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A collective sigh emanated from the New York Giants organization and its fan base after escaping. Sunday night football with a dubious 20-12 win over the rival Washington Commanders.
On top of Washington making a massive mental mistake with an illegal formation on what could have been the game-tying touchdown run with 1:03 left and a obvious Missed defensive pass interference call in the end zone, New York can’t be upset with the result itself.
However, short-term relief does not bring long-term clarity. Quite the opposite appears to be the case, as the 8-5-1 Giants appear well on their way to a postseason appearance as the NFC’s current sixth seed. However, the team played poorly throughout the game, particularly on offense, where major offseason decisions lie ahead.
What happens to quarterback Daniel Jones and running back Saquon Barkley could ultimately be decided over the next three (or more) contests.
Giving credit where credit is due, first-year head coach Brian Daboll has his team performing well above expectations. Big Blue posted a winning campaign in the last 10 seasons. That effort happened seven years ago.
With one win during his last three contests, Daboll and company will be on the right side of the ledger, and the Giants’ new leader will be in the conversation for NFL Coach of the Year.
Supporting Daboll’s candidacy mainly involves getting as much as you can out of a clearly limited offense. Against Washington, New York’s offense, which ranks in the bottom half of the league in both total offense and scoring, had 288 yards and just one touchdown.
Both Jones and Barkley are previous top-10 selections in contract years. New York’s front office has already opted out of picking up their quarterback’s fifth-year rookie option.
Despite the relatively slow start to Jones’ career and Barkley’s extensive injury history, the idea of keeping both of them for at least one more season seemed prudent. However, the path next year looks murkier today than it did during the first half of the season.
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Initially, Jones’ game seemed primed for the franchise tag. The 2019 sixth overall pick performed more efficiently and reduced turnovers, and Daboll allowed him to be a bigger part of the running game. It worked… for a while.
During New York’s current 1-3-1 streak, Jones’ ERA has diminished. Despite Sunday’s victory, Washington’s aggressive front forced the Giants’ quarterback to get the ball out quickly to avoid being pressured into making mistakes. To be fair, New York did enough on offense to ultimately win. However, 195 total yards from the most important position in the game won’t cut it in many cases.
Jones is a mediocre quarterback. Coming into New York’s final outing, the fourth-year signal caller ranked 16th in quarterback rating (91.6), 14th in QBR (55.6), 23rd in average yards per attempt (6.8) and tied for 23rd with 12 touchdown passes. None of those numbers improved with his last effort.
The organization must begin to wonder if Jones is their man for at least another year or if he’s slowing down the entire offense. Many things can be planned to help you, and the Daboll staff are doing an excellent job of doing so. But the Giants were hoping for a quarterback who could eventually develop into a run-of-the-mill offense.
Jones is not, nor has he been at any point in his career to date. A strong finish to this season during the postseason could go a long way in helping with the team’s decision.
“My mindset has been the same all the time. I don’t think it won’t change now just because we’re further into the season,” Jones told reporters last week. “I’ll focus on playing the best I can and when the season is over. I’ll look back and have a fuller idea on that. I’m just trying to play the best I can.”
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Certainly a better wide receiver game could be beneficial. The Giants are basically devoid of talent outside of numbers. Richie James and Isaiah Hodgins led Sunday with a combined eight receptions for 79 yards. Still, it’s another excuse to serve as a crutch for a player who hasn’t definitively staked his claim to him as the franchise leader.
The Giants should consider drafting an inexperienced but talented quarterback option like Kentucky’s Will Levis or Florida’s Anthony Richardson in the first round next year to develop like Daboll did with Josh Allen in Buffalo. Barkley can still be the workhorse in 2023, while the franchise also adds more at wide receiver.
Right now, the offense belongs to Barkley as his focal point. However, even he has had his struggles. The NFL’s fourth leading rusher hasn’t been as effective lately. Before Sunday’s 87-yard blast, Barkley posted rushing totals of 28, 63, 39 and 22 over the previous four games.
Opposing defenses stifled him, though he helped undo New York’s latest victory with streaks of 12, 15 and 14 to start the Giants’ final scoring drive that stretched the lead to eight points.
Those moments show exactly where the coaching staff thinks the ball should be when the game is on the line. In fact, Barkley ran the ball six times compared to a pass from Jones during the critical series.
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But the fact that the fifth-year running back hasn’t been as effective of late should create some pause by automatically handing out a contract extension. In any case, the franchise tag may be a much more prudent route. For comparison, the franchise tag on a running back is $20.1 million cheaper than putting the tag on a quarterback.
When asked about it earlier this season, Barkley and the team didn’t seem close to a specific number.
“We had a bit of a talk,” Barkley said in November before the two sides filed talks. “At the end of the day, I put that behind me. That was the bye week. Obviously, we couldn’t come to an agreement during the bye week, and my mentality is to focus on the rest of the season.” Next week going against Detroit and knowing when that opportunity comes up again, focus on it then.”
Coincidentally, the back production decline began a week after those comments.
Two years from now, the offense can be built entirely in Daboll’s image, potentially without Jones or Barkley on the roster.
Daboll and new general manager Joe Schoen have done the best job possible with the roster they inherited. They should find out in the next few weeks if the current build is capable of becoming a constant competitor or if it is worth deconstructing. The most likely way forward is a slight teardown and a quick rebuild after paying for the sins of past GMs.
Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @brentsobleski.