5 Biggest Questions Heading Into Giants Training Camp And Saquon Barkley on Expectations And What He Has in Common With Models (Video)Read Now
The New York Giants open training camp today in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Owner John Mara and team brass hope this is the first training camp of a new winning era for the franchise. Last season the Giants were a miserable 3-13, the locker room was toxic and void of leadership. The end of last season and subsequent offseason brought a lot of change. GM Jerry Reese and head coach Ben McAdoo are gone, in their place Dave Gettleman and Pat Shurmur. Sources close to the team are saying good things so far about the change in leadership. There is talk about restoring tradition and the “Giants way.” All that is good and well, but talk is cheap as a former Giants head coach was fond of saying. OTAs and minicamps are over. Today marks the start of the heavy lifting, where we will see if the Giants have the requisite talent, coaching, and leadership to shake off the stench of last season and become a playoff team and a title contender before some of their notable players’ windows close.
Here are the 5 biggest questions the Giants hope to have answered by the end of camp and start of the season:
What does Eli Manning have left in the tank?
The 37-year-old, signal caller is entering his 15th season in the league. While he’s certainly on the back nine of his career. The Giants hope he has another few years of play left in him. But, what level of play should they expect?
Manning has a career 59.8% completion percentage and is turnover prone. His accuracy is what it is, and with his second offensive system in three seasons, we shouldn’t expect a leap to the mid-60s in completion numbers. He is your textbook hot and cold quarterback. If his skill position guys can stay healthy and if he can stay upright, he should have a bounce-back season.
He will also want to put last year’s weird and embarrassing benching behind him and show that he can still play like a 2x Super Bowl MVP under the right circumstances. Ben McAdoo routinely threw Manning and other players under the bus during post-game interviews last season, and while he would never admit it publicly, Manning was happy to see him go.
Here is something interesting to consider. These are Eli Manning’s stats over the past three seasons with one variable changed:
The top line splits are considerably better than the bottom line. Do you know what the variable is?
What’s up with Odell Beckham Jr.?
If you didn’t put 2 +2 together from the end of the last question, OBJ is that variable. In common NFL parlance, it is said the team only goes as far as its quarterback can take them. While that is true, the Giants best player is OBJ, and make no mistake about it. Despite his – at times – immature behavior, this team goes as far as OBJ allows them to. There is a reason he wasn’t traded this offseason.
OBJ is coming off a broken left ankle in week 4 of last season. Judging by his Instagram account he appears to be healthy and ready for action. However, he wants a new contract and the Giants are in no rush to sign him to one, given the aforementioned injury and concerns about his maturity.
If he isn’t the best wide receiver in the NFL, he’s no worse than top 3. The man is electric and forces defenses to game plan specifically around him. If the Giants didn’t draft him in 2014, where would Eli be right now? For that matter, how about the franchise?
He says he will be at the start of camp today, but the longer he and the Giants go without a deal this will linger over their heads.
Have the Giants solved their offensive line issues?
This unit was horrendous last season. Manning had the worst average time to throw (2.4 seconds) of all starting quarterbacks in the league. They were so bad, Eli was seeing ghosts. The run game was no better, as it ranked in the bottom quarter of the league with an average 3.9 ypc. If this unit is even 30% better than last season that would be huge.
They signed veteran New England Patriots left tackle Nate Solder. We know the Pats are good at getting rid of guys before their career starts trending in the wrong direction. But Solder definitely won’t be worse than Ereck Flowers. The former #8 overall draft pick will try to salvage his career on the right side of the line this season…
They also drafted Will Hernandez from UTEP in the second round who was involved in several fights during OTAs in June. Described by Shurmur as “cranky” and “nasty”, this is a good sign. Players on the line need to be bullies and have that type of disposition on the field. It will be critical in opening up running lanes.
Are the Giants playing a 4-3 or 3-4 defense?
New defensive coordinator James Bettcher is a 3-4 guy, but the early word is he won’t be rigid in the team’s base formation. The looks will be multiple, but pressure will be a constant. Sounds good in theory. Can they apply it in practice?
The best defensive teams have an identity and pressure is often that identity or a large part of any good unit’s makeup. Ex-Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians, had Bettcher as his defensive coordinator and told Giants.com the following:
The biggest thing is you start with pressure. He’s going to go after people. He’s going to put pressure on the quarterback in all situations. Very, very hard to run the ball against this defense, having gone against it myself for five years [in practice]. So it’s going to be pressure. It depends a lot on the corners – how much man-to-man versus zone because we played both but we had drafted our guys to play man-to-man and not let a quarterback dink and dunk us. So, yeah, I think there’s going to be a lot of pressure. He can switch. Even in the base front, our 3-4 becomes a 4-3 a lot of times easily, and that’s the hard thing. They have so many multiple fronts that he can play and utilize that personnel they have up there.
