Their record may not have reflected it, but the New York Giants made progress last season, their ninth since winning Super Bowl 46. Much of it can be credited to a defense that had to step up after the loss of Saquon Barkley devastated the offense.
The Giants go into the offseason with nine defensive free agents to re-sign or cut loose, but two matter more than others. Once they decide what to do with defensive linemen Leonard Williams and Dalvin Tomlinson, the objective should be to land a productive edge rusher. Fortunately for the Giants, one of their wide receivers has an idea and a connection to land him.
The New York Giants have reason for optimism
The two big questions about the New York Giants in 2021 will be about their offense and the two guys they want handling the ball the most. Daniel Jones regressed last fall after a promising rookie season, but he was dealing with new coordinator Jason Garrett’s scheme. After 24 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions as a rookie, Jones finished with 11 and 10, respectively, in 2020.
Naturally, the offense felt the effect of losing running back Saquon Barkley. After beginning his career with a pair of 1,000-yard rushing seasons, Barkley suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 2 last September. Aside from depriving the Giants of a steady 4.5 yards a carry – Wayne Gallman filled in respectably, by the way — the loss of Barkley cost Jones a pass-catcher out of the backfield. Barkley made 143 catches and caught six TD passes in his first two seasons.
If Barkley and Jones are clicking and the Giants come up with a top-end receiver in the draft, the offense should be able to shoulder its share of the load.
The missing piece on the New York Giants defense
The Giants improved from 30th to ninth in scoring defense last season, in large part due to a turnaround in the giveaway/takeaway department, and the Giants owe much of up to tackle Dalvin Tomlinson and end Leonard Williams.
Tomlinson has given the Giants 64 remarkably consistent starts since being drafted out of Alabama. He logged career highs for tackles for loss and quarterback hits in 2020.
Williams was a puzzling midseason acquisition from the New York Jets in mid-2019, costing the Giants a pair of draft picks despite the fact that it was his contract year. The Giants signed him to a one-year deal before last season, and Williams delivered with 11.5 sacks and 30 quarterback hits.
It’s going to be challenging for the Giants to re-sign both 26-year-old defenders to contracts that they deserve coming off that season and also acquire an important missing piece: Their first bona fide edge rusher since they let Jason Pierre-Paul go in a trade with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The good news is that there are free-agent options out there. The better news is that receiver Darius Slayton thinks he can help them.
Darius Slayton has a connection to Carl Lawson
The class of free-agent edge rushers that will be signing with NFL teams in mid-March is led by several huge names, including Shaquil Barrett and Jadeveon Clowney. Both are young enough and effective enough to make a difference, but the Giants won’t have the cap space.
That’s where receiver Darius Slayton comes in. Slayton, who made 50 catches at 15.0 yards a pop in his second season, played at Auburn with Carl Lawson, who just completed his fourth season with the Cincinnati Bengals. Lawson broke into the starting lineup last year, recording 5.5 sacks and 32 quarterback hits in his contract year.
“The film has been watched. The rumbling shall begin,” Lawson wrote on Twitter.
“Ain no rumblings you’re bringing your talents to the meadowlands,” Slayton responded.
Answered Lawson: “War damn slay.”
All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference.