Giants GM Joe Schoen on free agent plans, potential extensions and his combine to-do list

INDIANAPOLIS – Giants general manager Joe Schoen was predictably bombarded with questions about quarterback Daniel Jones and running back Saquon Barkley during his press conference at the NFL Combine on Tuesday. The statuses of the impending free agents will dominate the conversation around the team until there is a resolution. But Schoen touched on a number of other topics during his first meeting with reporters since the immediate aftermath of the Giants’ playoff loss to the Eagles.

Here are some non-Jones/Barkley takeaways from Schoen’s state address:

• After Jones and Barkley, much of the attention this offseason has been focused on the Giants’ quest to bolster their wide receiver corps. Schoen has consistently tempered expectations about how much will be invested at the position, which has a weak crop of free agents.

“I understand there’s something of an obsession with the receiver position,” Schoen said. “Again, we still have to build a team. It’s an important position, I get that. But the value has to match, and we still have several other holes that we have to fill.”

The Giants unearthed a gem when they landed wide receiver Isaiah Hodgins on waivers midway through last season. But Hodgins, who has 37 career catches, is the only healthy receiver signed for next season as 2022 second-round pick Wan’Dale Robinson rehabs a torn ACL.

Affordable free agents and the draft seem like Schoen’s preferred path to address the receiver position this offseason. Schoen made it clear what type of receiver he will be targeting.

“(Coach Brian Daboll) wants guys who can separate,” Schoen said. “If you can separate, no matter how tall, short, wide — whatever it may be. As a quarterback, you prefer that. You’d rather throw to a guy who’s open versus a guy who’s going to be covered by a (defensive back). If they can be separated, we’ll find a way to utilize them within the offense, whether it’s outside or inside the slot.”

• One player who won’t be part of the wide receiver corps next season: Kenny Golladay. The Giants will release Golladay, according to a team source.

The release won’t become official until the new league year starts on March 15 because of the salary cap that accounts for the $4.5 million bonus guaranteed to Golladay last year. It’s unclear if the Giants will make Golladay a standard release or a June 1 release.

A standard release would create immediate savings of $6.7 million, while leaving $14.7 million in dead money. Golladay would be completely off the books after 2023.

If Golladay is designated a June 1 release, the Giants will create $13.5 million in savings this year at a cost of $7.9 million. There are two catches with a June 1 release. First, the Giants must carry Golladay’s entire $21.4 million cap hit until June 1, so they won’t recoup any cap savings until long after free agency is over. Second, a June 1 release would push $6.8 million in dead money onto the 2024 cap.

• Schoen has a full itinerary outside of the main purpose of the combine, which is scouting and interviewing draft prospects. With 21 impending free agents and other young stars eligible for an extension, Schoen’s week is full of meetings with agents.

Schoen said he plans to circle back with Drew Rosenhaus, who represents safety Julian Love. There were tentative expansion discussions during the bye week, and they continued at the Senior Bowl.

Schoen said he loves Love and the 2019 fourth-round pick has expressed his desire to remain with the Giants. But it seems that there is a gap in the negotiations. Schoen mentioned that reports of other safeties being released — Cleveland’s John Johnson III, in particular — could create a surplus at the position in free agency.

The Giants seem to be taking a hard line in negotiations and then letting Love test the market if he’s not happy with their offer.

• Schoen said “you have to make sure you don’t let a lot of leadership go out of the building” when discussing veteran center Jon Feliciano. That seems like a strong indication that the Giants plan to re-sign the 31-year-old, who has spent the past four seasons with Schoen, Daboll and offensive line coach Bobby Johnson.

Feliciano migrated to the Giants from Buffalo last offseason on a one-year, $3.5 million contract. His price tag should be lower this year after a mediocre performance in his first season as the starting center.

Schoen said he has already had talks with guard/center Nick Gates’ agents about a return. Gates should come cheap after battling back from the catastrophic leg injury he suffered early in the 2021 season.

