For our final look at the Washington Football Team’s divisional opponents on the eve of free agency, we turn to the Big Apple.
The New York Giants were unlikely runners-up to the Washington Football Team in 2020, and if not for Doug Pederson’s strange infatuation with Nate Sudfeld in Week 17, the Giants may have been the ones taking on Tom Brady and Tampa Bay in the playoffs.
But we’re talking about the NFC East in 2020. The Giants, despite being a breath away from beating the Washington Football Team to the playoffs, finished at 6-10, and enter the 2021 offseason with several major question marks.
Most of those question marks are on offense. New York finished 2020 ranked 31st out of 32 teams in total offense and scoring. The ineptitude of their NY cousins, the Jets, is the only the thing that kept the G-Men from being dead last.
Coach Joe Judge seems committed to giving third-year quarterback Daniel Jones at least one more season to sink or swim. That seems wise. Jones was drafted No. 6 overall in 2019, and he has shown flashes in his two seasons, mostly with his legs. He has had very little firepower around him, and it would be a panic move to give up on him at this point, especially when there is no surefire alternative in view.
Judge and GM Dave Gettleman have to determine how much of the team’s offensive futility in 2020 was due to the loss of their one true weapon – running back Saquon Barkley. Barkley has missed 17 games over his last two seasons and will be returning from a bad ACL injury in 2021. Even if he comes back at full strength, New York needs to rebuild a lot of its offense around him and Daniel Jones.
That rebuilding began with the release of veteran receiver Golden Tate, and has continued with the release of guard Kevin Zeitler. Just two years ago, these were mainstays on the Giants’ offense. But Tate grew old and Zeitler did not play up to his large contract last year, so both are now free agents.
They join other starters from last year – right tackle Cam Fleming, and Barkley’s replacement at running back, Wayne Gallman – on the free agent market. For a second straight year, the Giants are faced with some major rebuilding on their offensive line. They will also try to add playmakers on the outside to give Jones options beyond the steady slot receiver Sterling Shepard and the iffiest of all 2020 Pro Bowlers, tight end Evan Engram. Their other primary receiver, Darius Slayton, appeared to be on the verge of stardom in his rookie season, but failed to build on that promise last year.
The Giants will most likely try to add a bargain receiver or two through free agency and perhaps look for some additional speed on the outside on Day 2 and Day 3 of the draft. This is one of the deepest drafts for receivers in recent memory, so a wise selection could pay off in a big way.
The Giants may look for offensive line help with the No. 11 pick in the draft. They spent the fourth overall pick in 2020 on left tackle Andrew Thomas, and he had a shaky rookie season, finishing with a lower PFF score than the three left tackles selected after him in the first round (Tristan Wirfs, Mekhi Becton, and Jedrick Wills, Jr).
Two other 2020 draftees, Matt Peart and Shane Lemieux, remain works-in-progress heading into their second seasons. With Zeitler and Fleming gone, and guard Will Hernandez riding the bench, the Giants are still trying to address long-standing offensive line woes. That clearly was not the plan when they chose three linemen in the first 150 picks of the 2020 draft. Those youngsters could still emerge, but it is far from a secure position.
The Giants will probably bring back former Washington Football Team quarterback Colt McCoy to back up Jones, but they will need more depth at running back, where none of Barkley’s fill-ins – Gallman, Dion Lewis, and Alfred Morris — are likely to return.
New York relied on its defense in 2020. The team made three crucial free agent signings last offseason, getting top cornerback James Bradberry, steady tackling machine Blake Martinez, and converted safety Logan Ryan (who signed shortly before the season). All three played very well in 2020, and I hereby issue an apology to Mr. Martinez for undervaluing him in the past. Still, there are holes to be filled on defense.
The Giants are desperate to add more potent edge rushers. The biggest move Gettleman has made in the run-up to free agency was tagging defensive lineman Leonard Williams. But this is the second consecutive tag for Williams and New York needs to work out a long-term, more cap-friendly deal to maximize their flexibility in free agency.
This may be felt immediately. Now that Williams has been tagged, the Giants’ most valuable remaining free agent is his defensive line-mate, Dalvin Tomlinson. Tomlinson is a stalwart nose tackle, a great locker room presence, and is just 27 years old. New York would love to have him back, but he may be too expensive for them. With solid alternatives in Dexter Lawrence and B. J. Hill on the interior, Tomlinson will probably be playing for someone else in 2021.
But New York will probably be able to bring back edge rusher Kyler Fackrell in 2021. His strip-sack of Kyle Allen late in the first Washington-New York game of 2020 sealed the win for the Giants. If he can stay healthy, he will help. But they need more on the edge.
So the Giants may go after a quality edge rusher like Michigan’s Kwity Paye in in the first round of the draft. But they also want to add a cornerback to pair with Bradberry, so someone like Caleb Farley could be in play.
There has been a great deal of debate in the New York media over the merits of signing former Denver cornerback A.J. Bouye, who was released last month in a salary-cap move. There are other corners available this offseason who might be better value. A versatile player like Troy Hill or a gamble on a high-upside outside corner like former Washington Football Team contributor Quinton Dunbar might offer more bang for the buck.
Recent cap casualties like linebacker Kyle Van Noy and cornerback Malcolm Butler could draw some interest. It has been reported that New York wanted Van Noy last year, before he signed with Miami.
That’s concludes the previews. A few weeks down the road, we can take another look at the moves NFC East teams have made in the early, hectic days of free agency, and the outlook for the Washington Football Team in 2021 will come into a bit more focus.