Players like the newly signed Alec Ogletree and Connor Barwin, and the thus far disappointing, Olivier Vernon have experience with multiple base defenses and will be relied upon to be leaders. BJ Goodson must find a way to stay healthy and “Snacks” Harrison must be a monster on the interior again this season.
In the secondary, Eli Apple needs to have a big rebound after last year’s tumultuous season and the starting safety next to Landon Collins needs to be sorted out. This is a unit that has potential, but Bettcher needs to harness it and maximize each player’s ability.
Is Saquon Barkley ready to be the next big thing?
The #2 overall pick in this year’s draft has had a dream offseason. He’s been in magazine shoots (more on that shortly), done lots of interviews, and just signed a 4 year $31.2 million contract that is fully guaranteed. The deal includes a $20.76 million signing bonus with $15 million paid out immediately. This makes Barkley the 4th highest paid running back in the league.
With his financial situation set, Barkley will have to start paying returns immediately. He must show the ability to pick up NFL blitzes and be the type of “game-changing” dynamic back the Giants need to infuse some life into their putrid running game.
Barkley has all the physical tools necessary to be a star in this league. We were part of a small group of reporters that spent time with him at the ESPN Body party last month in NYC. He has the charisma and all the necessary attributes of what a star athlete in this city needs. All he has to do now is show up and do it on Sunday’s. Oh and the occasional Monday, Thursday or Saturday…
There is talent on this roster and if healthy the Giants boast some of the best skill position players in the entire league. But, there are depth questions and it will take some time adjusting to the new systems. The culture appears to be headed in the direction the team’s brass wants and that’s a good first step. Today and the rest of training camp will be vital to determining who fills out the rest of the depth charts, which is key to any team’s success.
Finishing 3-13 last season was a bitter pill for a lot of these veterans to swallow. Anything north of 7 wins has to be seen as a huge improvement. With improved play and a couple lucky bounces, they could finish 9-7, though 8-8 is more likely. Neither will be good enough to make playoffs, however.
Check out Saquon Barkley’s interview at the ESPN Body event in NYC last month. He talks expectations and what he has in common with models.
The Brooklyn Nets made some quiet moves in free agency and are likely not quite finished. General manager Sean Marks re-signed Joe Harris to a 2 year – $16 million dollar deal, signed Ed Davis to a 1 year – $4.4 million dollar deal, and bought out Dwight Howard, mainly as a final move after shedding Timofey Mozgov’s albatross of a contract (2 years and $32 million). None of these moves, nor the current roster should have Nets fans excited about the 2018 season. But, what it does is free up a ton of cap space in 2019. That, coupled with the Nets owning their 2019 first-round draft pick for the first time since the infamous Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett heist is cause for optimism.
The Nets will have cap space to sign two max players in the summer of 2019 and with names like Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson, Boogie Cousins, and Kyrie Irving available, the Nets could actually be serious players in free agency. It all begins with ownership’s willingness to do whatever is necessary to win. (Read: spend money on top talent). That will likely be the toughest job for this current Nets group to prove until they actually do it. With co-owners Mikhail Prokhorov and Joseph Tsai steering the ship it is unclear what the future and vision for the franchise are. Will Tsai eventually acquire controlling interest and is the top priority building a title contender or increasing valuation with overseas partnerships and building the franchise as a global brand? Will the desire for global relevance come into conflict with going deep into the luxury tax to build a winner? Becoming a global brand and building a contender are not mutually exclusive, but seems to have the potential for pitfalls if not managed very carefully.
The other key component is culture and coaching. Head coach Kenny Atkinson has done a tremendous job in this respect. Players around the league laud the Nets playing style and Atkinson is a believer in positionless basketball, motion, and turning down good shots to get great ones. He also preaches defense and holds his players accountable. The culture, despite the losing, is also one that fosters camaraderie. Nets players enjoy representing the city, specifically, Brooklyn, are active in the community and enjoy playing for the organization. Marks continues to do what is necessary to make the organization first class and move past the mess of the former regime. As 2019 approaches, he can definitely start to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
As to what the team will look like on the court and where the Nets could possibly wind up in 2019, the sky’s the limit. The Nets won’t have any player on the books making significant money beyond 2019, except for Allen Crabbe. He will be on the final year of his deal, earning approximately $19 million. A lot of money for his expected value no doubt, but a valuable trade piece as an expiring contract. After Crabbe, DeMarre Carroll and Jeremy Lin are the team’s highest-paid players. Both will be unrestricted free agents and it’s unlikely they bring either of them back. If anyone comes back it could be Lin in a backup role after he tests the market. If the Nets goal is to seriously contend, paying a combined $27 million annually to that duo won’t get it done. Then there is D’Angelo Russell who no doubt wants to sign his rookie extension. But, the Nets will be in no rush to do that. They’ll likely let the 22-year-old hit restricted free agency. The oft-injured guard shows flashes. But, can he be the lead player on a playoff team? There’s a reason the Lakers were willing to let him go. Snitching notwithstanding. Then there’s Rondae Hollis-Jefferson who will also be ready for an extension. The Nets like his energy and what he provides, but how much do they want to lock him up for? All that is to say the Nets will look vastly different in 2019.
