
  • Reggie Ragland and Bernardrick McKinney – They were both actually serviceable, but the Giants need to make a serious change in the linebacker room in a serious way. Should they strike out or should Blake Martinez not look the same coming back from injury, players like Ragland and McKinney are clearly available as midseason pickups anyway.
  • Jaylon Smith – Smith has shown a spark in his brief stint with the Giants and reminded why he was once one of the higher paid linebackers in the league. But if Smith continues to look rejuvenated, I BEG that another team besides the Giants gives him guaranteed money off a three-game end-of-year sample size after Smith was cut twice by two of the smarter teams in the league who each got up-close and extended looks at this version of him.
  • Isaiah Wilson – Some fans need to grow up with this one. Wilson can’t get off the practice squad for a team that I think would give ME a tryout on the offensive line. He’s not part of the plan.

FREE AGENTS TO RETAIN

Current Giants players who could also leave town, but in this case the team should fight to keep them around at the right cost.

  • Lorenzo Carter – This is almost certainly an unpopular opinion amongst Giants fans, but I’d prefer that we bring Carter back. I just think he’s a solid and versatile role player who is always in the right spot and can make impact plays from time to time. He looked like a well-spent third-round pick coming off his second season before he blew out his Achilles in Year 3 and then the fanbase either forgot or soured on him. Carter has started to regain some juice in the second half of this season, and he’ll still only be 26 next year. Even if he would become more of a revolving linebacker who shifts between pass rushing and off-ball, I think we and more importantly Patrick Graham would miss Carter if we did what’s expected and let him walk.

Fair Contract Prediction: 3 years, $10mil ($2mil cap hit for 2022, $4mil for 2023 and 2024)

  • Eli Penny – Fullbacks matter and Penny is a good and familiar one. Simple as that…give him the same contract again.

Fair Contract Prediction: 2 years, $2.7mil ($1mil cap hit for 2022, $1.7mil for 2023)

  • Matt Skura – Giants need to go into the 2022 Draft with ANYONE besides just the fifth-rounder coming off a knee injury (Shane Lemieux) in the interior offensive line unit, and Skura has been more dependable than Bredeson or Martin. It helps that Skura has pro experience starting at both guard and center.

Fair Contract Prediction: 2 years, $3mil ($1mil cap hit for 2022, $2mil for 2023)

  • Casey Kreiter – Every team needs a long snapper and Kreiter hasn’t screwed up for the Giants.

Fair Contract Prediction: 1 year, $1mil

  • Jake Fromm – I know, I know. Fromm looked unplayable against the Eagles, so bad that he got benched for Mike Glennon in a game that basically only existed for the Giants to test out Fromm. Still, he’s clearly got some fire and grabbed control of the offense pretty quickly. There isn’t much talent to work with here, but Fromm was a good four-year starter at a major college program and deserves an NFL job – for now. The next Colt McCoy has to come from somewhere and in theory it could be Fromm.

Fair Contract Prediction: 1 year, $900k

  • Jarren Williams – Nothing too exciting here; Williams has been a solid injury replacement in the secondary and you can never have enough cornerback depth.

Fair Contract Prediction: 1 year, $900k

TOTAL 2022 CAP HIT: $7mil

FREE AGENTS TO SIGN

As previously stated, I am going to ignore any itching desire for the Giants to splurge in free agency for outside players over the next two years. But still, it’s pretty impossible to field a roster without some participation in free agency. I’m going to split this up into two sub-sections: 1) 2022 free agents with names who will receive meaningful contracts and 2) 2022 free agents without names who will get paid very little to fill the final roster spots vacated by the players cut earlier in this exercise.

FREE AGENTS WITH NAMES

  • David Njoku – For those keeping score, with the departures of Evan Engram, Kyle Rudolph and Kaden Smith, that leaves the 2022 Giants with…zero tight ends on the roster! While the Giants will definitely address the position with one of their Day 2 draft picks, they should turn to free agency for a fresh start at the position with a veteran/rookie combo. The great news for the Giants is that this is a deep and diverse tight end free agent class, with basically multiple options for any flavor. Mike Gesicki and Dalton Schultz will likely pace the market outside of the Giants price range around $12-15mil AAV (if either of them even leave their current teams). There are older veteran options in Zach Ertz and Jared Cook and bargain-bin options like Robert Tonyan or Tyler Conklin, but given the state of the roster and the weirdness of tight end contracts this is where the new GM can get bold right away. The Giants should be thinking long-term with upside here, even if that naturally comes along with some risk. Ironically, many teams will see that as a perfect description for Engram, but there are new options for the Giants in Njoku and OJ Howard in the $10mil AAV range or somebody more like CJ Uzomah and Gerald Everett in the $6mil AAV range. I’m going with the Jersey boy in Njoku, who definitely has seen more career drama than you’d like for a 25 year old but comes along with more of a traditional tight end skillset and gamebreaking ability than Engram. While a good player on the Browns, it never worked out in Cleveland and they have his replacements already rostered. I’d bet on a realization of potential with a change of scenery for Njoku.

Fair Contract Prediction: 4 years, $40mil ($4mil cap hit for 2022, $12mil cap hits for 2023-2025)

  • Tim Settle – Defensive tackle is also one of the stronger positional groups in next offseason’s free agent pool, and the Giants find themselves in need of another beefy guy who puts his hands in the dirt. Despite Gettleman’s infatuation with the position, it’s really down to only Leonard Williams and Dexter Lawrence on the depth chart, and Settle would be an intriguing option to round out that group given he has the size at 335 pounds to hang at nose tackle but enough pass rush savvy to rotate with Lawrence in his designated gaps. Settle will hit free agency at only 24 years old, and he never really got a chance to shine as part of Washington’s insanely deep defensive line. This would involve more projection that you’d typically like for a long-term deal but I do think Settle should be good with more playing time and would make for an excellent fit with the Giants.

