NFL coaches and players often say that dealing with success can be even harder than dealing with failure.
To best position themselves to be at the highest level, NFL franchises don’t need to rest on their laurels and instead take a level-headed approach to getting better.
The New York Giants, traded Tuesday for Las Vegas Raiders’ Darren Waller, took a step in that direction.
It’s easy to say that the Giants have had an average 9-7-1 season with one playoff win and one playoff loss and a quarterback who’s had just 15 touchdowns. It’s easy to complain that quarterback Daniel Jones’ career performance doesn’t dictate the $40 million-a-year contract the Giants awarded him and that Waller’s injury history — as recently with the franchise tag provided running back Saquon Barkleys, for those counting at home – should blare warning signs about the dollars allocated to him.
But putting the Giants’ moves in context rather than a vacuum paints a picture of a savvy front office driving calculated decisions to build what worked on offense and shore up what didn’t work.
Why waller is worth it for the Giants
At the start of the 2022 season, BetMGM placed the Giants’ winning total at 7.5, with slightly better odds that they would miss that number.
They exceeded those expectations by winning nine games, making their first postseason appearance since the 2016 season, and winning their first playoff game since their 2011 Super Bowl title.
Jones had a career-best passer rating, threw fewer interceptions than any quarterback in the league, and displayed a dual-threat ability with 708 yards and seven touchdowns that far exceeded what he’d highlighted at the Pro Bowl level.
A healthy Barkley showed he’s still a home run threat as he rushed for 1,308 yards and 10 touchdowns and required the attention of the defense that allowed Jones to break away.
Giants Brass believed that with system and personnel continuity, each’s first-year success could continue to flourish under coach Brian Daboll. So they negotiated Jones’ deal in time to give Barkley the franchise tag and gave every player 2023 (and for Jones 2024) lucrative contracts without putting a strain on their long-term future. Jones’ guarantees are ending after two seasons, while Barkley’s day is good for one unless a long-term deal is struck before the league ends on July 17.
The Giants wouldn’t have been the first franchise to let a player like Barkley walk, insisting that a quarterback as well-paid as Jones didn’t need a player of Barkley’s caliber to fuel the offense. Nor would they have been the first franchise to end its offensive free-agency moves after agreeing to pay this duo more than $50 million.
Instead, the Giants parlayed a third-round draft pick to a Pro Bowl tight end in Waller, who immediately upgraded Jones’ pass catching weapons. To make matters even better, the Giants still have their own third-round pick in 90th overall and simply dealt the 101st overall, which they earned from the Kansas City Chiefs in exchange for receiver Kadarius Toney .
Waller’s positive side showed in 2019 and 2020 when he surpassed 1,100 yards in consecutive seasons, including a nine-touchdown year in 2020. In 2021, he remained highly productive in 11 available games — 60.5 yards per game and 12.1 yards per reception, including averaging 4.4 yards after catch per goal — before injuries, including a hamstring strain in 2022, limited him to just nine games and 31.4% of Las Vegas offensive snaps.
The Giants now have the opportunity to form a dynamic trio with Jones, Barkley and Waller. They’ll pay the latter between $10 million and $12 million each over the next three years if he stays healthy enough to justify it, a tastier number than the $17 million average the Raiders signed him for last training camp. And if Waller can’t fight his injury spell, the cut costs him nothing after the 2023 season.
The Raiders’ recent moves reflect a franchise that isn’t fully combat-ready yet and therefore can benefit from a deep tight end class that should offer talented players through their rookie contracts, but perhaps not as quickly as the Giants, Barkley only guarantees service for a year left, I would hope.
Will Giants strategy be enough?
NFL fans might ask: With a coach who seems to be as talented as Daboll, the 2022 AP Coach of the Year, why settle for a mid-tier quarterback when recent league MVPs like Lamar Jackson and Aaron Rodgers’ teams aren’t in for 2023 yet? completed?
It’s a fair question as to when the Kansas City Chiefs just won the Super Bowl, due in large part to Patrick Mahomes’ otherworldly play masking a multitude of shortcomings.
And yet the Giants instead seem to believe Jones’ immediate advances in his freshman year under Daboll mean even greater advances, that it was the career tie that best reflected the former sixth overall pick’s abilities.
There is logic in this philosophy, no matter how it ends.
And should fans want to compare which strategy works, they might need to look no further than across town.
The New York Jets, in their pursuit of Rodgers as the piece that will propel them above the top, appear intent on making that leap and cashing in on their window of talent through a bank-breaking acquisition.
If Rodgers actually agrees to the trade, the discrepancy between the philosophies of the New York teams will cast an even brighter light on both’s decision.
Their shared willingness to choose and commit to a strategy will also shine through.
The Giants’ moves may not be the spizziest of the 2023 offseason, but their continued march toward improvement should give fans cause for optimism.