Breaking Down the Giants' Return on Investment from the Offense

Have the Giants received true bang for their salary cap bucks? In this first of two parts, we look at the offense and come up with an assessment as to what kind of return on investment the Giants are getting at each position group.
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The Giants, according to Spotrac, currently have $139.5 million invested in their roster. But what kind of return on investment are they getting?

If you break things down by unit, the answer is mixed, so I broke down the Giants' current roster by unit to determine, with the help of Spotrac’s figures, what kind of value the team has received on its investment.

Note: This installment detail the offenses; the defense and special teams will be in Part 2, scheduled to run Wednesday. 

Quarterback

Giants Investment: $8.172 million
NFL Rank: 26thValue Grade: Good

Of the 14 quarterbacks who have taken at least 350 dropbacks this season, Daniel Jones is ranked at or near the bottom in completion percentage (63.5%, 12th), passing yards (2,122, 14th), yards per pass attempt (6.4, 13th), and touchdowns (8, 14th), while earning a spot in the top of the heap in interceptions (9, 3rd).

To be fair, Jones is the only quarterback of that group who faced the perfect storm this year—a new coaching staff running a completely different system than what he ran at Duke and in his rookie season with the Giants, a young, unsettled offensive line, no true No. 1 receiver, the loss of his primary running back, and an inconsistent tight end.

Imagine what might have been if he had a little more stability from Day 1.

Now for the good news. Jones, who is in the second year of his rookie deal, is trending upward. In his first five games, he completed 61% of his pass attempts. In his last five, that’s increased to 66.4% (of note, Jones’s average attempts per game also dropped from 22.2 in the first five games to 20.2 in the last five).

But even more encouraging is that after throwing just two touchdown passes and five interceptions in the first five games, Jones has reversed those numbers, throwing six touchdown passes and four interceptions.

And if that’s not enough to justify the value, Jones has also contributed to the rushing game. His 384 rushing yards lead the team and create another element opposing defenses to account for when game planning against the Giants offense.

The Giants are benefitting from the fact that Jones is still on his rookie contract (and he’ll also be on his rookie contract next year as players may not renegotiate their rookie deals until they’ve been in the league three years).

That means 2021 is going to be a big year for Jones. By then, he should have a younger and (hopefully) better offensive line thanks to head coach Joe Judge’s foresight in getting the players as much experience as he can through a rotation, which has made up for the loss of the preseason games.

He should (hopefully) have the same offensive system in place, regardless of who the coordinator is; a new No. 1 receiver to throw to, a more consistent Evan Engram, and a healthy Saquon Barkley.

The 2021 season will tell us a lot about whether the Giants are indeed set on offense for the next decade or so. And the beauty is they’ll be able to figure it without having a sizeable financial investment in the position.

Dec 15, 2019; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley (26) runs for a touchdown against the Miami Dolphins during the third quarter at MetLife Stadium.

Saquon Barkley

Running Backs

Giants Investment: $12.619 million
NFL Rank: 2ndValue Grade: Poor

Let’s get this out of the way. Injuries are not a player’s fault. But that isn’t why this position group’s value grade is so low, nor is it the fact that the Giants ground game isn’t ranked in the top five league-wide, let alone the top 10, which suggests they’re not getting an optimal return on investment.

The reason is the investment alone. It’s understandable why the Giants fell in love with Saquon Barkley, who is currently recovering from a torn ACL while accounting for $8,597,659 of the money devoted to this position. In Barkley, the giants likely saw a guy who at the time could take a load off an aging Eli Manning’s plate and help shift some of the focus that receiver Odell Beckham Jr drew away.

Besides questions about the last two coaching staff's deployment of him, the problem with Barkley is he has become the focal point in an offense that right now doesn’t have enough playmakers to keep opposing defensive coordinators up at night with worry.

And here’s the other issue with having a running back take up such a large chunk of coin. Without Barkley in the lineup, the Giants running game has not only survived, but it has also flourished, mainly because the offensive line has improved its play and the athletic ability of Daniel Jones on the zone read options.

So far, the Giants running game has averaged 116.45 yards without Barkley in the lineup versus 100.6 with him.

That’s why this investment is a tough pill to swallow and just one reason of several reasons why a potential blockbuster deal for Barkley, regardless of how his recovery goes, might not be in the Giants best long-term interest.

