In the Building Blocks series, writers from Inside the Pylon will discuss the current roster of those teams on the outside looking in of playoff contention in 2017. In a roundtable format, the writers will talk about what players currently look like keepers for the long term, with the potential for being key contributors to the next successful run for the team. To provide some quantifiable structure, we will treat it like an expansion draft model where 10 players can be protected. These pieces are meant to deliver hope to those who have none left for 2017. The NFL is a league filled with parity and any team’s fortune can turn with a little luck and the right building blocks in place.
Giants Front Office: Nick Falato, Derek Benson, Jeff Feyerer, Dan Hatman
Jeff Feyerer: Welcome to Thunderdome! An unexpected and dismal season in New York after a playoff appearance last year, but when you take a step back and look at the injuries sustained to key contributors and the holes on the roster, maybe it shouldn’t be. Changes need to be made in the organization, but there are pieces to build around.
Vacant general manager and coaching positions for one of the more renowned franchises in the NFL; Although Eli Manning may be done, one player, despite his injury, figures to be the focal point of the Giants for years to come.
WR Odell Beckham
Jeff Feyerer: Not much discussion needed here other than the general question about how he bounces back from his injury. He’s one of the best in the game, but who will he be catching passes from next year?
Nick Falato: There is no doubting his transcendante talent, but we must honestly look at money and the cap situation. After picking up the 5th year option in 2017, he will be owed a base salary of $8.46 million, which results in 5.73% of the Giants’ cap space for the 2018 season. Before the injury, he had stated that he would like to become the highest paid player in the NFL. Matt Stafford is currently holding that title, with a $27 million annual salary. That would be a very hefty cap number for a non-quarterback. There are holes on this roster that must be addressed and the Giants are already struggling with cap space. With the Eli fiasco this season and his slightly declining play, along with the dearth of talent at certain positions on the roster and Eli’s 15.4% cap hit in 2018 and 19.27% in 2019, the Giants have to look into other options at signal caller in order to pay Beckham the money he deserves. We are staring at a top 5 selection in the upcoming draft. If the Giants draft a quarterback in the top 5, his annual salary would be around 7.2 million or we could give a long look at Davis Webb, who carries under a 1 million dollar annual salary; either way, we have to explore ways to get out of Manning’s contract to afford these core pieces for the future.
Derek: I could see a scenario where the Giants could let Odell Beckham walk away. Ben McAdoo and Jerry Reese are gone and a new coach and general manager will come in and possibly factor Beckham as too much of a distraction to give him that amount of money. I do agree that the Giants need to get out of Eli’s contract or restructure it, (include Brandon Marshall as well), if they plan to pay him.
Dan Hatman: How the Head Coach manages star players is certainly an impactful element. Is Odell the type of player you feel the General Manager/Owner should allow to play a role in any Head Coach search?
Jeff: Not being in the building, it’s difficult to assess how this should be handled, but I think having a core group of players involved in the head coaching search, or at least giving feedback as to what they’re looking for, would be advantageous. I think it’s very important that the next head coach in New York both commands respect and is able to manage the personalities of players like Beckham. The best coaches are able to do this.
Nick Falato: I believe there should be some sort of player leadership council that should be consulted in the search. Forming continuity from the top of the franchise down would not hurt this franchise.
Derek: I would be fine with it. The Giants won’t be who they are now without Beckham. He’s given excitement to the city, league, media. He’s a major talking point when he does something. No publicity is bad publicity around the league, from what I’ve heard.
WR Sterling Shepard
Jeff Feyerer: We’ll stay at the WR position because having multiple weapons in the pass game is unbelievably valuable. What makes Shepard a good long-term complement to Beckham?
Nick Falato: Young skilled receivers help build rapport in the offense and Shepard is the perfect complement to Beckham, whether it be Manning or a young signal caller in 2018. Controlling the snap percentage of the slot, he has not only thrived on underneath routes, he found the endzone 8 times in his rookie season. His sudden quickness and ability to find openings in the tough areas of the field has translated to success, when the opposing teams have focused so heavily on Beckham. Sterling has been able to take advantage of mismatches when the two receivers have been healthy and now with all the injuries to the receiving corps, we can really see him thrive with a larger target share in the offense. We are not 100% certain on who the new Head Coach will be, but it is imperative to have a quality slot receiver in an offense that has relied heavily on 11 personal.