Fair Contract Prediction: 4 years, $24mil ($3mil cap hit for 2022, $7mil cap hits for 2023-2025)

FREE AGENTS WITHOUT NAMES

  • Offensive Tackle (1 year, $2mil budget) – Only necessitated by Matt Peart’s ACL tear, since the team needs someone behind Andrew Thomas and the right tackle that the Giants presumably take with a high draft pick.
  • Wide Receiver (1 year, $1.5mil budget) – Like the John Ross deal again, but just not Ross this time.
  • Tight End (1 year, $1mil budget) – Only here to block.

TOTAL 2022 CAP HIT: $11.5mil

For comp picks, it’s a guess but I’d imagine the Giants would land something like two 2023 Draft picks in the Rounds 5-7 range for Peppers/Johnson/Price with Engram/Njoku negating and Hernandez/Settle negating.

PLAYERS TO RESTRUCTURE

Restructuring contracts, for those who hear that thrown around a lot as some magic device for making salary cap problems go away, is largely bad. It is the primary reason that the Giants find themselves in their current financial predicament. In the simplest terms, restructuring is taking a chunk of a player’s base salary for the current season then splitting it evenly as a signing bonus over the course of ALL seasons under contract. Players never say no to it because it is guaranteed money upfront, and GMs commonly use it to kick the can of big contracts to either their future selves or the GM that replaces them. Still, it has a place in the league. A lot of the smartest teams heavily restructure deals. If you have confidence that the player will be on your team in those future years, then it’s a fine thing to do so long as you have future cap flexibility – like the Giants do in 2023.

  • Leonard Williams ($18mil, $9mil savings) – This deal doomed the future Giants from the moment the ink hit the paper, even if Williams is arguably the best player on the team. It’s just far too much money for a defensive tackle not named Aaron Donald let alone Chris Jones or Jon Allen, and in this situation the contract is only going to become more laughable in its final year. Like I previously wrote, we are eating the trash here. This would give Leo a cap hit of $35mil in 2023, basically paying him like he’s a Top 10 quarterback. But still, so long as the vision remains clear, you accept good yet wildly overpriced play from Williams in 2023 then let him walk for a top comp pick.
  • Adoree’ Jackson ($8mil, $4mil savings) – Restructuring is a good way to turn bargain free agent contracts into no-longer bargain free agent contracts…see above for James Bradberry. The Giants seem to have connected on Jackson, who looked great for the bulk of the season. He will still be 26 years old in Week 1 next season, so even with a $21mil cap hit in 2023 I wouldn’t be worried about it. He is a solid candidate to receive an extension if he looks just as good next season.
  • Kenny Golladay ($8mil, $6mil savings) – I didn’t want to have to touch Golladay’s contract with his massively disappointing season occurring in Year 1/4 on his deal, but with the deal so stretched out (including a 2025 void year) this wouldn’t really make much of a difference in any decisions made on Golladay’s future. The truth of the matter is that he will be on the 2022 and 2023 Giants, and if things are still bad by 2024 they’ll cut him anyway even if it costs another $4mil to do so. Notably, I still believe in Golladay too even if his contract sucks. He has been good when given opportunities, and I’d rather bet on him moving forward via a restructure than Goff or Logan Ryan.
  • Julian Love (2 years/$8mil, $1mil savings) – This is actually an extension, not a restructure, but it’s a similar idea here. Love isn’t anything special and hasn’t succeeded much when thrust into a starting role, but he’s a versatile defensive back who has a good understanding of Patrick Graham’s complex defensive scheme. The Giants have not been good about keeping players around for low-cost veteran deals in recent years, and Love is a good candidate for one – especially since Logan Ryan is a likely cut candidate following next season.

TOTAL 2022 SAVINGS: $20mil

2022 GIANTS DRAFT PICKS

We did it! We have cleared enough cap room to assemble a roster and sign a draft class. Here is where all of the above moves would leave the Giants in the 2022 Draft. This would be TASTY, with two picks in every Round 1-4. Picks in normal font are real, those with strikethrough are real but traded in this blog, and those in italics are acquired as written in this blog.

It is easy to say a rebuilding team like the Giants should always defer to the best player available when on the clock in the draft, and sometimes I agree but this team in particular has so many damn needs at key positions. In the roster section below, I included rookies at positions that I feel like the Giants just need to address in the upcoming draft. Don’t worry…I left two open rookie spaces too for the team to get nuts.

  1. Round 1 / Pick 5
  2. Round 1 / Pick 8 (Chicago Pick)
  3. Round 2 / Pick 34 (Goff Trade)
  4. Round 2 / Pick 36
  5. Round 3
  6. Round 3 (Miami Pick)
  7. Round 4
  8. Round 4 (Bradberry Trade)
  9. Round 5
  10. Round 5
  11. Round 6
  12. Round 6 (Saquon Trade)
  13. Round 7
  14. Round 7

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!

Part of the goal of a rebuild is a rebrand. The Giants are a clown show organization, regardless of what Joe Judge says. It’s beyond the point of embarrassment in being a rational Giants fan; it’s become funny to laugh at their misery. We had a good run of gaffes, but it’s about time for fans to wear their Giants jerseys in public un-ironically again. The Giants clearly have so many issues, and a big one is how they don’t really have any great players. Like, I’m not sure that one Top 100 player in the league is on the roster. Zero guys made the Pro Bowl. We have plenty of good players for a terrible team, including some who might be considered great soon, but none as of right now and that’s a problem. Like, who is our billboard player? I think it’s Leonard Williams? Does any team outside of the Texans have a more embarrassing selection?

I am about to propose a big trade for the Giants to make, and rest assured it is not purely for better marketing along the New Jersey Turnpike. But I do genuinely think the Giants would benefit from a star player who won’t be 23 years old in 2024 as part of this rebuild, and they have enough capital to pull it off without mortgaging the future. Maybe the solution here is a quarterback, but the Giants shouldn’t limit themselves to that position with huge holes at other crucial positions on the roster. Look no further than EDGE, where I am calling for the Giants to make an aggressive move for Jacksonville’s Josh Allen.

Fair Trade Prediction: Giants trade 2022 1st Round Pick (Chicago Pick) to Jaguars for Josh Allen

Boom! This idea rightfully should raise a lot of questions and doubts, and honestly if the Giants simply decided to draft an EDGE in the Top 10 I’d be cool with it. But I really do prefer this route. It’s creative and opportunistic and something that smart teams around the league have pulled off in recent years. Rookie deals are among the most important commodities in the NFL, yes, but if you can extend a Pro Bowl caliber player on top of his rookie deal, that can lead to a team-friendly contract in that player’s prime. In this case, it is a bit of a buy-low on Allen too. Allen is only 24, made the Pro Bowl as a rookie with 10.5 sacks and currently has a great PFF grade of 79, but yet there is little buzz on him in his third year. Part of that is because the Jaguars are such a mess, but Allen does only have 5.5 sacks and 12 QB hits this season. Allen can surely use more refinement rushing the quarterback, but I think this is more of a circumstantial instance than one of production. Jacksonville shifted from a 4-3 base defense to a 3-4 this year, arguably a better long-term fit for a toolsy player like Allen, but something new for him to adapt to on top of what has definitely been terrible coaching this year. Part of this is also surely because Allen has been banged up since a mid-season hot streak and his snaps have been limited due to that and the Jags season going to total crap. PFF grades should be taken with more context, but in this case I do think it tells the story of Allen playing well even if his traditional defensive end stats don’t reflect it. The advanced stats back up that the talent is still bigly there. He’s just caught in a bad spot on a team that is going to pick first in the draft again, and the Giants should pounce.

Allen would fit like a glove into the Giants defense and would undoubtedly bring a jolt to the franchise. The economics of it make total sense too. By trading for Allen in the final year of his standard rookie deal, the 2022 dollars are basically a wash for whoever the team would have drafted in that Pick 8-10 spot. This would be a full-measure trade where the Giants lock up Allen before he plays a snap, something the team totally whiffed on with Leonard Williams that ended up biting them. I think an extension in the ballpark of 5 years, $100mil would get it done for both parties. That would make Allen safely a Top 10 paid EDGE by both total dollars and AAV, even if he isn’t quite one yet. For the Giants, that’s a completely reasonable bet to make that Allen gets there during that contract, and if so he’d be a steal effectively making $17.5mil/year until 2027.

I think both teams would go for this! Jacksonville is picking at the top of the draft and the consensus Top 2 players, Aidan Hutchinson and Kayvon Thibodeaux, are both EDGEs. In this scenario, they could completely reboot their defense and still leave the Top 10 of the draft with a left tackle – probably their biggest team need. 

In nature of the player, it’s extremely similar to when the Steelers came out of nowhere with the 18th overall pick for Minkah Fitzpatrick as his situation deteriorated in Miami. And with the financials, the Colts basically followed this structure by giving up the 13th overall pick to land DeForest Buckner and sign him to an expensive but ultimately fair extension. Is part of this suggestion a karma-based do-over for the Giants passing on Allen in the draft for Daniel Jones? Perhaps…but it’s also just a great idea.

2022 GIANTS WEEK 1 ROSTER

QB (2): Jared Goff, Jake Fromm

RB (3): Devontae Booker, Myles Gaskin, Rookie

FB (1): Eli Penny

WR (5): Kenny Golladay, Kadarius Toney, Darius Slayton, Free Agent Veteran, Collin Johnson

TE (3): David Njoku, Rookie, Free Agent Veteran

OT (3): Andrew Thomas, Rookie, Free Agent Veteran

IOL (4): Rookie, Rookie, Matt Skura, Shane Lemieux

IDL (4): Leonard Williams, Dexter Lawrence, Tim Settle, Rookie

EDGE (5): Josh Allen, Azeez Ojulari, Lorenzo Carter, Quincy Roche, Elerson Smith

LB (4): Blake Martinez, Rookie, Tae Crowder, Cam Brown

CB (5): Adoree Jackson, Aaron Robinson, Darnay Holmes, Jarren Williams, Rodarius Williams

S (3): Xavier McKinney, Logan Ryan, Julian Love

ST (3): Graham Gano, Rookie, Casey Kreiter

Unassigned Rookie (2)

FINAL OUTLOOK

  • 2023 Extra Draft Picks: 3rd Round (Miami), 4th Round (Detroit), 5th Round (Comp), 7th Round (Comp)
  • 2023 Players to Extend: Andrew Thomas, Xavier McKinney and Josh Allen. Depending on 2022 play, Blake Martinez and Adoree’ Jackson would be candidates too.
  • 2023 Salary Cap: Building the above roster would definitely place some strain on the 2023 cap. It would drop the Giants from an ok 2023 cap situation to a pretty bad one, but a lot of money would be eligible to come off the books and the Giants could still pursue a QB without pulling strings like I had to do for Goff here. And I’ll say it one more time…the goal here is 2024, where the financials would be left in a solid place after all of this.