Attracting a top-tier free agent like the ones previously mentioned will still take a herculean sell job by the ownership group, Marks, and Atkinson. The Nets have no recent winning to speak of, and it’s not like the franchise history resonates with the current NBA stars. But, if this regime can convince the right player that he would be the start of something historic, maybe even iconic; bringing the first championship to Brooklyn and being the King(s) of New York (sorry Knicks fans) then 2019 could be the start of a new era in Brooklyn Nets basketball.
Now for the good stuff. What might some of these possible free agent signings look like?…
Irving may want to move on from Boston after this season as the marquee may be getting a bit too crowded. The Celtics got within a quarter of the NBA Finals without him and his all-star teammate Gordon Hayward. Make no mistake about it, Kyrie didn’t come to Boston to be a sidekick. He came to be “the man.” With Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown blossoming into their own, it will be hard for head coach Brad Stevens to hold them back. Also, remember Irving opted to get elective surgery and not be with his teammates on the bench for game 7 against the Cavaliers. Plus, he grew up in NJ and considers the NYC area home. That would also mean the Knicks are in play…This is all speculation but nothing about Kyrie’s season in Boston tells us it’s a guarantee he re-signs.
The easy-going sharpshooter has long said he wants to be a Warriors player for life and would even consider taking less money. The thing is, Klay is just the type of guy to do that, with his carefree demeanor and attitude. However, don’t let that fool you. He is a competitor and assuming the Dubs win the title again this upcoming season, that will be four titles in five years for Klay. He might be ready to do something different. Brooklyn is just the kind of place he might like to play for the next stretch of his career. He could pontificate on the many types of scaffolding all over the city. Brooklyn is VERY dog-friendly, so his bulldog Rocco would have an easy transition. There is plenty of nightlife, so Klay can certainly “get it in.” Most importantly Atkinson values the three ball. Klay would have the ultimate green light, much like he does in the Bay, but with more shots.
Now, if the Nets were to sign both players that would be some backcourt. With Jarrett Allen as a rim running 5 who can also stretch the floor that’s a nice nucleus. They could then move the Crabbe contract and possibly acquire a third piece in a sign and trade as part of a three-team deal.
The crown jewel of the 2019 free agent class. Again, assuming the Dubs win the title again this upcoming season. KD will have won three titles in a row and possibly three Finals MVPs. He would have the coveted “champions DNA” fans and certain pundits love to talk about. He would understand the cohesion and requisite toughness it takes to win championships. That might be enough time in the Bay. KD’s longtime business partner Rick Kleiman is a NYC guy, who would no doubt love to orchestrate “his guy” bringing a championship to the city. But Kleiman is a Knicks fan, so logically they would be in play. But Kleiman has strong ties to Roc Nation which is a partner of the Barclays Center (home of the Nets). The thing that most casual fans don’t realize is all of these “little things” play a part in these huge free agency decisions.
Let’s assume the Nets sign Kyrie and instead of Klay, they go for KD. Not crazy. KD is a big fan of Kyrie’s and lauds the point guards handle and ability to create his own shot. That’s a deadly pick and roll combo. If the Nets sign Kyrie and KD, how easy would it then be for them to get one of their buddies to join? Again a three-team trade including the expiring Crabbe deal, and maybe they land a big-time stretch 4?
Speaking of a big-time stretch 4…
I know he’s fallen out of favor with many NBA (err LeBron) fans but that happens when you play with James. Also, Love was not always used correctly in Cleveland. This was a 26 & 12, all NBA guy in Minnesota. You mean to tell me, he can’t resemble that player again? Yes, he wouldn’t be the number one option, but take away the last scenario of Kyrie and KD and assume Love is the first free agent target. That would put Klay Thompson back in play. The two grew up together in Lake Oswego, Oregon. They were actually almost traded for each other once. They both would bring elite three-point shooting, spacing and high basketball IQ to the table.
Going back to that three-team trade that would move Crabbe’s deal off the books, they can then possibly acquire someone like Kemba Walker. Imagine a team with Walker, Thompson, and Love as your three big pieces. The 2019 first round pick, Jarrett Allen, Caris LeVert off the bench and the small forward hole in the starting lineup filled by someone on a MLE (assuming the tax) or a veteran’s minimum? Other players will certainly see what the Nets are going for and would want to join. Player recruiting is the present and future of free agency. For the Nets, this wouldn’t be too bad at all.