Giants 'Hard Knocks' takeaways: Exploring a Saquon Barkley trade and 'not giving up' on Daniel Jones (2024)

Tuesday night’s premiere episode of “Hard Knocks: Offseason with the New York Giants” began and ended with a February meeting of team brass ostensibly focused on the future of running back Saquon Barkley. But consistent with the direction of the team for the past two years, quarterback Daniel Jones’ fate was intertwined.

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As general manager Joe Schoen spoke with resignation about Barkley’s likely departure in free agency, he turned the focus to the quarterback he gave a four-year, $160 million contract to last March.

“This is the year for Daniel,” Schoen said. “The plan all along was to give him a couple of years. Is he our guy for the next 10 years, or do we need to pivot and find somebody else?”

These types of internal conversations will be the most valuable material generated by HBO’s first behind-the-scenes look at an NFL front office during the offseason. The staff meetings were the clear highlight of the first episode as Schoen and his staff charted the future after last season’s disappointing 6-11 finish.

Here’s a review of some of the most notable moments from the show:

The Barkley conundrum

The Feb. 16 meeting about Barkley’s fate took place in Schoen’s office. He was joined by assistant general manager Brandon Brown, director of player personnel Tim McDonnell, director of pro scouting Chris Rossetti, assistant director of player personnel Dennis Hickey, senior vice president of football operations and strategy Kevin Abrams, director of football operations Ed Triggs and manager of football administration Charles Tisch. That group forms the heaviest hitters in the Giants’ pro personnel department.

There was a surprising amount of discussion about the possibility of franchise tagging Barkley for a second time and then trying to trade him. Schoen viewed that as unrealistic, but Rossetti wondered if the Giants could find an interested party for a player with Barkley’s ability.

Abrams, who shifted from assistant GM to his current role after Schoen was hired, raised doubt about any team being willing to pay Barkley the tag cost of $12 million (minus any money paid by the Giants to facilitate a deal) and give up a draft pick in a trade.

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Schoen, apparently thinking out loud, interjected to say, “Having the needs that we have and a $12 million 27-year-old running back.” That comment was met with a long pause before Hickey, the former Dolphins GM and now a consigliere to Schoen, called trading Barkley a “Hail Mary” and pointed out the drama that would come with a tag and trade.

“That was 10 years off my life, dealing with that,” Schoen said of the failed extension negotiations with Barkley in 2023. “Emotionally, was draining. We spent a lot of time on it. But again, I don’t want that to be the reason we don’t do what’s best for the franchise.”

McDonnell, who is co-owner John Mara’s nephew, asked what the offense’s identity would be without Barkley. McDonnell spoke about how big a part of the offense Barkley has been and how “the quarterback, if it’s Daniel, depends on the run game.”

Schoen countered that upgrading the offensive line was his priority. He noted that if you’re paying the quarterback $40 million per year, it’s not to hand the ball off to a $12 million running back. In other words, Schoen expects his quarterback to be the reason the Giants win, not the running back.

Doing the ‘right thing’?

Mara wasn’t in the meeting of top executives in Schoen’s office, and the owner wasn’t spotted in any of the other scouting gatherings. Instead, he had a personal meeting with Schoen on Feb. 13 — three days before the previously mentioned Barkley/Jones conference.

Schoen told Mara it wouldn’t make sense to franchise tag Barkley. Mara countered that unless they could trade Barkley after tagging him, which was the point the group discussed three days later.

It was a little hard to follow how Schoen got to making a point about getting down to offering Barkley $7 million, but he said didn’t want to offer that because he didn’t want to “disrespect” the face of the franchise. It was obvious in the conversions about Barkley that the front office was keenly aware of the potential controversies that could arise from its handling of the situation.

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Schoen expressed his plan to “do the right thing” and let Barkley hit free agency so he could find out his market. Schoen hoped that Barkley would come back to see if the Giants could match.

“In a perfect world, I’d still like to have him back,” Mara said. “Until we can prove we can have a decent offense without him.”

The comments from Mara and McDonnell show that there were influential skeptics of letting Barkley walk. The fact that the Giants ultimately did so supports Mara’s claim that he doesn’t strong-arm personnel decisions.

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Schoen again directed the conversation back to Jones and figuring out “is he the guy” since he’s making “a lot of money.” Schoen again reinforced the importance of upgrading the offensive line, although it was interesting that he mentioned tight end Darren Waller as being a major piece of the offense. Waller had been contemplating retirement, which he eventually did in June, since last season ended.

Schoen also spoke about the depth of the free-agent running back class. He said he thought there would be value signings available in the second week of free agency. Schoen apparently didn’t have the stomach to test that theory, as he signed Devin Singletary to a three-year, $16.5 million contract hours after Barkley signed a three-year, $37.8 million deal with the Eagles on the first day of free agency.

In a clip from a meeting in Schoen’s office that was shown early in the episode, Mara said, “If we are about to pull this deal off, I am going to have palpitations.” That comment apparently came from a later episode because the full context wasn’t shown during this episode.

