Joe Schoen’s first order of business as general manager of the Giants is to find a head coach. He said on Friday that he would like to find someone whom he can "work in lockstep with to create a collaborative environment for our football operations."
But that’s just one of the many issues that Schoen faces immediately upon accepting the job. Here are five others that will be among the priorities for him to address in these early stages of his tenure with the team:
THE SALARY CAP
Having salary cap space is one way to fix a team quickly. The problem for the Giants is that they have none. In fact, they’ll have to make cuts just to get under the cap for the start of the league year in March, and there isn’t much to prune.
Parting ways with Sterling Shepard, Kyle Rudolph and punter Riley Dixon would add dead money but provide a net savings of about $9.5 million against the cap and give them about $2.5 million to work with. Their books as they currently stand are top-heavy and defense-slanted. The five highest cap numbers for 2022 account for almost half of the total cap space, and four of those five belong to defensive players (Leonard Williams, James Bradberry, Blake Martinez and Adoree’ Jackson; wide receiver Kenny Golladay is the only offensive player).
Basically, the Giants were structured to be competitive while Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley were on their rookie contracts. That didn’t happen, so now they are paying the price. Schoen, whose background is more in personnel than cap matters, will need a crash course in the Giants’ dire situation followed by a plan to somehow get them out of it.
Yes, there will be math on this test.
One of the main reasons why the Bills have been successful in recent years is Josh Allen, but he is not coming with Schoen. The Giants had their chance to get Allen in the 2018 draft and instead opted to select Barkley, a pick whose consequences rippled all the way through Dave Gettleman’s four-year tenure running the team.
So who do the Giants have at quarterback? Daniel Jones, a player who shares some of the skills that have made Allen a superstar but has yet to replicate any of his on-field success.
Schoen will have to make an immediate decision on Jones and determine if the Giants will use a fifth-year option on him for the 2023 season. That call has a deadline of this offseason. In all likelihood, they will because it still will be a minor investment.
The biggest question is what role Jones will play moving forward. Almost all of the people who brought him here and have had his back in the organization throughout his career are gone, from Gettleman to Joe Judge to Pat Shurmur to Jason Garrett. Schoen and the new head coach may think there is something they can work with in Jones, but they’re also likely to bring in their own guy to compete with or usurp him.
That could mean a blockbuster trade for a proven winner such as Russell Wilson, a veteran who can hold things down and bridge the gap for a few years such as Jimmy Garoppolo, or a draft pick if Schoen already has his eye on someone.
It’s not entirely crazy to speculate that if the Bucs fail to reach the Super Bowl, Tom Brady could be on the market again. The Giants would have to improve a lot of their personnel to make themselves an appealing destination for him — first and foremost an overhaul of the offensive line to protect him — but imagine Brady finishing his career with the team that beat him in two Super Bowls? Imagine Schoen’s first imprint on the organization being the acquisition of the greatest quarterback of all time?
THE DRAFT PICKS
Assuming Schoen believes in building through the draft the way the Bills did in his five offseasons working in Buffalo, the Giants’ bank of first-round picks may be the most appealing aspect of the situation in which he finds himself.
With the fifth overall pick plus the seventh, which they received from the Bears in last year’s trade, the Giants have more capital than they’ve ever had at the top of the draft. That should be enough to get them immediate help on the offensive and/or defensive lines. It also gives them flexibility to get creative.
Schoen can package those picks to move up and target a true impact player such as edge rushers Aiden Hutchinson or Kayvon Thobodeaux, considered the top prospects in the draft. Or he can use one of the picks and trade down with the other to add more selections and build depth.
Schoen will have an opportunity to completely revamp the Giants’ scouting process and personnel if he so desires, but he probably won’t be able to do it until May. That’s because most teams already are deep into draft preparations and most of those changes usually take place after the selection of players in late April.
In other words, Schoen will have to make the calls in this draft while using a lot of the Giants’ current infrastructure. It’s the one that has yielded Jones, Barkley, Kadarius Toney, Will Hernandez, DeAndre Baker and Matt Peart in recent years. But Schoen’s eye for talent will have to overcome that in this cycle.
THE OFFENSIVE LINE
When the last general manager took over, he said fixing this unit was his priority. It never got done — huge contracts for Nate Solder and Patrick Omameh were supposed to be the initial solutions, but both turned into setbacks — and now Schoen inherits a group that may be in worse shape than ever. Left tackle Andrew Thomas seems to be the one piece that the Giants can try to build around, but the rest of the line is in complete disarray and might need four new starters before the first snaps of the 2022 season.
The last regime’s problem was recognizing talent on the line, as nearly every swing they took was a whiff. Assuming this regime has a better eye for the players it wants, its biggest issue will be finding the resources to address the problem at the possible detriment of other areas of need. Pouring everything into the line is easy to say, impractical to do.
Nothing is going to function properly unless the line is mended, but with limited money and picks available, that might be difficult to do in a short turnaround. Even if the Giants take two sure-bet blockers in the first round with the fifth and seventh picks, they probably still would need two other new pieces (not to mention that those rookies would be, well, rookies).
The offensive line Schoen helped build in Buffalo doesn’t have many big names, but it has been a huge part of the Bills’ success. Allen hasn’t been sacked yet this calendar year and their running game has been very efficient. The line also went through changes during this season with the addition of two new starters (right tackle Spencer Brown and left guard Ryan Bates) and a position switch from right tackle to right guard by Daryl Williams. The Bills showed they can identify players and put them in a position to succeed. If Schoen can do that for the Giants, it will be a huge step forward for the organization.
AN IMPATIENT FAN BASE
Put this in the intangible column of Schoen’s problems because there isn’t much he can do about it . . . other than win quickly. He wasn’t here during the past decade as things got increasingly ugly for the Giants, and many fans have been dismayed by the product on the field, but he does step into a situation that will require fast results to sooth diminished expectations. The Giants and their supporters likely won’t have the stomach for a rebuild of the rebuild of the rebuild that has been happening since the team last won a Super Bowl a decade ago.
Schoen will have to convince everyone — ownership, returning players, new coaches and, yes, the fans — that he has the answers quickly and definitively. A slow start to his tenure undoubtedly and undeservedly will lead to a bad case of here-we-go-again syndrome, and things could turn sour very suddenly. Just look at how fast Judge went from ballyhooed savior of the franchise to an exiled punchline.
Schoen won’t have that short a leash, but it won’t be much longer, either. He won’t have to win Super Bowls right away (hooray for him if he does), but he has to get things moving in the right direction off the bat or he might lose the credibility and optimism that his hiring has brought to the situation.
Having someone competent and trustworthy in charge is all that Giants fans want. The best way to illustrate that is to produce wins. More of the same in the early days of his tenure will only make it that much more difficult for Schoen to complete the long-term task he is undertaking.