Minnesota's Playoff Loss Two Years Ago May Have Set Them Up For A Week 1 Win

Photo Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

The first episode of HBO’s Hard Knocks series on the New York Giants offseason starts with general manager Joe Schoen meeting with his staff about Saquon Barkley’s pending free agency. Schoen inherited Barkley, who the Giants took second overall in 2018 ahead of new Minnesota Vikings quarterback Sam Darnold, Denzel Ward, and Bradley Chubb.

New York’s decision to take Barkley second overall was surprising, given how running backs have become devalued in the league. However, Barkley had become the face of the franchise, and the series starts with Schoen and his coterie of front-office executives debating whether to tag Barkley for $12 million.

Daniel Jones’ $40 million salary complicates their process, as does the image of the Giants tagging Barkley and trading him. Most agents and players don’t love it when a team tags a player, only to flip him to another organization. Furthermore, there were more affordable options on the market.

Ultimately, the Giants signed Jones to a four-year, $160 million contract last offseason after beating the Vikings in the first round of the playoffs. Given that Jones’ $47.9 million cap hit is more than double New York’s next-highest player, tackle Andrew Thomas ($23.3 million), they will have to build the offense around Jones.

“He is making a lot of money and… we’ve got to figure out, is he the guy? So we’ve got to protect him,” Schoen said. “We need to put resources there.”

The easy joke here is that Ed Donatell made Jones a lot of money. Entering the 2022 season, the Giants had declined Jones’ fifth-year option after the sixth-overall pick in the 2019 draft had failed to produce a 90 quarterback rating or higher in his first three seasons.

However, Jones and the Giants snuck into the playoffs with a 9-6-1 record and upset the Vikings, 27-24, in the first round. Jones finished that game 30/42 for 334 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Minnesota’s defense ultimately cost them that playoff game.

The New York Jets had broken Minnesota’s defense in Week 13. Still, the Vikings managed a 13-4 record, and Vegas favored them over the Giants. However, Brian Daboll countered Donatell’s shell defense by rolling Jones out, allowing him to throw on the run and dump the ball off to Barkley. Jones picked up 34 yards using his legs; Barkley had 84 yards rushing and 49 receiving.

The Philadelphia Eagles beat the Giants, 38-10, in the next round and scooped up Barkley in the offseason. The first Hard Knocks episode shows Schoen’s decision to allow Barkley to test the market. Owner Joe Mara tells Schoen that “in a perfect world” he’d like Barkley to return, and Schoen believes that Barkley will return to the Giants with a number before signing elsewhere.

Giants director of pro scouting Joe Rossetti forecasted Philadelphia’s interest in Barkley, given how productive he could be behind the Eagles’ powerful offensive line. Rossetti’s premonition manifested later in the offseason. After Barkley signed with Philadelphia, Mara said he “was hoping it wouldn’t come to this.” However, he reiterated his faith in Schoen and the front office.

“That’s what I pay them for,” Mara said. “They ask my opinion, I’m certainly going to give them my opinion, and  Joe knew that I wasn’t going to be thrilled with him going within the division. But at the end of the day, the opportunity to acquire other players — Brian Burns being one of them — that was the direction they wanted to go in, and so I’ll support that.”

In the Hard Knocks episode, Schoen expressed skepticism that the Eagles would spend big on running back, believing instead that they’d invest in the defensive backfield. He also identified three roster needs – cornerback, pass rushers, and a No. 1 receiver – that would cost the Giants cap space.

The episode shows how a conversation between Schoen and Carolina Panthers GM Dan Morgan at the Senior Bowl led to the Burns trade. Schoen started his career as a scouting assistant with Carolina when they selected Morgan 11th overall in 2001 and developed a lifelong friendship. Burns filled New York’s pass-rush need, and they drafted Malik Nabers to be their WR1. However, they didn’t address corner in the offseason.

Minnesota’s 13-win season two years ago was surprising. However, the Giants playoff game was the only game they lost as a favorite, and the Buffalo Bills game was the only one they won as an underdog. The Giants hired Schoen and Daboll from Buffalo, hoping to turn around their once-proud franchise. Still, they look beatable this season, in no small part because they probably overpaid Jones.

The Vikings must beat them in Week 1 because the early part of their schedule is difficult. They play the Houston Texans and San Francisco Giants at home in Weeks 2 and 3 before playing at Lambeau Field and the Jets in London. Darnold will likely start the season under center, and Minnesota has to win enough in the early part of the schedule to capitalize on the softer middle. Fortunately, the first episode of the latest Hard Knocks confirms that the Giants are still a bit of a mess.

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