Derek: From recent memory, Wes Welker gave rise to the slot receiver position that teams have been coveting in their offense. Someone who can take advantage against zone defenses, showing quickness to get open and that ability to gain extra yards after the catch is a valuable piece for an offense. With Beckham commanding the defense’s attention, it will allow Shepard to get matched on a single defender.
TE Evan Engram
Jeff Feyerer: Speaking of pass-catchers, it appears the Giants “hit” on their Engram pick. Some considered it a reach in the first round, but they clearly thought the way to success this season was by giving Eli as many weapons as possible. Would they have been better served taking a running back or given the team’s regression in many different areas, is Engram a more valuable long-term piece?
Nick Falato: One of the Giants’ biggest concerns in 2016, as an offense, was defeating two high safety defenses. The Giants have been trying for quite sometime to find a player who could stretch the seam of a split safety defense to help ellevate the focus on Odell Beckham Jr. While limited success was found with Larry Donnell and Will Tye over the years, they proved to be unreliable. The “JPP of tight ends” Adrian Robinson couldn’t get it done either. Engram will be a very important piece of the puzzle moving forward. I would not feel ill if the Giants drafted Forrest Lamp, Ryan Ramczyk, or Cam Robinson,with all of the issues and lack of depth at the offensive line position. I was a fan of Dalvin Cook the prospect, but there were character concerns and we all know the Joe Mixon story as well. Orleans Darkwa has averaged over five yards a carry, with a decent workload behind a suspect offensive line, in mostly unfavourable game scripts. Having Engram is a mismatch nightmare for opposing linebackers and safeties and pairing him with Odell and Sterling will prove to be fruitful for whoever is throwing the passes and calling the plays in 2018.
Derek: Evan Engram is a valuable offensive piece to have in the future, regardless of who the starting quarterback will be in 2018. I really thought the offense with him, Beckham, Shepard and Marshall would contend for a division title and possible playoff run. In hindsight, what Dalvin Cook has done in his short rookie season at the running back spot, what San Francisco has gotten out of their fifth-round pick tight end in George Kittle, and Ryan Ramczyk’s play in New Orleans at offensive tackle, I don’t think it will be fair to assume they would have had the same success here in New York.
Dan Hatman: With the nature of the offensive line, are there any reservations regarding Engram being able to improve the run blocking unit, especially at the point of attack?
Nick Falato: Engram may not have been drafted for his blocking prowess, but he is not inept in the area either. He has shown that he is not afraid to get dirty in the trenches and his competitive toughness is not to be questioned. His effort and tenacity make him a solid asset in the run game, but he makes his money as a receiving threat.
Derek: To me, he is capable as a run blocker. I see promise with his abilities to win at the point of attack and control his man. He hadn’t really done much blocking at Ole Miss, and when he did, from what I saw, it wasn’t great. However, he was drafted to be an offensive weapon in the passing game, the run blocking looks to be a bonus.
OG Justin Pugh, C Weston Richburg
Jeff Feyerer: I’m lumping the two offensive linemen together here for two reasons. One, it shows that in spite of Ereck Flowers’ struggles at left tackle, the Giants are capable of finding quality linemen. Two, why can’t they run the ball?
Nick Falato: The unit in its entirety is weak, but Pugh, 27, and Richburg, 26, are both young quality interior players that can be built around. Both have battled through injury this season and Richburg is on the IR, but Pugh has been playing out of position for the majority of the season. He is the best right tackle on this roster, but his skill set is maximized playing left guard. The team’s lack of depth landed him at right tackle and the questionable optimism in Bobby Hart proved to be fallacious. The players around these two are the issue. An ineffective John Jerry was resigned last offseason to a 3 year $10 million dollar deal and DJ Fluker has shown why he was cut by the Chargers. Left tackle Ereck Flowers has been an overall disappointment and the Giants have not had a reliable right tackle since David Diehl. Due to a combination of poor game scripts and coaching, they have run the ball the second fewest this season. While Paul Perkins proved ineffective early, some of the other running backs have respectable yards per carry – Darkwa with 5.1 and Gallman with 4.3. Neither protected offensive lineman is a bruiser or a brawler, but they both have exceptional use of hands, utilize the correct angles, and are technically proficient in their craft. Both of these assets are free agents at the end of the season and should garner a lot of attention. Justin could have a case of trying to get paid right tackle money, which is more concerning for the Giants cap situation.
Dan Hatman: With the current state of the OL and the attention given to it, is there any way the Giants do not find a way to extend Pugh?