Would the roster constructed above be a good team in 2022? No, but again that’s part of the point. It’s a three-year plan where each year things start to look up more and more. I actually do think this team without Super Bowl aspirations would be better than any of the teams that Dave Gettleman built out of desperation to save his job, though. I think it would look something like this year’s Broncos or Steelers. It was obvious that neither of those teams had real chances this year with mediocre offenses behind mediocre quarterbacks, but they both were competitive with good defenses and finished around .500 with quality wins. Like the Broncos and Steelers this upcoming offseason, more importantly these Giants would be positioned to make a play for a quarterback to push them over the top if the opportunity presented itself, only with a much improved roster over the current one. If the Giants are back to respectability in 2022 with a brighter future ahead, then it’s mission accomplished.

Thank you for reading! Follow along on Twitter for more Giants rambling at @Real_Peej.

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Eli Manning Was A Top 5 Quarterback In The League For Multiple Years (With Bonus Segment Of Ideal Landing Spots For Eli)

I’ve had the idea for this blog in the docket since launching Epiblogue. I knew it would take a lot of time and research to put together in the way I wanted it, so I figured I would chop away at it in the offseason while the 24/7 sports media inevitably discussed whether the Giants’ newly drafted top quarterback prospect should start the 2018 season instead of Eli. But then, as everyone knows, things changed this week. Tuesday, November 28th became The Day The New York Giants Publicly Humiliated The Best Quarterback In Franchise History. I had to get to work right away to defend the honor of Elisha Nelson Manning IV.

As for the decision itself, I’m not gonna spend much time at all writing about that. Every single blogger, writer, radio host, podcaster, etc. in the New York market has already covered it, and everyone is echoing the same thing. Just listen to this peak Francesa rant to know how we feel about it. It’s nothing short of a fucking outrage. Ben McAdoo and Jerry Reese know their seats are a trillion degrees right now, so their last-ditch effort to save face was scapegoating Eli as the reason for this nightmare of a season. They know Eli is the only real QB on the roster. They know Geno Smith blows. (Despite being the next Drew Brees, Geno barely even made the team this year.) They know Davis Webb sucks too and isn’t CLOSE to ready. The kid hasn’t even dressed for a game yet, and now we’re supposed to trust McAdoo to get him game-ready in just two weeks? I sincerely hope he does well once he gets his chance, but it’s just not gonna happen. He’ll be throwing to the same anonymous receivers that Eli has been, and he’ll be playing behind the same tissue paper offensive line. They think they’re doing Webb a favor by waiting to start him until a home game, but MetLife is gonna be hostile with all of the booing and Eli chants. In all likelihood this will shatter his confidence and set back any potential that Webb might actually have, but McAdoo and Reese obviously don’t care. They are selfish, spineless cowards who didn’t see any problem with hanging the most beloved player on the team out to dry.

The worst part of this whole fiasco is the proposed master plan where Eli would start games then get pulled at halftime, just to keep his Iron Man streak going. It’s been three days and I’m not even one percent less agitated at this suggestion. It just shows how out of touch with reality Giants leadership is that they thought this was some sort of kind gesture to Eli. It’s a slap in the face then a punch in the gut then a kick in the balls. It’s pretty much the move the Bills pulled with Tyrod Taylor just two weeks ago, a move that was laughed at by just about every football fan. Only difference is the Giants did it to a two-time Super Bowl MVP who was on multiple occasions a Top 5 quarterback in the league.

Now I know what your reaction to that last point might be…“Top 5 in the league for multiple years? The guy who is a walking meme? Um, no?” If you look back on the past ten seasons though, it’s a case that can absolutely be made, and a case that I absolutely will be making. Allow me to explain my methodology:

  1. This is essentially a ranking of “if you had to pick a quarterback to start a game the day after that specific season ended, who would you pick?”
  2. I used a combination of standard stats, advanced stats, regular season records, postseason performances, and eye tests. (For all my fellow Moneyball nerds out there, I consulted metrics like DVOA and DYAR, but I left them out of the write-ups to avoid getting too technical.) And yes, measuring “eliteness” is a totally arbitrary thing, so this is some mildly opinionated analysis.
  3. Past performance matters. So basically, you have to work your way up into the Top 5. This prevents us from having to consider cases like 2013 Nick Foles. He arguably had one of the five best statistical years for that specific season, but I don’t even think his mother would admit he was a Top 5 quarterback in the league.
  4. It takes a truly mind-blowing performance to break into the Top 5 if that quarterback wasn’t a fringe candidate for the prior season. Think 2015 Cam Newton.
  5. A quarterback can lose his spot in the Top 5 to injury, but doesn’t automatically lose his spot to injury. Like Aaron Rodgers is currently one of the best QBs in the league despite his broken collarbone. We all know he’ll come back and be fine. But say he ruptured his spleen? We wouldn’t be so sure.

 

2007

 Top 5: Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Brett Favre, Carson Palmer

Explained: Brady puts up probably the best QB season of all-time, even to this day. He leads the Patriots to a 16-0 season, throws 50 TDs with only 8 interceptions, and leads the league in just about every important passing category. Besides Brady’s performance, this was one of the worst quarterbacking seasons in modern history. This was the year where Derek Anderson legitimately made the Pro Bowl. (Probably not the best call to start with this season, but we’re running with it.) Peyton has a down year by his standards, but still an excellent year compared to the rest. The other three wouldn’t crack most other year’s Top 5 based off their 2007 performances. But Brees followed up his breakout 2006 by finishing second in yards to Brady, and Favre came out of nowhere with a vintage season where he led the Packers to a 13-3 record and made the Second All-Pro Team. There’s no solid claim for the final spot…cases could be made for Tony Romo or Ben Roethlisberger but neither of those guys had yet become what we know them by now. I’m giving it to Carson Palmer, who was the league’s best young QB at the time and put up his third great statistical season in a row.

Eli’s Year: The coming-of-age season for Young Elisha, where he put together an excellent postseason that culminated with him winning the first of his Super Bowl MVPs. But even with a six-game winning streak during the regular season and playoff run that included four straight road wins, Eli couldn’t justifiably be put in the Top 5. The offensive/defensive lines were the real key to the Giants’ success, Eli tied for the league lead in picks, and he finished middle of the pack in most important QB stats. The first great overall season for Eli, but he was more 2012 Joe Flacco at this point.

 

2008

Top 5: Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Kurt Warner, Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger

Changes From Last Year: OK, 2008 was even worse for quarterbacks. CHAD PENNINGTON finished second in the MVP voting. Kurt Warner arrives on the list after he backs up his strong comeback season in 2007 with an even better 2008. Yes, he had peak Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, but he also nearly won the Super Bowl for the fucking Cardinals and threw for over 4500 yards. The last spot is dicey. I give it to Roethlisberger, who had an awful regular season but caught fire in the playoffs and balled out in the Super Bowl for his second ring. (People forget that Roethlisberger had one of the worst Super Bowl QB performances of all time in 2005, even though the Steelers won.) It seems wrong to reward a guy who finished the season behind Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tyler Thigpen, and Kyle Orton in QBR, but Big Ben had an awesome statistical season just the year before. Three guys fall off the list: Brady shredded his ACL in the first quarter of the first game, and this was pre-2012 Adrian Peterson when we thought that injury was nearly impossible to come back the same from. Favre unretired for the first time to play for the Jets with half of a shoulder, and Palmer barely played because of injuries. Philip Rivers is the notable omission here, after leading the league in touchdowns and passer rating. But this was the year where he and Jay Cutler tried to out-pout each other for the AFC West title at 8-8, and we all couldn’t figure out who we hated more.

Eli’s Year: Eli makes his first appearance in the Top 5, although he kinda backs his way in. Look, he finished fifth in QBR (a sketchy stat, I know), cut way back on his turnovers, made the Pro Bowl, and led the Giants to the NFL’s best record at 12-4. It was no doubt a great season, but he cracks the Top 5 mostly because of injuries to other stud QBs. The Giants also got stomped by the Eagles at home in the playoffs, and Eli’s newfound confidence took its first hit.

 

2009

 Top 5: Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Brett Favre, Tom Brady, Philip Rivers

Changes From Last Year: Thank god, quarterbacks became good again in 2009. Brees becomes the league’s top QB. Both the Saints and Colts started 13-0 this season, and Brees followed up wrongly losing the MVP to Peyton by outplaying him in the Super Bowl. Favre unretires again but this time it goes wayyyy better, having a Cinderella season where at the age of 40 he put up maybe the best numbers of his career and was one cross-body throw away from taking the Vikings to the Super Bowl. Brady proves that he’s still really good, but he did throw 13 picks (insane for him) and got demolished at home in the first round of the playoffs by the Ravens. Rivers finally cracks the list, as he leads the Chargers to a 13-3 record in the first post-prime year for LaDanian Tomlinson. Warner has a good year and wins one of the best playoff games ever against the Packers, but in the next round his time on the list and, ya know, in the NFL is forever ended by Bountygate. Roethlisberger has a really solid year, but doesn’t compare to the Top 5. A certain QB in Green Bay has his first monster season but just misses the list.

Eli’s Year: Eli’s 2009 falls in the same camp as Big Ben…a nice season, just unspectacular. He cracks 4000 yards for the first time and throws almost twice as many TDs as INTs, but the Giants go 8-8.

 

2010

 Top 5: Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Philip Rivers

Changes From Last Year: Brady proves that he’s still REALLY good. He becomes the first unanimous MVP and puts up an absurd 36:4 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Peyton and Brees have their usual big years, but Brees slides back for throwing 22 picks. (Saints also lost to the 7-9 Seahawks in the playoffs that year, but Brees had a huge game.) The ascension of Aaron Rodgers is complete, as he sneaks the Packers into the playoffs then goes on an all-time run to win the Super Bowl. No one really did too much to earn the fifth spot, so I’ll let Rivers keep it after another strong season where he had no supporting cast. Favre falls off the list after he unretires one last time, but this time he should’ve stayed on that farm in Mississippi. Big Ben went to another Super Bowl, but that team was also anchored by its defense and Roethlisberger’s future was in doubt this year after his sexual assault suspension. Matt Ryan makes his case for the first time, but his second straight bad playoff game keeps him in the waiting room. Mike Vick took the league by storm this year, but he also lost in the first round of the playoffs and we weren’t sure if it was fluky yet.

Eli’s Year: This was the first year Eli’s haters started showing their faces in public. He cracked 4000 yards again and threw for 31 touchdowns, but he also led the league with 25 picks. The team went 10-6, but just missed out on the playoffs after they lost two huge games down the stretch. First real glimpses of Good Eli, Bad Eli.

 

2011

 Top 5: Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger

Changes From Last Year: The year where quarterbacks put up Madden numbers. Matt Stafford threw for over 5000 yards and 41 touchdowns, and he wasn’t even really considered for the Top 5. Also the year where Aaron Rodgers became the elite of the elite with one of the best regular seasons ever by a quarterback. It seems crazy to slide Brady back after he threw for over 5200 yards and took the Pats to the Super Bowl, and Brees too after the Saints went 13-3 and he broke the single-season records for yards and completion percentage. But that’s how good Rodgers was in 2011…the dude had a 45:6 touchdown-to-interception ratio and was one random loss away from a 16-0 season. Big Ben breaks through to crack the Top 5, but trust me he doesn’t have a firm grasp on that spot. (I mean, he got outdueled by Tim Tebow in the playoffs.) Peyton falls out of the Top 5 for the first time after missing the entire season with his neck injury. That might seem harsh, but we really had no clue if he’d even play again. The Colts let him walk for god’s sake. Rivers has a decent season, but with his 20 interceptions we see some foreshadowing of his 2012 meltdown.

