The Giants might be in a better position today if a 629-day search for playmaking receivers had come up completely empty.
At least then it would make sense how Sterling Shepard’s season-ending torn ACL leaves a former seventh-round draft pick signed off the scrap heap (Richie James) and an undrafted three-year practice squad survivor (David Sills) as the Giants’ two most-trusted options at a position one longtime NFL scout called “the deepest in football year after year.” And why head coach Brian Daboll — an offensive innovator — is handcuffed on options for improvement.
“We have a couple guys on our practice squad right now that maybe come into play,” Daboll said. “They’ve been picking up our stuff.”
As became painfully clear Monday night in the 23-16 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, the NFL’s second-highest-paid receiving corps needs a lot more help than either of those practice squad guys, Marcus Johnson and Kalil Pimpleton, can offer. And the issue can be traced back to Jan. 6, 2021.
Riding the relative “high” of a 6-10 finish, owner John Mara said, “There’s no question that we need to help our offense going forward and add some more pieces.” Then-general manager Dave Gettleman spelled out the all-in message more clearly: “We need to find playmakers. That’s all there is to it. I’m not sugarcoating it.”
Enter the offseason of Kenny Golladay and Kadarius Toney, and the beginning of an inverted-pyramid depth chart that has the least resources invested in the heavy lifters.
The two receivers who have played the most snaps over the first three games of this season — Shepard (165) and Sills (139) — already were in-house when the Giants decided to cast their net. The big fish captured included Golladay, on a four-year, $72 million contract, and Toney, with a first-round draft choice and a four-year, $13.7 million deal.
Golladay and Toney have combined for four catches for 22 yards this season. Neither has scored a touchdown in the 20 games the Giants have played since they arrived, and they have 11 combined games missed due to injury. Daboll swears by three characteristics in players: smart, tough and dependable. Is being available part of being dependable?
“Absolutely,” he said.
By comparison, James has a team-high 14 catches for 146 yards at the cost of $1.065 million. Sills (five catches for 57 yards) is earning $825,000 and Shepard took a massive pay cut down to $1.5 million for a team spending more than $200 million of cap space, including $34.9 million on receivers. Only the Chargers — who have the No. 2-ranked passing offense — are more invested at receiver ($36.4 million), according to spotrac.com.
The Giants, who are ranked No. 30 in passing offense, are getting a worse return on their investments than a 401(k) plan. They are one of four NFC teams not starting either a player with an eight-figure contract or a homegrown first- or second-round draft pick among their top two receivers despite carrying three who fit that bill. Rookie second-round pick Wan’Dale Robinson — drafted with the foresight that the receiver corps wasn’t as strong as it looked on paper — hasn’t played since injuring his knee early in Week 1.
Darius Slayton, a two-time team leader in receiving yards curiously relegated to the bottom of the depth chart by the new regime, reemerged Monday and showed that all his chemistry with Daniel Jones is gone. After playing six combined snaps in Week 2, Slayton and Golladay combined for 38 against the Cowboys. The results were the same both weeks: Zero combined catches.
The relentlessly optimistic Jones, after running for his life from a career-high 24 pressures, said: “[The receivers] played well and we’ll look at how we can do things a little differently. It’s my job to find them and give them the ball.”
So, where will the Giants turn without Shepard?
“The guys that we have,” Daboll said. “Those guys are going to have to continue to work hard, build trust with the quarterback. They’ll be practicing, and hopefully we make some strides in that area.”
In other words, forget the pipe dream about Odell Beckham Jr. turning down more money, a better chance to win and quarterback certainty elsewhere to return to his roots. The Giants were “the most persistent” team in trying to sign Cole Beasley before he joined the Buccaneers’ practice squad, but his ties to Daboll weren’t going to overcome offers that were at or near the league minimum salary, according to Pro Football Talk.
Forget finding free agents capable of turning things around more than Robinson and Toney, who have the shiftiness to create the separation from defensive backs that Golladay, Sills and even Shepard historically do not gain.
Getting Toney healthy and Golladay right might be asking the impossible, but the Giants reportedly could be willing to eat a chunk of Golladay’s $14 million salary in 2022 in exchange for a late-round draft pick and the chance to get out of the $4.5 million he is guaranteed next season. It’s wishful thinking that a trade market will develop.
“I’m not worried about that right now,” Golladay said when asked about a trade.
That makes one thing not to worry about with the Giants’ receivers.