• If re-signed, Feliciano and Gates would provide more competition among the plethora of options at center and left guard. The Giants have Andrew Thomas and Evan Neal locked in at the tackle spots, and Mark Glowinski will be back at right guard.

The Giants have selected Josh Ezeudu in the third round in 2022 and Marcus McKethan in the fifth round in 2022 as options at left guard. Ben Bredeson, who started eight games last season, and Shane Lemieux, who was a starter in each of the last two offseasons before missing significant time with injury, can play guard or center.

“We have very good depth,” Schoen said. “That’s not going to stop us, if there’s a guy out there in the interior that we want to sign, from doing that. But I think we have some pieces there.”

• Outside linebacker Jihad Ward also falls into the cheap leadership category. Schoen described the colorful Ward as a “unique personality,” but said the veteran played an important role in the development of first-round pick Kayvon Thibodeaux.

Ward is a favorite of defensive coordinator Wink Martindale from their two seasons together in Baltimore. Ward was on a minimum contract last season, so re-signing him with the intent of reducing his role with a healthy Azeez Ojulari and upgraded outside linebacker depth should be a no-brainer.

• There is an urgency to address the impending free agents, but Schoen is also keeping an eye on extending Thomas, defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence and safety Xavier McKinney.

Schoen said he has already had discussions with Lawrence’s agent about an extension. The 25-year-old Lawrence is entering the fifth-year option on his rookie contract. He’s due a $12.4 million cap hit, so an extension could provide some immediate savings even if Lawrence is in line for a big payday.

“It’s a little more difficult,” Schoen said. “The (defensive tackle) market, when you look at the gap between the highest paid and then the next guy.”

All-time great Aaron Donald has an average annual salary of $31.2 million. The second-highest paid defensive tackles are the Giants’ Leonard Williams and the Colts’ DeForest Buckner, who each have $21 million in average annual salary.

There’s a big sweet spot between the Donald and Williams/Buckner contracts that young defensive tackles like Lawrence will target this offseason.

Schoen handled McKinney’s former agent last season when the safety suffered a hand injury in an ATV accident during the bye week. McKinney traded to agent David Mulugheta, who represents many of the top safeties in the league, after the season. Schoen said a meeting with Mulugheta is on his agenda this week.

McKinney is in an interesting spot as a promising young player entering the final year of his rookie contract, having missed significant time in two of his three seasons due to injury, including the broken fingers that occurred away from the football.

Like McKinney, Thomas was a 2020 draft pick. But the Giants have more contractual control over Thomas because he was a first-round pick. That gives the Giants the fifth-year option to keep Thomas through the 2024 season. There is an advantage to extending Thomas early before other tackles blow up the market, but that didn’t sound like a top priority for Schoen.

• Schoen plans to meet with Williams’ agents this week to try to find a way to reduce his $32.3 million cap hit in the final year of his contract. Schoen spoke highly of Williams’ play, so an extension that could significantly reduce his 2023 cap hit seems like the preferred route. Another option would be to restructure Williams’ contract to squeeze more dead money into 2024, which is already a void year with a $6 million cost.

Cutting Williams doesn’t appear to be an option. That would create $12 million in savings, while leaving $20.2 million in dead money. More importantly, it would further weaken an already thin defensive line.

“Not good,” Schoen replied when asked how he felt about the team’s defensive line depth.

Schoen said upgrading the defensive line depth will be important so that Lawrence and Williams don’t have to play as many snaps. Lawrence was tied for second most snaps among defensive tackles before being rested for the regular season finale. Williams had been an ironman for the first seven seasons, but he missed five games last season working through a neck injury.

• Schoen continues to keep the Giants’ surprising nine-win season in perspective.

“We had a good season,” Schoen said. “We still have more holes on both sides of the ball, so we still have a ways to go and more holes to fill.”

That understanding suggests a restrained approach to free agency, especially with much of the Giants’ cap space earmarked for retaining their own players.

(Top photo: Trevor Ruszkowski / USA Today)

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