INDIANAPOLIS – Joe Schoen reminded everyone today the Giants have numerous issues to address that do not concern the ongoing contract negotiations with Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley in the five months before training camp begins.
"We had a good season but still have several holes on both sides of the ball," Schoen said during a session with reporters at the NFL Scouting Combine. "So, we still have a way to go and several holes to fill."
In addition to the team's marquee free agents, Schoen is negotiating with the agents representing several other key players whose contracts have expired, he must decide which free agents on other teams to pursue and is preparing for the NFL Draft. As he begins his second year as the Giants' general manager, Schoen is still learning how to budget his time to satisfy the myriad demands.
"I'm still trying to feel my way through it," Schoen said. "This was my first in-season as a general manager. At this time, normally, I have fourth round and above. I've seen all the free agents. As an assistant G.M., you've got time where you're uninterrupted in your office. So, I'm still catching up on that stuff. I have a great staff. Obviously, negotiations take part of your time. Coaches' contracts, there's a lot of other things that are pulling me away from the film. I'm in a good spot. Again, I have a good staff that leads me in the right direction and filters the information of who I need to look at."
Though Schoen fielded more questions about Jones and Barkley than on other subjects, he touched on numerous topics during his news conference.
The Giants have several other free agents who made significant contributions last season, including safety Julian Love, wide receivers Darius Slayton and Richie James, and offensive linemen Jon Feliciano and Nick Gates. In addition, Pro Bowl defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence could become a free agent next year and tackle Andrew Thomas and safety Xavier McKinney are a year behind him.
"This week will be big," Schoen said. "All the UFAs (unrestricted free agents) and anybody like Dexter, Joel Segal, his agent, we've had conversations with him. That's a little bit trickier. The DT market, when you look at the gap in between the highest paid and then the next guy. But Dexter's great – leader, great player, did a good job for us this year. So, he's definitely somebody that we'll talk to. And we'd like to have him back here for a long time.
"We've got Andrew for a little bit longer with the fifth-year option, which we'll most likely exercise. And then Xavier just switched agents. So, we had dealt with his previous agent before, going through all the deals that happened over the bye week. And I'm meeting with his new agent this week. So, we're going to stay in contact with those guys, but we've got more pressing needs right now. But those are guys, definitely, that we'll consider down the road."
Love led the Giants with 116 tackles (74 solo) and added eight stops on special teams. He was also a team captain and relayed Wink Martindale's play calls to the defensive players when McKinney was sidelined.
"I talked to (agent) Drew (Rosenhaus) at the Senior Bowl, so we were going to circle back up here," Schoen said. "He's on my schedule late in the week. We'll see. I think I saw a couple other safeties may be released, so we'll see what that market looks like if there's going to be surplus or not and where his value falls."
The Giants have two excellent interior defensive linemen in Lawrence and Leonard Williams. But the group behind them is thin, which is why Schoen said "not great" when asked how he feels about the team's defensive line depth.
"And that's a premium position," he said. "Again, talk about allocating resources to positions. It's important. We've got to be better next year at stopping the run. I think some of that is our depth where Dexter doesn't have to play the amount of snaps he has to play or doesn't have to be out there as much as he was out there. So, it's important not just there but across the board. We need to improve the depth on both sides of the ball."
Regarding Williams, Schoen said, "He's another guy we've got a meeting scheduled with later this week. And we'll talk to him. … Leo still, when he's healthy, I think he's a good player. When you look at the draft, and over the last few years, the defensive tackles, they're just not producing like they have in the past. So, it's becoming harder and harder to find those guys. We want to be solid up front on both sides of the ball. Again, Leonard, I know what his (cap) number is what it is. But he plays at a high level. … It's not a position where we're very deep. We've got some ideas in mind where we could open up some money, and that's something we'll work on as we get through the week."
Schoen is excited about the development of Kayvon Thibodeaux, the fifth overall selection in the 2022 draft who started all 13 games he played and had 4.0 sacks, 13 quarterback hits and scored on a fumble recovery.
"Kayvon was injured in the preseason and slowly kind of came on once he became more familiar with the system and was healthy," Schoen said. "I was pleased with Kayvon. Leadership in the locker room, you guys have been around him. His personality, he's got a big personality. So, his work ethic and the way he's wired, I expect him to continue to ascend. But he was everything we though he'd be his rookie year."
On the offensive line, the Giants believe they have long-term tackles in Thomas and Evan Neal. Mark Glowinski is expected to return at right guard. The other two positions are unsettled, in part because of Feliciano's and Gates' status.
"I think we made a concerted effort," Schoen said. "Last year when I stood up here, we had five healthy offensive linemen, maybe. We have 14 under contract, I think, next year. A majority of those guys have started NFL games. (Marcus) McKethan hasn't. But (Joshua) Ezeudu to Jack Anderson, Tyre Phillips, we have really good depth. It won't prevent us from, if there's a guy out there in the interior, that we'd want to sign from doing that. I think we have some pieces there. Glowinski's a right guard, but center and left guard is going to be good competition this offseason."
Schoen said Gates is "another guy we've had conversations with him before the combine in terms of trying to bring him back. So, another agency that we're going to meet with this week. But we've already had talks with him."
In addition, Feliciano is "a guy we're going to meet with this week, too. We had Feliciano in Buffalo with us. It's not just what's on the field with some of these guys. It's the leadership and the locker room and within their position group that you've really got to make sure that you don't let a lot of leadership walk out of the building. And that's going to be a concerted effort for some of these guys. Maybe they're backups, starters, whatever it may be. But we want to definitely be able to retain some of our leadership."
Another position of great interest is wide receiver. James' 57 receptions tied Barkley for the team lead. Slayton topped the team with 774 yards. But the Giants lacked a true No.1 wideout. Where will Schoen look to continue building that group?
"All avenues," he said. "I understand there's somewhat of an obsession with the receiver position. And again, we still have to build a team. That's an important position, and I get that. But the value has to match up, and we still have several holes that we need to fill in 2024. You got to look down the road: Who's up next year? What's coming down the pipeline as you're building a team not just for 2023, but down the road."
Perhaps the most unexpected major contributor among the receivers was Isaiah Hodgins, who was acquired off waivers from Buffalo on Nov. 2. Schoen was the Bills' assistant general manager when they drafted Hodgins in 2020. Hodgins tied James for the team lead with four touchdown receptions while catching 37 passes for 392 yards. He led the team with eight catches for 105 yards in the Giants' NFC Wild Card victory in Minnesota.
"We were familiar with him," Schoen said. "Smart, tough, dependable. Good worker. He knew the offense. He came in. He can play four spots, and he went out and performed the way we thought he would. So, that was an important piece. That was an important pick up. Again, good job by the pro department identifying him when he became available, and the timing was right. He did a heck of a job for us."
Though free agency dominated the conversation today, the NFL has gathered here this week to assess hundreds of draft-eligible players. And Schoen is certain that is the Giants' surest path to long-term success.
"We're going to have to build through the draft, especially financially if you have to use the franchise tag," he said. "We're still going to have to build through the draft and have those young cost-controlled players over four years. That's going to be important to have those players that can contribute. Our class did a great job this year. I think we were fourth or fifth in rookie play time. A lot of valuable experience from the rookies and some guys coming back from injuries that we'll be expecting big year twos from."
View photos from Giants Media Day as GM Joe Schoen spoke to the media from the NFL Combine.