Joe Schoen, the Giants’ new architect, has exactly what this franchise needs right now:
Ownership could be tempted to accelerate their expectations for this rebuild after making the playoffs in Year 1.
A sudden influx of salary cap space could bait Schoen into overpaying in free agency for immediate upgrades to satisfy that end.
But Schoen used all the right phrases Monday about assessing “market value” of free agents, valuing “known commodities” in house, weighing “positional value” in contract negotiations, and narrowing the Giants’ “margin for error” when upgrading the roster.
“The foundation is set,” Schoen said at his end of year press conference. “We’re still trying to build this thing so we can sustain it.”
In the fall, Schoen’s discipline resulted in acquiring third- and sixth-round picks for malcontent wide receiver Kadarius Toney. On Monday, it led to playing hardball on Saquon Barkley’s possible contract extension and future with the team.
“We weren’t really that close,” the GM said of their initial November negotiations.
Schoen is determined to continue making “progress,” a barometer he said the Giants satisfied in his first season. That will mean spending a good chunk of his estimated $54.2 million in cap space, as estimated by OvertheCap.com.
But the GM’s Monday message reflected an executive refreshingly rooted in process, with guardrails in place to continue guiding the franchise on a path to sustainability.
He said of Barkley’s negotiations that everyone needs to “take emotion out of it.” He said that he won’t let needs dictate overpayment in free agency.
“You shop hungry, you overpay, it’s a bad deal and you get buyer’s remorse,” he said.
Discipline in rhetoric and process is especially important for the Giants now, which is why it was so good to hear from Schoen on Monday.
The fatal flaw of the 2021 Giants that prompted the firing of a third head coach in five years was the organization’s misevaluation of how close they were to winning.
They spent big in the offseason after Joe Judge’s 2020 rookie team narrowly missed the playoffs at 6-10. They pulled out all the stops, loaded up, fell flat on their faces, and damaged their 2022 salary cap in the process.
Schoen said he hasn’t heard from ownership yet about whether they have increased their expectations for 2023 after this season’s success.
“We haven’t really talked specifically about that,” he said. “I’m in constant communication with John [Mara], Chris [Mara and] Steve [Tisch] about what we’re thinking and what the plan is and where we are. That hasn’t come up.”
But Schoen acknowledged the gaping disparity between Super Bowl contenders like the Philadelphia Eagles and his Giants on the field. He understands what they are and what they are not.
“There’s a talent gap there that we need to close,” Schoen said. “To me, it’s the NFC East. I mean, we were 1-5-1 against the NFC East.”
He also would not promise that he will close that gap quickly because it isn’t realistic, although he’s certainly continuing to try.
“Can’t put a timeframe on that,” he said. “But we’re gonna be relentless in pursuit of building a championship team here.”
The early returns of Schoen’s work as GM since his Jan. 2022 hiring are mostly promising.
He and his front office did an excellent job scouring the waiver wire, rosters, practice squads and the free market for constant upgrades or fill-ins all season.
They targeted many of those acquisitions to be building blocks, not just immediate contributors, including wideout Isaiah Hodgins, tight end Lawrence Cager and defensive backs Nick McCloud and Jason Pinnock.
Schoen also collaborated with head coach Brian Daboll on everything up to and including gameday personnel decisions in an encouraging 9-7-1 season.
He has a responsibility to extend his unemotional, process-driven decision making to a thorough evaluation of the Giants’ annual injury problems.
That department was, well, an Achilles heel for Schoen’s and Daboll’s first season. Imagine what they might have accomplished if so many of their players hadn’t gone down.
Schoen sounded like the right leader at the right time for the Giants on Monday, though.
He reiterated his goals to “draft well” and create “cap health” while chasing more measurable progress. And he sounded like a voice of reason who will not veer from the original plan back when he was hired: to rebuild the Giants smartly with patience and discipline.
“We’re just trying to do the best we can with what we have,” he said, “to build a championship team where we can sustain success.”