Nick Falato: Exploration on ways to free up some cap in 2018 may be necessary to resign Pugh and Richburg. This will be a tough assignment for the new general manager. That could be by asking Manning for a restructure or by releasing players like Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, but it would behoove of the Giants to retain the talented young offensive lineman.
Derek: Continuing with what Nick said at end on the first part, I think that will make it difficult to bring Pugh back, which will simply mean that you’ll have to start over again to build the offensive line. That would be unwise considering the talent. A player or three will have to be dealt away to make cap room for Pugh and Richburg.
S Landon Collins
Jeff Feyerer: Last year, Collins validated the first round grade I had him coming out in the draft. He’s a terrific example of asking what a player can do, not focusing on what a player can’t do given his fall to the second round of the draft when he definitely shouldn’t have dropped that far. What does Collins do so well that makes him a stalwart of the Giant defense?
Nick Falato: Collins is a bruising punisher who incites fear into anyone going over the middle of the field. He is an aggressive tempo-setter that is very good in run support and comes down hill with the intent to run through the opposing player. Just like you said Jeff, he is the perfect example of what a player can do for you. He still struggles in coverage, but we have seen him capitalize on offensive mistakes to be opportunistic in 2016. His effort, mentality, and leadership are key traits that must be instilled into this defense that has had questions about their motivation. I have faith in Collins and believe he is a key part of the Giants future.
Dan Hatman: With 2017 not looking like his 2016 performance, do you have expectations of him looking like 2016 or 2017 moving forward?
Jeff: I think the regression in his performance this season is a direct result of the talent around him. The 2016 team was healthier and performed better so the regression is more of the team as a whole, rather than just Collins. I would expect his future performance to get closer to 2016 if the performance of those around him improves. Because of his skill set, the Giants are better when they can move him all over the pace on defense. They haven’t really had that luxury this season.
DT Damon Harrison
Jeff Feyerer: Successful Giants’ teams of recent vintage have always centered on a powerful defensive line. What makes Harrison the definitive choice to lead that group going forward over Vernon and Pierre-Paul (who we’ll debate later)? Is it positional scarcity at the defensive tackle position?
Nick Falato: We must look at the teams in the Giants’ division. The Cowboys have one of the most imposing running attacks in recent history and all of their stud offensive lineman are locked up to long term deals. The Redskins have Bill Callahan as their offensive line coach, while also having a young talented offensive line and the Eagles just acquired Jay Ajayi. These three foes are built to run the football, so having one of the most dominate 1-techniques in the game is very beneficial. Not only is he an elite run stuffer, but he provides a solid ability to crash the pocket against the pass as well. Being strong in the trenches is a formula for success. It is a bigger necessity to fortify our defensive line with the lack of depth at the linebacker position as well.
Derek: With some quality running backs in the league already, and possibly in the future, I think the defensive tackle position has regained its popularity in that all teams should have one on the roster to clog the middle. Linval Joseph, a former Giant, has made an impact in Minnesota. You still have Fletcher Cox, Jurell Casey, Mike Daniels and Aaron Donald in the league as well. There are still some good players at that position.
Dan Hatman: With some of the players you mention Derek, they play more 3 Tech and are more capable of attacking gaps and being more disruptive in the passing game. Harrison adds value in that area, but not exactly like those others. Does his play on 1st/2nd down make up for any 3rd down limitations?
Derek: Yes. To your point, Harrison is not often featured on 3rd downs. His ability as a run defender could put the defense in manageable 3rd and long situations. Of course, it is a collective effort, but it is key to have him around.
CB Janoris Jenkins
Jeff Feyerer: The last agreed upon player is Jenkins. And given what has happened after his suspension and his lackadaisical performance against San Francisco, anyone want to reconsider?
Derek: Jenkins was a big part to help the defense last year earning them a playoff appearance while also getting to his first Pro Bowl. He was honest about mailing it in at times during games at his press conference when he was introduced in New York. He spent his first four years with the then-St. Louis Rams under Jeff Fisher and they didn’t sniff 8 wins when he was there, losing games by an average of a little over 13 points. It is a lost season for the Giants so I am not surprised of this behavior, although it’s obviously concerning. It falls into the category of whether the player is talented enough to be a nuisance.
Dan Hatman: It seems the argument is, he’ll up his play when things are good, but you may not be able to count on him when things are rough. Is that a building block for a team staring at a Top 5 draft pick?
