PHOENIX — The goal for the Giants is to be, one year from now, where the Eagles are today. Not where the Eagles are today from a geographic standpoint, but where the Eagles find themselves based on their football ability and acumen.
The Eagles are hunkered down in the Valley of the Sun as the NFC representative in Super Bowl LVII, slight favorites to get past the Chiefs on Sunday at State Farm Stadium in nearby Glendale. Based on what transpired this season, it was hardly a stretch to project that the Eagles would get this far. Based on how the Eagles came out of 2021 , making it to the Super Bowl one year later was not exactly the most anticipated route they would travel — not after going 9-8 in Nick Sirianni’s first season as the head coach.
But Sirianni, who took over after Doug Pederson oversaw a 4-11-1 campaign in 2020 that got him fired, got plenty out of young quarterback Jalen Hurts. And now, after several key personnel moves by Howie Roseman, the executive vice president and general manager, the Eagles find themselves one win away from capturing the second Lombardi Trophy in franchise history.
What does this have to do with the Giants? Maybe nothing, maybe everything. Perhaps the Giants can be where the Eagles are a year from now, and take a quantum leap forward in a relatively short period of time.
There are similarities. The Eagles were bad in 2020. They hired a new head coach and improved enough to reach the playoffs the next season before becoming world-beaters in 2022. The Giants were bad in 2021. They hired a new head coach and improved enough to reach the playoffs the next season. The trick now for the Giants is to come close to duplicating what the Eagles accomplished and turn into a real contender in 2023. If that happens, maybe the Giants one year from now will be hunkered down in the Las Vegas Valley, preparing for Super Bowl LVIII against the AFC champions.
Pointing out similarities does not ensure the journey will follow a shared path. If the 2022 season taught us anything, it’s that there is a gap between the Eagles and the Giants that must be narrowed before any reasonable discussion of a changing of the guard in the NFC East. Between now and the next time the Giants and Eagles line up on the field, the Giants will have either decreased the talent discrepancy between the two teams or failed to draw closer in the division pecking order.
“We’re going to try to do the best we can,’’ Giants general manager Joe Schoen said. “We’re always going to try to build a better roster, players, whatever it may be, whatever it is — resources around here. Anything that we can do that’s in the best interest of the franchise that’s going to make us better, we’re going to do. You can’t put a timeframe on that, but we’re going to be relentless in the pursuit of building a championship team here.’’
There is no team more responsible for allowing the Eagles to build a championship-ready resume than the Giants, who, for the first time in franchise history, lost three times to the same opponent in the same season, and two of the games were non-competitive.
In a span of only six weeks, the Giants lost to the Eagles 48-22 in Week 14 at MetLife Stadium, 22-16 in Week 18 at Lincoln Financial Field (though doing so while resting their starters after having clinched the No. 6 seed) and 38-7 in Philly again in the divisional round of the playoffs.
“That’s always going to be a goal of ours, to close that gap and be NFC East champs,’’ Schoen said. “That’s what we’re going to work towards.’’
The blueprint for gaining ground on the Eagles starts at the line of scrimmage. Few would argue with the premise that the Eagles have the best line play in the league on both sides of the ball. If it is what’s up front that counts, the Eagles are at the head of the line, in more ways than one.
Anyone with a casual interest in the Giants realizes what a struggle it has been to assemble a first-rate offensive line. Schoen inherited Andrew Thomas at left tackle, a great start, and signed center Jon Feliciano and right guard Mike Glowinski, who are probably stopgap veterans; Feliciano is an impending free agent. Left guard was a revolving door all season. Evan Neal, taken with the No. 7 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, endured significant rookie growing pains, but the coaching staff and front office is convinced his work ethic will lead to considerable improvement.
The way the Eagles built their offensive line should be required study. All five of their starters were drafted and developed by the franchise. Their offensive line coach, Jeff Stoutland, is so widely respected that he has survived through three different head coaches — Chip Kelly, Pederson and Sirianni.
