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Joe Schoen Has "No Regrets" Over Roster Construction

The Giants general manager spoke candidly about how the team's 2023 season has gone.

New York Giants general manager Joe Schoen probably didn't dream of a scenario where the injury bug would hit the roster he and head coach Brian Daboll so carefully crafted together in their second year on the job as hard as it did this year.

"Going into the season, if you told me (tight end Darren) Waller, (tackle) Andrew Thomas, Saquon, and (quarterback) Daniel Jones would play less than 40 plays together, I wouldn’t have been real excited about that, and that’s the reality of how it played out," Schoen said in semi disbelief.

Yet here we are, the Giants 4-8 with five games remaining in what's a step backward for a roster that, at the start of the summer, bore so much promise and generated so much buzz, especially coming off a 9-7-1 playoff season the year prior.

We'll get to the injury situation in a moment. Still, one of the questions asked of Schoen was how thinking behind how the 90-man training camp roster was assembled, how the initial 53-man roster was put together, and if there were any regrets.

"No regrets," Schoen said, citing the finite amount of financial resources a team has to work with every year in its roster construction.

Schoen correctly noted that one can't build an entire roster overnight and that it takes time. And he observed that some premium players, such as inside linebacker Bobby Okereke, who so far has paid off dividends to the team since they signed him to a four-year, $40 million deal, might not have been Giants had he instead used that money on two more affordable options at other spots.

While hindsight is 20/20, there are questions about the team's approach to assembling this roster that are worth noting and questioning.

Slots o' Plenty

At one point during the construction process, the Giants had over a dozen receivers, most of them slot guys. Now, while at the time there might have been some concern as to whether Wan'Dale Robinson would be ready to return following an ACL injury, it's hard to understand why the Giants felt they needed so many smaller slot receivers (needed Jamison Crowder, Sterling Shepard, and Cole Beasley, just to name a few) on the roster.

Could they have instead sought to use the money on a couple of those guys on a backup swing tackle or edge rusher?

Punt Returner

Thus far, no explanation has adequately explained why the Giants opted to have rookie running back Eric Gray, who has limited return experience in college (9 punt returns and four kickoffs), handle the duties.

Many believe it was because Gray is a draft pick, and the team wanted to justify him having a game-day uniform. And perhaps they thought he would work out and that those early camp yips in which he had trouble fielding balls would work themselves out.

That wasn't the case. Gray muffed a couple of punts before landing on injured reserve. The Giants did get lucky in landing Gunner Olszewski, an experienced punt returner, later in the season. Still, one wonders what kind of difference going with a Crowder or Kalil Pimpleton, two guys who were in camp with the Giants, instead of an untested rookie.

To his credit, Schoen took ownership of this misjudgment. "We tried to address the punt returner. We knew it was an issue," he said. "In the draft, some of the guys we liked went probably higher than where we deemed you would take a guy. Eric had done it at Tennessee, and he had done it at Oklahoma. The coaches were comfortable; we were comfortable going into the regular season based on what we were seeing."

Still, Gray, who averaged 5.2 yards per punt return and 18.0 yards per kickoff return, didn't exactly set college football on fire. Schoen didn't address why there was no old-fashioned competition--at the time, it was thought the coaches already knew what they had in Crowder and wanted to see if the rookie could match that.

He could not.

Schoen also revealed that the team had no intention of keeping more than seven receivers. "Do the math; who do you move on from, from the group if you kept Crowder?" he asked. "So, there were some moving parts in there, and that’s me being candid with you, and that’s on me, the returner."

Evan Neal

Although Schoen acknowledged that offensive lineman Evan Neal could do some things better, he doubled down on leaving the young man at right tackle, at least for the foreseeable future.

"I went back and watched the Alabama stuff; the kid can play. We just got to get him to be more consistent," Schoen said. "I’ve got a lot of confidence in Evan."

No one was expecting Schoen to badmouth Neal, but part of Neal's work for the Crimson Tide consisted of 13 games at right guard at the start of his time at Alabama, where he wasn't too shabby. While no one is suggesting Neal be benched, why not have an open mind about trying Neal at right guard next year if a decent tackle falls into their lap? 

Final Thoughts

Schoen has always spoken about doing things in the franchise's best interest, and it's certainly fair to say that at the time the decisions were made, they were the right ones.

That said, the Giants never really denied that they were still in a rebuild mode, one that would take some time to advance and consist of some trial and error. And with that error comes lessons learned for a promising young regime picked to lead the Giants back to relevancy.