Nick Falato: That is not a characteristic that I feel like we can build around. It is completely fair to question his mental toughness and that is not something one would want in a cornerback (or any football player for that matter). I love how he bounced back against the Chiefs. He showed fire and tenacity to secure the win, but there will still be strong discussions in the offseason to on Janoris’s future in the blue uniform.
Derek: Jenkins will have a cap hit of $13 million in 2018. Quite a bit of money to swallow for the Giants and for a team, given his current contract, to find as a trade partner. It can’t get any worse for next season, to be optimistic. For now, Jenkins is still with the team. These next three games can decide his future. I will add that he had some key plays against the Broncos (at the time 3-1) and Chiefs (at the time 6-3) to help out in getting a win when they were not given a shot.
Jeff Feyerer: Three guys for two spots. I don’t have a horse in the race, guys. Convince me of who we should keep.
Dan Hatman: With these being building block and this as a team building exercise, I’m interested in the role their contracts will play into the decision making process.
DE Jason Pierre-Paul
Nick Falato: I feel that JPP becomes a victim of circumstance, with the way the Giants season has transpired and the cloudy future that is ahead of this team. A tough decision may have to be made, with the contracts of Beckham, Collins, Pugh, and Richburg all looming in the next two offseason – JPP or OV. As much as I love JPP, I think his best football is behind him and in the last few years he has come up with multiple sack games against inferior competition, but doesn’t exactly jump off the screen against equal or better competition. He is a sound run defender and I respect the man, but with the cap situation I would choose Vernon over Pierre-Paul.
DE Olivier Vernon
Nick Falato: I am going to stake a claim on Olivier Vernon, who I feel is one of the more underrated two way defensive players in the league, albeit he is not being paid like he is underrated. Vernon is a sound run defender, with exceptional quickness off the line of scrimmage. He sets the edge well and, until this season, was a pillar of availability. He is about two years younger than JPP and I feel like his best football is still ahead of him. The interesting dynamic here is that he is the third highest paid Giants player in 2018. JPP is the second and on a rebuilding team where cap space is vital, something’s gotta give.
Derek: If both players were free agents this upcoming offseason, it will be tough to pay both of them with new contracts looming in the offensive line, Landon Collins and of course Odell Beckham. Vernon has been fantastic for the Giants when he arrived in 2016, leading the team in sacks that year. I still think Pierre-Paul has something left in the tank due to his quickness off the line of scrimmage and use of hands. In addition, his contract overall is a bit cheaper compared to his defensive counterpart. I don’t think 2018 is a rebuilding year, more like a last hurrah. I would be willing to trade Vernon, being he is the better player, to get as many draft picks as possible for the future.
LB BJ Goodson
Nick Falato: I am very hesitant about making Goodson a building block. As much as I love the idea of this team having a quality middle linebacker, BJ just hasn’t shown it yet. He barely saw the field his rookie season and he can’t stay healthy in the starting role this year. I am hoping he overcomes this throughout his rookie deal, but he has not shown that he could be a three down linebacker in this league.
Derek: Considering what we’ve talked about within the division regarding the running backs, Goodson would make a good compliment to Damon Harrison in defending the run. He’s a hard hitter, making his presence felt. He looks like a leader on the field, telling the team where to line up. He is stout in coverage, can keep up with most tight ends man-to-man. Shows good read and react ability against the run and pretty solid ability to fight away from blocks to make a play.
Jeff: Is it crazy that I don’t like the idea of keeping both DEs or keeping Goodson? I should clarify. I can see keeping one of the pass rushers and my preference would be JPP. Goodson is just a guy to me. Sure, he’s young, but he doesn’t strike me as a difference maker. Give me rookie DT Dalvin Tomlinson instead of Goodson and let’s roll.
Derek: I would be fine with letting the defensive ends go to help bring back the offensive pieces. Tomlinson has shown some ability against the run, not really used in passing situations however.
Nick Falato: I would prefer Tomlinson to Goodson as well. The Giants are a team that have thrived on having a complementary piece to their stud 1-technique. I feel Tomlinson is more made to be a 1-technique and may not be as quick off the line of scrimmage to effectively penetrate gaps as a 3-technique, which would hinder his ability to be a reliable three down defender. I just feel Goodson has not shown enough and we know Tomlinson, coming from a Nick Saban coached defense, is a smart reliable run defender, and those are still important, especially in the NFC East.
Jeff: Twist! We officially pivoted and we have our final ten. That’s why we have this dialogue.