Giants 2023 NFL Free Agency: On Bobby Okereke and More “Things I’m Thinking” After Day 1

If you read the tea leaves objectively when it comes to what New York Giants decision makers did and said prior to the start of the NFL free agency on Monday 2023, nothing the Giants did should have come as a surprise.

take care of yourself

In his season-ending press conference following the Giants’ loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in the divisional round of the playoffs, GM Joe Schoen made his intentions clear.

“Ideally, the well-known goods that are good football players that you know will be our first priority,” Schoen said. “And then we look outside the building if necessary to add to the list.”

The Giants stuck to that script.

They signed quarterback Daniel Jones to a four-year, $160 million deal. They tagged Saquon Barkley. After taking care of those two big fish, the Giants began Sunday with a flurry of signings.

Wide receiver Sterling Shepard, running back Matt Breida, punter Jame Gillan and guard Wyatt Davis were all called back.

Why does Schön prefer to stay indoors when he can?

“The good thing about growing employees internally, in my opinion, is that you know their work ethic. You know their durability. They know their injury history. They know how to train. You know how they practice,” he said. “So in terms of eliminating some of the error rate, it’s a known commodity.”

A great linebacker!

Linebacker play for the Giants was abysmal in 2022. We knew doing something about it would be a priority for the Giants this offseason.

The Giants would never pay anything like the $72 million four-year (50 million guaranteed) Tremaine Edmunds got from the Chicago Bears. As the first day of the Monday negotiation window unfolded, it sure was frustrating for Giants fans to see TJ Edwards, Germaine Pratt and David Long Jr. — all potential targets at Linebacker — come off the board before the Giants sign anyone had.

Then Bobby Okereke happened.

Big Blue View reader Chris Chianese emailed Monday night asking why the Giants paid so much (four years, $40 million, $22 million guaranteed) for Okereke while Edwards, Pratt and Long reportedly got much less money .

My opinion is this. The Giants clearly had a connection to Buffalo’s Edmunds. However, you wouldn’t spend that much money. The only thing I can take away from the money they paid Okereke is that when looking at the other options, Okereke had to be the player they really wanted – taking Edmunds out of the equation.

Think about it. Okereke is a talented player with 132 and 151 tackle seasons. He’s turning 27 and just hitting his prime.

He’s also the kind of linebacker defense coordinator that Wink Martindale seems to yearn for. I’m paraphrasing, but Martindale said something early in the 2022 season to the effect that if you have a slow middle linebacker, you have a slow defense.

Okereke’s 40-yard dash in 4.58 seconds at the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine put him in the 82nd percentile. He has the speed that Martindale craves. It also has the length, with a wingspan of 98 percent.

The Giants always say they want “smart, tough, reliable” guys. Okereke went to Stanford. In four years he has missed two games through injury. Go back and look at his 17 tackle game (13 solo) against the Giants in Week 17, a meaningless game for the Colts and you know he’s a tough, dedicated player.

Okereke’s presence should give the Giants a huge boost for the next few seasons. It’s worth looking forward to.

Dealing with that “not great” depth of defense

Schoen made no secret that the Giants need to get better against the run in 2023, and that part of that will be finding better depth behind Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams.

“Not great,” Schoen described the depth of the team’s line of defense when asked about it at the combine.

“This is a premium position. Again, talk about assigning resources to a position. This is important. We have to get better next year to stop the run,” said Schoen. “I think part of that is our depth where Dexter doesn’t need to play as many snaps as he played or Leo doesn’t need to be out there as much as he was out there. This is important.”

Enter experienced defensive tackle Rakeem Nunez-Roches. Nunez-Roches, 30, will most likely replace Justin Ellis, whose game left a lot to be desired in 2022. After his only season with the Giants, Ellis is a free agent.

Nunez-Roches is what he is after eight years in the NFL. And what it is is a run stopping rotating defensive tackle. Pretty much what the doctor ordered for the Giants. The 548 snaps Nunez-Roches played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2022 was a career high.

Nunez-Roches has just 3.5 sacks in 102 NFL games, 38 of which were starts. The Giants sign him to provide depth and help them defend the run, especially when Lawrence or Williams are off the field.

Nunez-Roches is also emblematic of the mid-depth player that Schoen, who was hampered by a salary-cap mess he left behind when he became general manager, was unable to pursue a season ago.

Bye Nick

I know I’m not the only one who wished/hoped/prayed that Nick Gates would return to the Giants for the 2023 season. Unfortunately, that wasn’t to be, as Gates agreed a three-year, $16.5 million deal with the Washington Commanders on Monday. It’s a deal that could reportedly net him as much as $18 million with incentives.

The reality is the Giants would never sign the popular, now-ex-Giant for that kind of money or even that kind of contract length.

The New York Daily News’ Pat Leonard revealed a great story on Monday about how Gates was almost cut by the Giants before making an emotional return to the field last season.

The Giants clearly favored Jon Feliciano, with whom GM Joe Schoen and head coach Brian Daboll have ties from the Buffalo Bills, at center. And if the Giants’ ultimate plan is to design and develop a center, Feliciano shouldn’t cost them what Commanders will pay Gates.

On guard while Gates and Ben Bredeson split time, Bredeson played more snaps when both were available. Also, the Giants have youngsters they drafted in Joshua Ezeudu and Marcus McKethan.

The deck was always stacked against a Gates return to the Giants. Good luck to him with the commanders.

What about wide receivers?

The Giants will do something to support their pass attack. A trade for a wide receiver is always a possibility, which the New York Post’s Ryan Dunleavy and I discussed on Monday’s Valentine’s Views podcast. A mid-level free-agent signing is possible. Odell Beckham Jr.’s return seems possible, but unlikely.

Adding a pass-catching tight end seems like a realistic possibility. Mike Gesicki of the Miami Dolphins is a name that keeps coming up. ESPN’s Jordan Ranaan has touted the Minnesota Vikings’ Irv Smith as a possibility.

Stay tuned.

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