We know that it is Daniel Jones, more than anyone, more than Saquon Barkley, who will determine whether the Giants will crash the playoff party for the first time in five seasons.
The Giants desperately want Jones and Barkley to reward their faith in them in their respective pivotal seasons with a big-ticket commitment.
John Mara keeps reminding everyone that it is time to win, finally, in no small part because he (and co-owner Steve Tisch) has already played Moneyball with a premium group of players he expects to deliver plenty of bang for the Big Blue bucks … and more long-term bang than Janoris Jenkins, Snacks Harrison and Olivier Vernon (and the resigning of Jason Pierre-Paul) provided following the $200 million free-agency spending spree.
Jones, who will likely play a half in the preseason finale against the Patriots, and Barkley, inching closer to a return following his arduous knee rehab, were on the sidelines — along with The Moneyballers — for Sunday’s 17-13 loss in the second preseason game against the Browns. Here’s a look at four key high-priced players who have to carry their weight in 2021.
As the fourth pick of the 2020 NFL Draft, the franchise left tackle was awarded a four-year $32.345 million that included a $21.1 million signing bonus.
Thomas needs to be the anchor of an offensive line that has given Giants fans agita seemingly forever. GM Dave Gettleman made him the first tackle off the board because he was considered the most pro-ready of the four tantalizing offensive line prospects. Except he wasn’t pro ready, and had critics wondering why he was selected ahead of Jedrick Wills (Browns), Mekhi Becton (Jets) and Tristan Wirfs (Bucs).
Thomas steadied himself over the second half of his rookie season and Joe Judge has thrown everything in his power at the OL problem with the hiring of new OL coach Rob Sale and Pat Flaherty, Tom Coughlin’s trusted OL coach, as a consultant. Thomas’ body language suggests a more confident player.
The Big Cat justified GM Dave Gettleman’s controversial midseason 2019 trade with his career-best 11.5 sacks in 2020. The juice was indeed worth the squeeze, and the man they call Leo squeezed a three-year, $63 million contract with $45 million guaranteed from the Giants.
The mandate now for Williams is proving that he is not what Bill Parcells used to call a one-hit wonder. An emerging Dexter Lawrence and the pass rush promise of second-round pick Azeez Ojulari — not to mention defensive coordinator Patrick Graham ensuring that there are no robots on his defense — will help. Judge loves Williams’ upbeat influence in the locker room along with a relentless work ethic that should prevent any complacency.
The big target who secured that four-year, $72 million contract with $40 million guaranteed. Shelved with a hamstring injury in training camp following an injury-marred 2020 in Detroit, Golladay was summoned to do for Jones what Plaxico Burress did for Eli Manning. A big target at 6-foot-4, 214 pounds, Golladay makes contested catches and should embolden offensive coordinator Jason Garrett to call more deep shots. He is in his prime three months before his 28th birthday, and the brain trust is counting on him to return to his 2019 form (65 catches for 1,190 yards and 11 TDs) with the Lions.
Manning gave a thumbs-up back in April to the prospect of Golladay having a Burress-like effect on Jones. “Having Plaxico there and getting that No. 1 receiver, that guy who is physically gifted and can get open one-on-one,” he said.
Manning in 2017 was excited about the Giants’ signing of Brandon Marshall, a big target, but an old one. “I think Plaxico was kind of the last one similar to that size,’’ Manning said. “They can be open when they’re not really open. You don’t want to get into a habit, it’s not a jump-ball but you can throw him open.”
The right cornerback position opposite James Bradberry was a turnstile in 2020. Enter Jackson, who was inked to a three-year, $39 million contract with $25 million guaranteed even after being sidelined for 13 games last season with a knee injury.
“He’s got inside-outside flex,” Gettleman said. “He’s a legitimate cover guy. He can run. He’s a very smart football player. He’s got ball skills. All that stuff made him worth that.”
Jackson will turn 26 next month. “The big money that we spent recently were on two young players that we think can be here for a while,” Mara said in April.
Jackson was the 18th pick of the 2017 draft by the Titans. “You can put him on any style receiver in the NFL,” Carl Banks said on the broadcast of Giants-Browns.
Judge and Gettleman will be cutting some good players. LB Carter Coughlin was a star in Cleveland for the second straight week. Cam Brown is becoming a special teams weapon. They look like late-round steals from the 2020 draft. WR David Sills, who caught a fourth-quarter TD pass, is fighting for a job in a crowded room. Trent Harris, David Moa and Raymond Johnson flashed. Perhaps versatile Matt Cole can be Troy Brown Lite. They aren’t The Moneyballers.
It is clear who The Moneyballers are. It is time for the Giants to cash in on Moneyball with a return to the playoffs. They are banking on it.
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