Joe Schoen knew he needed help. He knew his staff had identified players who could provide that help. He wanted to give head coach Brian Daboll better options. He knew the Giants needed an injection of talent in certain areas.
But Schoen couldn’t make the moves he wanted to make.
The first year GM understood what was required, but did not do it. Man, oh man, was so hard on him, especially when the Giants haven’t won in four weeks and it looked like the playoff spot they worked so hard for might slip away.
“There were times in the season when there were maybe veteran players that we wanted to sign that would have helped us,” Schoen said, “but we just couldn’t do it. That part stings throughout the season because we could have helped the roster, but we just didn’t have the flexibility.’
A general manager without financial flexibility is like a coach without capable players. Both know what it’s like to feel powerless to improve the situation and solve the problems that arise.
Schoen did not resist. He replaced during the season with low-cost additions: receiver Isaiah Hodgins; cornerbacks Fabian Moreau and Nick McCloud; security Tony Jefferson; and linebackers Jaylon Smith, Landon Collins and Jarrad Davis.
The Eagles, in the second half of the season, wanted to strengthen their run defense and signed Linval Joseph and Ndamukong Suh. Either of these two proven veterans would have helped the Giants, a more needy team in the run-stopping department than the Eagles. But the Giants didn’t have the cap space to add that kind of quality from the outside.
That was then. It is now for Schoen. Last Sunday, the Giants were knocked out of the playoffs in that 38-7 loss to the Eagles. It was also the first anniversary of Schoen’s hiring after five seasons as the Bills’ assistant general manager. Schoen knew what he was getting into. Jobs like his don’t open up if there’s a wealth of talent on the roster, coaching stability and plenty of salary cap space available.
Tellingly, the most notable trade Schoen made last offseason was the release of cornerback James Bradberry, a move Schoen knew had weakened the roster even though it offered salary cap relief to lead his activities with an extremely limited budget. The Giants were over the cap when Schoen took over, and he needed to clear around $40 million just to allow for the basics — like signing low-level free agents and having money in reserve to eventually sign the picks of repechage.
Everything worked. The Giants went 9-7-1 in the regular season, won a playoff game and should be nearly $54 million under the salary cap when the free agent opens unless Schoen keeps quarterback Daniel Jones and running back Saquon Barkley on the sidelines. market with new offers before March 15.
“Yeah, having financial flexibility, nine draft picks, to be able to design a plan where you have a little bit more flexibility and resources, I’m really excited about that,” Schoen said.
Even when the Giants shockingly walked through the door, Schoen wasn’t blinded by the light of success. He knew his team received great coaches and won many close games – the six starting 6-1 wins were by a one-score margin. It was tempting to consider the roster better than he initially thought, but Schoen never took the plunge.
“I think there were a lot of good football players in our team,” Schoen said. “I think there were a lot of good teammates. We might not have been the most talented, but we had a good team. The guys cared about each other. The culture was good and the process we had put in place – I think the dividends showed up on Sunday.’
Credit Schoen for bringing in players who bought. The reason Daboll is one of three finalists for the Associated Press Coach of the Year award – along with Doug Pederson of the Jaguars and Kyle Shanahan of the 49ers – is that the Giants played beyond their means. Daboll and coordinators Wink Martindale and Mike Kafka did more with less.
Year 2 task is to do more with more. A rambling list only gets you so far.
Schoen needs to figure out who he wants to keep before focusing on who he wants to add. He is a firm believer in the value of knowing the person before investing money, which is why he is wary of building through free agency.
“Ideally for me, known products that are good football players that you know will be our first priority,” Schoen said. “And then we’ll look outside the building, if we need to, to complete the list.”
This bodes well for the safety of 2022 team captain Julian Love, a solid and versatile player with intangible assets off the pitch.
“Julian knows how we feel about him,” Schoen said. “We’ll see where he fits in. And if we can do anything, that will be good.”
Year #1 is in Schoen’s books. By this time next year, he doesn’t want to say of the Giants: “Maybe we weren’t the most talented.