The Giants are coming off of a season that saw them get their first playoff win since 2011. They’ve locked their franchise quarterback into a long-term deal and are continuing to build a strong contender around him. While that should inspire confidence in the front office and the coaching staff, Giants’ co-owner John Mara spoke publicly on Monday and undermined the efforts of his front office.
All offseason, Giants general manager Joe Schoen has been vocal about his excitement about having financial flexibility in his first full off-season with the team. He and head coach Brian Daboll now have the ability to mold the roster in their own image and have been active so far this offseason, trading for Darren Waller, signing Bobby Okereke, signing Parris Campbell, and a host of other solid moves to make this team deeper and more balanced.
It seemed like Schoen was hitting mostly all the right buttons this offseason, but instead of standing back and letting the people he hired to run the team do their job, co-owner John Mara spoke at the league meetings on Monday and inserted himself into roster decisions that Schoen and Daboll are currently weighing behind the scenes.
His first comment was saying that the Giants haven’t closed the door on Odell Beckham Jr returning to New York. Mara stated that he’s in favor of signing him back if Joe Schoen and Brian Daboll can make it work.
The choice of language here is important because this is essentially the owner of the team stating that he’d like something done and then putting the onus on his general manager and head coach to “make it work.”
But what if it’s not the move the head coach and general manager want to make? Odell Beckham Jr.’s health concerns and age could make him a risky signing at the money that he appears to want. Plus, Joe Schoen has downplayed the need to force a number-one wide receiver onto the Giants this offseason.
“I know people talk about wide receivers, but we’re still building a team in all three phases,” said Schoen the weekend before free agency began. “We’re gonna look to upgrade offensively, defensively, and with our special teams unit. It’s nice to have the draft capital that we have, the financial flexibility that we have, to really start building this thing.”
At his postseason press conference with the playoffs in the Conference Championship rounds, Schoen also said, “I know a number one wide receiver can be important, but there are some number one wide receivers that are home right now… A number one receiver doesn’t guarantee you anything.”
All indications are that he doesn’t believe in forcing a big money spend just to land a supposed alpha receiver, but now his owner may have forced his hand into doing so.
However, the bigger implication was Mara’s comments on the ongoing negotiations with Saquon Barkley.
Schoen told reporters that “There’s no outstanding offer right now” for Saquon Barkley. He admitted that “once we put the franchise tag on him, we stepped back,” which makes it pretty clear that, in Schoen’s mind, the Giants are fine with Barkley playing the season on the franchise tag.
Yet, Mara also weighed in, saying, “My dream is that [Barkley] plays his whole career as a Giant like Eli [Manning] did, like [Michael] Strahan did, like Tiki [Barber] did… I think he would like that as well.”
That’s a public statement that runs almost entirely counter to what Schoen said and also differs from Schoen’s whole philosophy on roster building.
After Daniel Jones’ contract extension, Schoen mentioned that the Giants would be “fiscally responsible with the moves we make. We’ve got some players targeted that we think will make an impact if the financials are right, and if not, we have plans B, C, and D, if we need to go there.” He is not the kind of guy to lock himself into one option no matter the cost.
Schoen also mentioned on Monday that the $12.5 million annual deal they offered Saquon during the bye week this past season is no longer viable based on the team’s contract situation. Yet, while the Giants’ general manager is clearly trying to be responsible with the team’s guaranteed money to keep the financial flexibility that he loves so much, his owner has now put public pressure on him to make a deal he may not be comfortable with.
That undermines the Giants’ position in ongoing negotiations as well. Barkley now knows that Mara wants him back and that the public also knows this, so he would be aware of any pressure on Schoen to get the job done. His agents also have the ability to play Mara and Schoen off of one another, pressuring the general manager to make a deal to make his owner happy.
In addition to this being a bad look for the Giants’, the decision to sign Barkley to a long-term contract to make him a Giant for the rest of his career would also be a poor one based on recent NFL trends.
Over the Cap did a detailed study of the outcome of running back contracts and found that “the production in the years prior to a contract signing are probably unsustainable due to breaking down.”
The study looked at 68 running backs who signed multi-year contracts that were at least three years in length between 2011 and 2020. It confirmed that “overall the teams had an unfavorable outcome about 83% of the time with the team overestimating the length of the contract.”
Furthermore, the study found that “The most likely outcome is that the player will remain with the team for two seasons with a majority being released, traded, or having terms modified after the 2nd season after signing. It’s only a minority that make it to the back end of the contract.”
All of which is to say that a two-year deal for Barkley would be the best for the Giants in terms of maximizing his effectiveness, but they would likely begin to see a decline in his production in his third season on a new contract and beyond. Signing the 26-year-old to be a Giant for the rest of his career would likely lock in years of disappointing production on an inflated contract, which would cause the Giants to try to move on from Barkley like we saw the Cowboys do with Ezekiel Elliott.
This is likely something Schoen has thought through in detail but something Mara just said based on pure personal sentiment without any research. Which is why it’s always best for the owner to just let the general manager make the decisions and do the talking. That’s what they’re hired to do in the first place anyway.
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