Eli’s Year: Undoubtedly the peak of Eli’s career. In a year of legendary quarterback play, Eli earned his spot in that top tier with Rodgers, Brady, and Brees. He was flat-out sensational. He had a great regular season where he almost reached 5000 yards, but in the postseason he took his play to another level we didn’t even know he had. As awesome as his 2007 run was, 2011 was significantly better. He embarrassed Matt Ryan in what was supposed to be a first-round shootout, outplayed Rodgers on the road in the second round, took it to one of the best modern defenses in San Francisco in the NFC Championship, then grabbed his second Super Bowl MVP two weeks later. In those playoffs he averaged over 300 yards per game, had a 9:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio, and made arguably the greatest throw of all time.

 

2012

 Top 5: Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Eli Manning

Changes From Last Year: Not too many changes to report…the best stayed the best. Oh, and Peyton came back from potentially catastrophic neck surgery somehow even better. He carried the Broncos to a 13-3 record, led the league in QBR, and narrowly (but correctly) lost the MVP to Adrian Peterson. Peyton jumps over Brees on the list, who was still great and led the NFL with 43 TD passes, but also led with 19 INTs. Matt Ryan makes by far his best push to get into the Top 5, but I still give the final slot to Eli over him and Big Ben. You might think that’s biased, since Ryan absolutely had the better statistical 2012 season and won his first playoff game too. But he also had a 24-14 halftime lead at home in the NFC Championship that his team lost 28-24, and all season he was throwing to one of the best receiving duos in recent memory in Roddy White and Julio Jones. As for Roethlisberger, he is a pretty easy cross-off. He played well enough in 2012, but this was the season where he started feeling all those hits from years before. He misses three crucial games, keeping the Steelers out of the playoffs. “Is Joe Flacco elite?” also becomes a thing, but his regular season numbers are so middling that he is hardly considered for this list.

Eli’s Year: Eli follows up his best campaign with another solid year, but the Giants go 9-7 and narrowly miss the playoffs. So while revisionist historians will say that Matt Ryan should have that fifth spot, try to remember how we talked about QBs back then. Eli was still fresh off his pièce de résistance, and Matt Ryan was still the guy who couldn’t win the big one. If you asked coaches at the time to pick one of them to win you a big game, I bet 9 out of 10 would roll with Eli.

 

2013

 Top 5: Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Andrew Luck

Changes From Last Year: The Top 4 stay the same, except Peyton moves back up to the top spot after totally normally having his personal best season at the age of 37. (What was really in that package shipped to his wife…?) All jokes aside, his season was seriously insane before it crash-landed against Seattle in the Super Bowl. He broke Brady’s single-season passing touchdown record by FIVE, and lowkey broke Brees’s single-season passing yards record too. This was right after the “Year of the Rookie Quarterback,” when young running QBs were understandably all the rage. Cam Newton bounced back from his sophomore slump to take Carolina into the playoffs with a 12-4 record, Colin Kaepernick followed up on his near-Super Bowl run with an excellent regular season (he was really so good guys), and Russell Wilson put up clean numbers on his way to winning the Super Bowl. Wilson would be a fine pick for the fifth spot even as the quarterback on a running team that was anchored by it’s Top 10 all-time defense, but any GM at the time would tell you they’d rather have Luck. He took a straight-up mediocre Colts team to its second straight 11-5 record and postseason appearance, where he engineered one of the biggest comebacks ever against Kansas City.

Eli’s Year: In pains me to look back on this season, but Eli comfortably falls out of the Top 5 with a truly terrible year. This team started 0-6 and fell as far from its heyday as a Super Bowl team possibly can in two years. Up until this current season, it was safely the worst offense Eli has ever had to work with. ANDRE BROWN led the Giants with 492 rushing yards, and neither Victor Cruz nor Hakeem Nicks were very good. (Ever consider that both of them reaching their individual heights in 2011 might have had something to do with Eli?) Still, Eli couldn’t pass too much of the blame. He did throw 27 interceptions after all.

 

2014

 Top 5: Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees

Changes From Last Year: No changes to the Top 5 for the first time, but the order does shake up. Rodgers wins his second MVP and is a botched onside kick away from reaching his second Super Bowl. Yes, Brady won his first Super Bowl in 10 years and took home MVP honors for the game, but he stays just behind Rodgers for now. (Trent Dilfer is and has always been a moron, but this was the “they’re not good anymore” year.) I think people choose to conveniently forget how great Luck was (and I’d argue will be again soon) not that long ago. He led the league in passing touchdowns, finished third in yards, and took another shitty Colts team to the AFC Championship. He beat Peyton’s Broncos on the road in those playoffs, which is the main reason for the passing-of-the-torch on the list. Peyton started off the 2014 season on fire, but towards the end of the year it started to become pretty obvious that he was losing it FAST. This was a phenomenal year for quarterback play, Brees included, but there were more than a few options to replace him. Tony Romo had his best season, leading the league in QBR and going 12-3 under center. Roethlisberger arguably had his best statistical season too, but he just misses the cut yet again. Russell Wilson was also great, but throwing the worst interception in NFL history definitely doesn’t help his case. Oh, and a certain goofy looking QB that plays in New Jersey also happened to light it up…

Eli’s Year: Eli is BACK. Eli returns from his worst season with one of his most productive. The team goes 6-10 and misses the playoffs, but that had nothing to do with the play of #10. Eli throws for over 4400 yards while throwing more than twice as many touchdowns as interceptions. While a Mr. Beckham Jr. certainly propped up the numbers, this was a forgotten yet incredible season for Eli.