Wise man

Rossetti was the point man in a meeting with top brass and the pro scouting department on Jan. 11, which came four days after the season ended, to break down potential free-agent targets. Rossetti’s assessment of Singletary was that he can play on third down but is more of a screen/underneath receiver. Rossetti described Singletary as a decisive runner with natural instincts. Rossetti questioned if Singletary would leave the Texans and noted the Giants may need to overpay to land the 26-year-old back.

In this conversation and the later meeting in Schoen’s office, Rossetti seemed to believe there would be a trade market for Barkley if tagged. Rossetti presciently noted the Eagles could value Barkley behind their powerhouse offensive line.

Schoen seemed skeptical the Eagles would spend big on a running back, instead thinking they’d spend on the defensive backfield. Schoen then ticked off the Giants’ needs — cornerback, pass rushers, No. 1 wide receiver — and said running back keeps getting pushed down the list.

The Giants addressed the pass rush with the trade for Brian Burns and the No. 1 wide receiver need by taking Malik Nabers with the No. 6 pick. But the lack of investment at cornerback this offseason has been surprising, especially with Schoen singling that out as one of the team’s biggest needs early in the offseason.

In search of protection

Schoen, Brown and McDonnell conducted a meeting in Schoen’s office at one point when Schoen lamented that they were better on every position on defense and some positions on offense than the previous season and “f—ing won six games.”

The conversation again shifted to Jones, with Schoen pointing out how decimated the line was in a Week 5 loss to the Dolphins. Jones was knocked out of that game with a neck injury after backup left tackle Josh Ezeudu was beaten badly for a sack.

“You could have Pat Mahomes and he can’t f—ing win behind that,” Schoen said. “I’m not giving up on (Jones). He’s under contract for three more years. Just protecting ourselves because the best predictor of the future is the past.”

The last comment was an allusion to potentially moving on from Jones based on his injury history. But this episode didn’t get into the Giants’ pursuit of quarterbacks in the draft, which should be forthcoming.

A segment on Jones’ rehab followed this discussion. We can all assume Jones will work hard in rehab and HBO can limit the time spent documenting the process.

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Quick hits

• Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale’s explosive departure on the first day of the offseason was reduced to a montage of news reports.

• An early offseason meeting on defensive free agents showed that the Giants explored every possible option. The meeting started with Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones, who re-signed in Kansas City on a five-year, $158.8 million contract. Signing Jones wasn’t realistic, but the scouts enjoyed a moment to ponder pairing him with Dexter Lawrence in the middle of the defensive line.

There was early talk of trading for Burns. Rossetti projected Burns’ trade value as a first-round pick plus more, noting that the Panthers once rejected an offer of two first-round picks. Schoen pointed out that Carolina had a new general manager, Dan Morgan, and the sides hadn’t been able to work out an extension.

• Schoen and Morgan are close friends from their time together in Carolina and Buffalo. Their “preliminary trade talks” at the Senior Bowl on Feb. 2 were mostly lighthearted jokes between friends. Morgan even mentioned that they talk every day. But even as they threw out “offers,” it was obvious the groundwork had been laid for a potential deal.

• As was his preference, coach Brian Daboll was a minor character. It was funny at one point when he pulled Schoen into his office and said he was going to offer the defensive coordinator job to “Shane,” and Schoen confirmed it was “Shane Bowen.” Daboll interviewed a bunch of candidates for the job, but Bowen was the only one named Shane.

Daboll explained his pitch would essentially be, “Do you want to be in or what?” He then showed Schoen the stats from Bowen’s defenses with the Titans over the past three seasons. Daboll clearly is hoping Bowen can produce similar success with the Giants’ run defense.

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• Bowen’s initial meeting with the front office covered the basics of his defense. Even though no DC likes to divulge such info, he confirmed that it’s a 3-4 base defense. He said the two inside linebackers need to be the smartest players. Bowen will be happy to inherit veteran Bobby Okereke in one of those spots.

Giants 'Hard Knocks' takeaways: Exploring a Saquon Barkley trade and 'not giving up' on Daniel Jones (3)

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BuyGiants 'Hard Knocks' takeaways: Exploring a Saquon Barkley trade and 'not giving up' on Daniel Jones (4)

• Business should pick up in next week’s episode, which appears to be focused on the scouting combine. The preview showed the team’s NFL Scouting Combine interview with Nabers. It will be interesting to see how much we see of the quarterback interviews. Early in the first episode, No. 1 pick Caleb Williams was shown at the whiteboard in the combine suite.

(Photo of Joe Schoen: Kirby Lee / USA Today)

Giants 'Hard Knocks' takeaways: Exploring a Saquon Barkley trade and 'not giving up' on Daniel Jones (5)Giants 'Hard Knocks' takeaways: Exploring a Saquon Barkley trade and 'not giving up' on Daniel Jones (6)

Dan Duggan is a staff writer for The Athletic covering the New York Giants. He previously covered the Giants for two years for The Star-Ledger. He has also worked for the Boston Herald. Follow Dan on Twitter @DDuggan21

Giants 'Hard Knocks' takeaways: Exploring a Saquon Barkley trade and 'not giving up' on Daniel Jones (2024)

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