There is only one first-round pick among the Eagles’ starting offensive linemen — right tackle Lane Johnson, who came aboard in 2013. Starting left tackle Jordan Mailata was new to football when the Eagles made him a seventh-round pick in 2018. Mailata was a rugby player in Australia, a mammoth (6-foot-8, 350 pounds) and raw prospect. The Giants hope their own football novice, Nigerian offensive tackle Roy Mbaeteka, can develop in a similar manner after spending the 2022 season on the practice squad.
The Eagles’ starting guards were second-day draft picks. Isaac Saulamo arrived in the third round in 2016, and Landon Dickerson, a center at Alabama, was taken in the second round in 2021. The starting center, Jason Kelce, was a sixth-round pick in 2011, mainly because he was undersized at 6-foot-2 and 285 pounds. What did the Eagles know that no one else did? Kelce is a six-time Pro Bowler and likely destined to be a Hall of Famer.
The Giants like to think they have an edge with interior defensive linemen Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams, and that the two players will remain the centerpieces up front on defense. Both are former first-round picks: Lawrence for the Giants in 2019 and Williams for the Jets in 2015. There is not much depth on the line, though, and the Giants run defense was bad from start to finish this past season. The outside linebackers, Kayvon Thibodeaux (No. 5 overall in 2022) and Azeez Ojulari (second round, 2021), are strong prospects who bolster the Giants’ defensive line.
The Eagles are in another realm with their defensive line. The group has been selected to a combined 16 Pro Bowls and won four Super Bowls. It is no wonder the Eagles led the NFL with 70 sacks in the regular season.
Brandon Graham is the longest-tenured Eagles defensive lineman, arriving in 2010. Fletcher Cox came aboard in 2012. Josh Sweat got to Philly in 2018 and Jason Hargrave in 2020. The Eagles did not stop adding to this unit. They signed Haason Reddick as a free agent and drafted Jordan Davis in the first round in the 2022 draft. And they signed proven veterans Ndamukong Suh and former Giant Linval Joseph for the stretch run to reinforce the run defense.
The results have been overwhelming. Reddick led the team with 16 sacks, and three others put up double-digit sacks (Graham, Hargrave and Sweat had 11 each).
“They have a good defensive line and good offensive line,’’ Giants coach Brian Daboll said. “Everything starts up front. We certainly could have done a better job, too. But give them credit. They have good players on both sides of the ball.’’
The gap is real. The Giants have work to do to get closer to the Eagles. It starts up front.
Asked and answered
Here are two questions that have come up recently that we will attempt to answer as accurately as possible:
Joe Schoen said last week at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., he had not yet opened up contract negotiations with Daniel Jones’ representatives. Why the wait?
We’ll answer a question with a question: What’s the rush? It made sense for Schoen to want to take some time for the emotions of the season to dissipate before engaging in the most important decision he will make this offseason. A multi-year deal for Jones figures to average at least $35 million annually, and putting a contract of this magnitude together takes time. Schoen and his salary-cap experts will formulate the framework of an offer, present it to Jones’ camp and discussions will take off from there. The franchise tag window opens Feb. 21 and closes March 7. The Giants prefer not to use the tag on Jones. It would count $32.4 million on the 2023 salary cap, while a long-term deal will carry a significantly lower salary-cap charge next year. The Giants could use the tag as a place-holder as they negotiate with Jones, keeping him off the open market when free agency opens up March 15. There is plenty of time to make a new contract happen.
The Super Bowl is back in Glendale, Ariz., where the Giants staged that remarkable upset victory over the undefeated Patriots. Does it feel like 15 years ago?
Sometimes it seems as if Eli Manning escaping the pocket and David Tyree pinning the ball on his helmet happened only a few years ago. Other times, it seems like forever ago. The Giants have been through so much since then, though not much of it — after their second Super Bowl triumph over the Patriots four years later — was any good. This year’s game is the third Super Bowl played in Glendale. The indoor venue was called University of Phoenix Stadium in February 2008 when the Giants took down the Patriots. Super Bowl XLIX in Glendale was another classic: The Patriots came back to stun the Seahawks, 28-24. The Eagles and Chiefs will square off in what is now called State Farm Stadium. The first one was incredibly memorable and continues to resonate 15 years later.