 

2015

 Top 5: Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Cam Newton, Drew Brees, Russell Wilson

Changes From Last Year: No changes at the top, which might be surprising if you just look at Rodgers’s numbers compared to Brady’s on the surface. But this the year where Rodgers played without Jordy Nelson and essentially an offensive line, had RICHARD ROGERS as his second most productive receiver, and still threw for a 31:8 touchdown-to-interception ratio while almost Hail Mary’ing the Packers into the NFC Championship. Cam Newton leaps Brees right into the third spot, which speaks to how transcendent his MVP season was. The Panthers went 15-1, he threw for almost 4000 yards with 35 TDs, and he ran for over 600 yards with another 10 TDs on the ground. Russell Wilson finally breaks into the Top 5 after he carries a decimated Seahawks offense into the playoffs. Leading the league in passer rating while throwing for over 4000 yards and 34 touchdowns ain’t bad either. Ironically Peyton easily falls out of the Top 5 in the year where he won his second Super Bowl, because I’m honestly not 100% sure that I couldn’t win a title under center on that roster. Luck also bows out after two years on this list, as his team’s total ignorance for blocking finally starts to take its toll on him. Carson Palmer is a tough guy to leave out for his 2015, after he was arguably the best pure passer in the league.

Eli’s Year: Another guy who is tough to leave out…Eli Manning! That awesome 2014 he had? Well take pretty much the same numbers and just add 5 touchdowns. I’m an obsessive Giants fan and I forgot just how insanely good Eli was for these two years. Now I’m just upset we couldn’t have the 2016 defense for either of these seasons.

 

2016

 Top 5: Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Russell Wilson, Matt Ryan

Changes From Last Year: Brady finally reclaims the lead. He was the best QB in football for the 12 games he played, and he led the Patriots to the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history. (But never forget that he threw a brutal pick-six right before halftime.) Fifth place might seem like a rough placement for Matt Ryan after his MVP season, but you have to consider the elements. From 2013-2015 he was…decent I guess? Definitely not great. Ryan’s 2016 numbers are eye-popping and he deserves a ton of credit for them, but he also played with unreal talent and probably the best playcaller in the league last year. And you might credit him for almost winning the Super Bowl, but man he fucking blew that game. (“Matty Ice” is up there for biggest misnomer ever in sports. I still have “Big Game” James Shields in the lead.) Cam’s run on the list is a quick one, as he falls off after failing to stay healthy and watching his production nosedive as a result. The only real challenger for the Top 5 is…you guessed it…Ben Roethlisberger. Big Ben posted superior numbers than Wilson and his team went farther in the playoffs, but he played in ideal surroundings while Russ stayed effective despite running for his life on every play.

Eli’s Year: Um…it wasn’t good. The Giants went 11-5 and made the playoffs, but it was like a parallel universe compared to 2015. The defense put the team on its back and Eli tried dragging them down. The standard stats actually aren’t so bad, and the offensive line definitely didn’t do him any favors. Still, he was deservedly right near the bottom of the league in QBR. He actually played really well during a disastrous playoff game, but it was already a season that couldn’t really be saved for Eli.

 

Totals (5 for 1st, 4 for 2nd…):

Tom Brady 36 (2007, 2009-2016)
Aaron Rodgers 30 (2010-2016)
Drew Brees 28 (2007-2016)
Peyton Manning 27 (2007-2010, 2012-2014)
Brett Favre 5 (2007, 2009)
Eli Manning 5 (2008, 2011-2012)
Andrew Luck 4 (2013-2014)
Cam Newton 3 (2015)
Kurt Warner 3 (2008)
Russell Wilson 3 (2015-2016)
Philip Rivers 2 (2009-2010)
Ben Roethlisberger 2 (2008, 2011)
Carson Palmer 1 (2007)
Matt Ryan 1 (2016)

 

I’m not at all suggesting this as some sort of definitive ranking of quarterbacks. It’s for sure an imperfect system. It doesn’t account for performances that would’ve finished in the Top 6-10 range, which is where Roethlisberger might have finished like five times. (To be fair, this would only further boost Eli’s point total too.) Still, I think it provides fascinating insight into which QBs worked their way into that highest level and how they stacked up to their peers during these respective seasons. (The whole purpose of this blog is to celebrate the career of Eli Manning, but you could absolutely read it as the Drew Brees Appreciation Blog. He’s consistently been a Top 5 quarterback for each of the past ten seasons. I know Mardi Gras is a religious celebration, but one year they should just mix it up and hold it in honor of Brees.)

I think this offers a good measurement for Eli’s standing among fellow quarterbacks over the past decade. His highs were incredibly high and his lows were incredible low, but overall I’d estimate that he falls in that Top 5-6 range which is exactly where this chart places him. Does that make him a Hall of Famer? I’m really not sure. Anyone who definitively tells you yes or no is either from Philly or is Cooper Manning. The truth of the matter is that while the Football Hall is pretty lenient for most positions, it’s incredibly stingy when it comes to quarterbacks. Only 14 QBs who played their entire careers in the Super Bowl era are in Canton. If you are in the pro-Eli camp because of the two Super Bowl MVPs, you’re definitely right that it’s the top bullet point on his resume (although the consecutive starts streak should be right up there). Still, Jim Plunkett went 2-0 in Super Bowl starts and grabbed one of the MVPs, but he’s on the outside looking in. Even fellow Giant Phil Simms can’t seem to get in, and he has two rings and was one of the league’s best QBs for a five-year stretch. (I know Simms didn’t start in Super Bowl 21, but that Giants team doesn’t even make the playoffs without him.) And if you’re in the anti-Eli camp because he had some bad mid-career seasons and never even came close to winning any regular season hardware, he’s not alone in that regard either. Troy Aikman never won a MVP or made an AP All-Pro Team, and the middle of Kurt Warner’s career is pretty much non-existent. I would guess that Eli eventually gets in, especially since I didn’t expect Warner to get inducted as quickly as he did. And I get the vibe that voters view Roethlisberger as a shoo-in candidate, which if true should make Eli an absolute lock. Their cases from a performance standpoint are way more similar than people like to admit, and from a character standpoint (which the Hall values) it’s not even debatable. Eli has won the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award and is universally known as one of the best guys in the league, while Ben is an asshole with some seriously awful personal history that doesn’t get nearly the attention that it deserves.

