Did Giants’ GM Joe Schoen clean house or just tidy up a bit?

Now that the New York Giants 53-man roster has been announced, it’s a good time to take a bird’s eye view and ask: What hath General Manager Joe Schoen wrought? Perennial losing teams, as the Giants have been, surely are ripe for a complete makeover, one would think. Is that what happened?

It may seem that way to Giants fans, but it’s all relative. An interesting comparison is the Chicago Bears, another embarrassingly bad team in 2021 (yet one that dominated the Giants when they played). The Bears hired Ryan Poles, one of the other finalists for the general manager position interviewed by the Giants, as their GM. Here’s how little the Bears’ initial 53-man roster before waiver claims resembles last year’s, from Mark Potash of the Chicago Sun-Times:

The Bears under Nagy went 12-4, 8-8, 8-8, and 6-11, yet Poles’ surgery on the roster was really drastic. What did Schoen do this year with a Giants team that was 5-11, 4-12, 6-10, and 4-13?

Meet the new team. Same as the old team (to some extent)

Darius Slayton during the Giants’ pre-season game vs. New England
Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

How many 2022 New York Giants are holdovers from last season? Here is my count, including anyone who was on the 53 or the practice squad at any time last season:

Quarterback: Daniel Jones
Running back: Saquon Barkley, Gary Brightwell
Tight-end: Chris Myarick
wide receiver: Kenny Golladay, Kadarius Toney, Sterling Shepard, David Sills, Darius Slayton
offensive line: Andrew Thomas, Shane Lemieux, Ben Bredeson, Devery Hamilton
defensive line: Leonard Williams, Dexter Lawrence
edge: Azeez Ojulari, Elerson Smith, Oshane Ximines
Off ball linebacker: Tae Crowder, Carter Coughlin, Cam Brown
Cornerback: Adoree’ Jackson, Aaron Robinson, Darnay Holmes, Rodarius Williams
Safety: Xavier McKinney, Julian Love
Special teams: Graham Gano, Casey Kreiter

That’s 29 returning players (at the moment), quite a few more than the 22 that are coming back as Chicago Bears this season as of this writing. The number might have been two lower had Marcus McKethan and Darrian Beavers not suffered season-ending injuries. On the other hand, had Matt Peart been able to return for the start of the season, the number might have been one higher.

And despite some significant departures, not least the release of Blake Martinez, there has not really been complete upheaval in any position group, except tight end. Even the much-maligned offensive line has four returning players, two of whom might start Week 1.

Potash attributed some of the Bears’ upheaval to their changing offensive and defensive schemes under their new head coach Matt Eberflus. But it’s hard to think of more radical scheme changes than going from Patrick Graham’s passive zone defenses to Wink Martindale’s favored bring-the-house man defenses (perhaps the reason for the Martinez cut), and going from the conservative, isolation route offense of Jason Garrett to the pre-snap motion, RPO-heavy, crossing pattern, route combination offense that Mike Kafka and Brian Daboll seem to be concocting. Yet many of the players remain the same.

Why wasn’t there more turnover?

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at New York Giants

Oshane Ximines rushing Bengal’s QB Brandon Allen during the Giants’ second pre-season game.
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

There’s probably no single answer, but here are a few guesses:

  1. The terrible cap situation inherited by Schoen limited his ability to sign free agents. Certainly this is part of it. Schoen mostly had to shop in the bargain bin this winter. Yet of the 24 new Giants as of now, 15 are non-draftees. That’s a pretty decent number. And the cap space argument cuts both ways. Schoen had to release James Bradberry because he couldn’t afford his cap hit, not because he is a bad player.
  2. Dave Gettleman’s drafts weren’t as bad as we thought they were? (BBV commenters, have at it. This is for you.) Poles and Eberflus have already cut two of the Bears’ 2021 draftees (Dazz Newsome and Thomas Graham). The Minnesota Vikings, under new GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, have cut six of their eleven 2021 draft picks, including three third-rounders (one of them Wyatt Davis, now a Giant). By comparison, all six of Gettleman’s 2021 draftees have made the 53-man roster. Schoen has only cut one of Gettleman’s 2020 draftees (seventh-rounder TJ Brunson) and none of the remaining 2019 draftees (yet). Which leads to …
  3. Maybe these players become better when they receive better coaching. Patrick Graham did an excellent job with what he was given. Jerome Henderson and Thomas McGaughey did good enough jobs that Daboll rehired them for his staff. Otherwise, the Giants coaches the past few years have not exactly received ringing endorsements. The current Giants’ coaching staff, on the other hand, appears to be quite impressive, and maybe they see things they can develop and are developing that the previous staff did not.

Here perhaps is a case in point. Former Giants great Carl Banks asked on Twitter what surprised everyone about the Giants’ cuts. Yours truly mentioned Quincy Roche, who was cut while former third-round pick Oshane Ximines was retained, and asked his opinion:

Is this what the Giants’ coaches saw? Will they be able to turn that into game production? How about Matt Peart, who seemed to have promised as a rookie and then fell out of favor in his second year? And Darius Slayton, who was mostly ignored in training camp and seemed on the way out but at least made the initial 53? The Bears already gave up on their 2021 Round 2 No. 39 pick Teven Jenkins as an offensive tackle and are trying to salvage him as a guard. The Raiders gave up on their 2021 Round 1 No. 17 pick Alex Leatherwood as an offensive tackle, moved him to guard, and finally waived him yesterday. The Giants haven’t made any of those disastrous draft day mistakes since the Deandre Baker misadventure in 2019.

And now Quincy Roche (along with Davis Webb) is back on the practice squad, so they haven’t given up on him either:

The 53 players who are Giants today may not all be Giants tomorrow or by the time the season begins. The Giants have been dizzying in their waiver claim activity, and it may not be over. Eventually the Giants players placed on IR (Shane Lemieux, Elerson Smith, Rodarius Williams) will return and replace players currently on the 53. Finally, the Giants are now over the cap as they fill out and revise their practice squad. That will affect the roster in some way as well unless Schoen restructures contracts and creates future dead money, as he admitted on Thursday.

The Bears were awarded six waiver claims initially, and then added another, so even more turnover could be imminent for their roster. Maybe Ryan Poles just sees things differently than Joe Schoen. Maybe they see things the same way and Schoen will make his purge next year when he has more cap space. Or – could it be – maybe the Giants’ roster is not as bad at some positions as many people think it is?

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