Wide Receivers

Giants Investment: $23.654 million
NFL Rank: 9th
Value: Good

One of the biggest mistakes general manager Dave Gettleman has made is that he’s rid the team of specific talent without theoretically having a solid replacement waiting in the wings. 

The Giants' approach has been to let the young ones behind the aforementioned talent develop, but when that talent doesn’t reach the desired potential, it creates a gaping hole that can take multiple off-seasons to fix.

This is the case at receiver. The Giants signed Golden Tate after trading Odell Beckham Jr. Despite Tate's talent for racking up yards after the catch, his numbers have fallen off the cliff along with his game targets.

By the way, the Giants didn’t draft any receivers in 2020 despite the class being historically rich with talent. Instead, they rolled the dice with three undrafted free agents who showed some potential but who don’t quite have No. 1 receiver written all over them.

The closest they have, in fact, to a No. 1 receiver is Darius Slayton, but his 2.4 average yards of separation doesn’t exactly rank up there with the best of them (that may not necessarily be his fault though, as it could be more on the design of the plays).

Sterling Shepard remains the team’s most consistent receiver, except that injuries have caused him to miss parts of the last two seasons.

As previously noted, Shepard has made a difference when he’s been in the lineup, as the Giants have averaged 231.8 net passing yards per game and posted four games of 200+ yards with him, and 165 net passing yards per game, with four out of the five games he wasn’t available without him.

Moving forward, it would behoove the Giants to add a legitimate No. 1 receiver from a draft class that is supposed to be as deep if not deeper than last year’s class. If along the way, one of these young players they have on the roster whom they hoped might develop into a stud does reach that potential, even better.

Evan Engram

Evan Engram

Tight Ends

Giants Investment: $7.335 million
NFL Rank: 20thValue: Poor

Much like the unit’s production, this group has represented a mixed bag value-wise.

Evan Engram, who is still on his rookie contract, has a $3.4 million cap hit, which is expected since he’s a first-round draft pick. But the Giants doubled down by giving Levine Toilolo a free-agent contract that has a $3.25 million cap hit, and they don’t have much to show for it.

If you prescribe to PFF’s grades, Toilolo, who was supposed to be a solid blocking tight end, has the worst pass-blocking grade of the Giants’ three tight ends (Engram and Kaden Smith), and although he’s caught three of four pass targets, those have gone for 22 yards, 13 after the catch.

What about pass blocking? Smith has allowed five total pressures in 36 pass-block snaps, while Toilolo has allowed three in 30 pass-block snaps.

And how about run blocking? Again, if you prescribe to PFF’s grades, Toilolo is graded just ahead of Evan Engram, who has the worst run-blocking grade of the Giants group.

Smith, meanwhile, has a better grade, which begs the question of why the Giants invested that much in Toilolo when they had Smith, a promising young tight end who did more than enough at the end of last season to warrant a more prominent look.

Let’s get back to Engram in the passing game. Based on 12 tight ends who have received a minimum of 50 pass targets (Engram has 61, the third most of the group), his 62.3% reception rate ranks 11th.

Not surprisingly, Engram leads that 12-man group in dropped passes with six. That’s not a matter of how he’s been deployed in the offense, which is a whole other topic (his 9.1 yards per reception is ranked 10th, which is a shame given his speed and supposed ability to beat linebackers and defensive backs in coverage).

It all adds up to a 55.8 NFL rating for Engram, thought to be a key component in the passing offense this year. And it’s another big reason why this position group, at least so far, hasn’t entirely generated ideal returns on the investment.

Offensive Line

Giants Investment: $33.354 million
NFL Rank: 17th
Value: Excellent

The primary five starters—Andrew Thomas, Will Hernandez, Nick Gates, Kevin Zeitler, and Cameron Fleming—account for roughly $25 million of the total allocated to this group, an average of $5 million per player. That right there is a telling figure as it strongly suggests the Giants are working with a mostly young line (which they are).

But has the line, which started on shaky ground, improved to justify its investment? To be clear, no one is mistaking this group for those great offensive lines the Cowboys used to trot out.

But if you’re looking for a reason to be encouraged, consider this. In addition to the Giants running game averaging over 100 yards per game in their last five contents, based on data from PFF, in the first five games of the season, the Giants allowed a total of 97 quarterback pressures, an average of 19.4 per game.

In their last five games, that total has dropped to 73 pressure, an average of 14.6 per game.

For an average of $5 million per starter, that’s pretty good value.

Check back tomorrow for a look at the defense and special teams.

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