Still, nothing would help Eli’s Hall argument more than one last playoff run. I still think there is some life in that right arm, so here are the Top 5 destinations where I’d like to see him play next year:

  1. Giants

I know, I know. It’s wishful thinking at this point. The reason Giants fans are so devastated is that the announcement effectively and unceremoniously ended Eli’s time with the Giants. Next offseason will probably be like the Tony Romo situation from this offseason all over again. I expect the Giants to field some calls, but I don’t foresee any team offering a package that would be more beneficial to the Giants than just releasing Eli. (It’s way better on the Giants impending cap situation to cut Eli, and they need all the money they can immediately get.) Eli also has a full no-trade clause, so even if the Browns call up the Giants and offer seven of their fifty second-round picks, he’ll just shoot it down. It’s not like we can expect him to approve a less than ideal trade just for the Giants’ benefit.

Still, I’m holding out hope that McAdoo and Reese get canned right away, and that the new regime makes things right with Eli and names him the starter for 2018. Look, I’m not delusional. I know he’s not an above-average quarterback anymore, even if he has been better this year than he was last year. But this is the same Giants roster that was the most commonly picked team to win the NFC East prior to the season, with many experts even picking them to reach the Super Bowl. It’s been a hellish year for injuries, they had some unlucky losses, and the coaching has nowhere to go but up. In the ONE game where the Giants had all of its best players on the field for all four quarters this season, they lost on a 61-yard field goal on the road in Philly. The defense contained Carson Wentz, and Eli threw for 366 yards and 3 touchdowns. What I’m saying is, this team could content next year. My dream scenario is the Giants take a quarterback with their presumably Top 5 pick and sit him behind Eli to start the season. If Eli plays well, then the rookie is learning from one of the best in action. If Eli sucks it up, then the kid eventually comes in and fans aren’t upset that Eli is benched for the actual future. Which turns out is…not Geno Smith.

  1. Steelers

This one might be an uncommon pick, but it’s absolutely what I want to happen when things probably don’t work out between Eli and the Giants. I’d bet on Roethlisberger retiring after this season. He heavily weighed it before signing up to play this year, and his body has only taken more of a beating. I know that the Steelers are 9-2 and that Ben hasn’t missed any games yet, but if you’ve watched him this year then you know he’s already on the steady decline. He’s completely immobile in the pocket, and he doesn’t just absorb contact like he used to. Pittsburgh apparently likes Josh Dobbs a lot, but I’m sure they’d prefer to sit him behind a veteran for another season. And in terms of pure talent, the Steelers probably have a Top 3 roster in the league. Eli would only have to throw the ball 20-25 times a game, he wouldn’t take many hits behind a great offensive line, and having Antonio Brown is always a good thing. He’d go from suddenly one of the worst run franchises in the NFL to maybe the best. If this happens, bet the Le’Veon Bell receptions over.

  1. Jaguars

The most obvious post-Giants destination for Eli, and the logic holds up. First, Tom Coughlin is running the show there and his close relationship with Eli is well documented. Second, Blake Bortles stinks, which you may have known. The Jags can get out of Bortles’s fifth-year option scot-free, and they’d be left with a ton of cap space that could partially be used to handsomely reward Eli for a year or two of his services. This team is already playoff bound in spite of its quarterback, and the defense and running game should be just as dominant next season. I can’t guarantee Eli would want to play in Jacksonville or wear those hideous uniforms, but at least he could talk to the locals about retirement plans during his off days.

  1. Bills 

Another potential option that you might not hear much about, and maybe that’s because this is part of a personal fantasy. One of the only plausible trades involving Eli I can think of is a swap involving him and Tyrod Taylor. All of the other 31 teams know the Bills are low on Tyrod, despite him being good at playing quarterback in the National Football League. I can’t guarantee the Giants would be on board with this plan, but T-Mobile could make shit happen immediately with Odell and Co. As for Eli, he wouldn’t have to go too far and would play for another fan base that embraces him. The Bills could be a trendy playoff pick with Eli behind center, although he’d definitely need some better receiver options.

  1. Jets 

I’m sure you were expecting a different quarterback-needy team here, probably like the Broncos or Cardinals. I think Denver as a possible destination for Eli is a lazy guess…he’s not just gonna bank on getting his second wind there because it worked out for his older brother. The Broncos also kinda suck. The defense is still good but it’s aging, and offensively they have a terrible line and no running game. As for Arizona, their cap situation isn’t great and I don’t think the oldest team in football will be too interested in bringing in a 37 year old QB.

So take everything I wrote from the Giants section about Eli starting 2018 in front of a top draft pick, and just apply it to the Jets. I hope I speak for all reasonable Giants fans when I say that Eli playing a year or two for the Jets wouldn’t really bother me. It’s not like he’d be playing for the Eagles, Cowboys, or Redskins. Even though the Jets were better than expected this year, it’s likely that Eli wouldn’t contend as the quarterback of the current Jets roster. Still, the Jets would pay him a shit ton of money, the team wouldn’t totally suck, and he wouldn’t have to move his family. All chances of a third Super Bowl would probably go out the window, but it sounds like a pretty cushy deal. And at the end of the day, all I want is the happiest possible situation for Eli Manning.

 

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