saquon barkley
Syndication: The Record

The Giants will need to answer numerous questions pertaining to their starting offensive lineup.

Yes, it’s February.

Yes, the 2022 regular season doesn’t start for another seven months.

Yes, free agency and the draft have yet to occur.

And yes, this is an extremely premature observation, one that may lead to you responding, “No one cares right now — shut the hell up.”

But consider this piece a warning sign for the various questions the Giants will eventually need to answer regarding their starting offensive lineup.

Because at this moment in time, out of the 11 starting spots, there are only three that are (pretty much) set.

Yes: three.

The trio of slated starters

By the way, we’re going to look at this from an 11-personnel standpoint.

So the set starters are…

  • WR1 Kenny Golladay
  • WR2 Kadarius Toney
  • LT Andrew Thomas

These players combined to miss 14 games last year. But it’s essentially a given that if they’re healthy, they will be the starters at their respective positions in 2022.

The blindside blocker

Thomas came into his own in 2021 after a struggle-filled rookie campaign and is looking to be the left tackle of the future (finally, the Giants have one of those).

The pair of wideouts

Golladay and Toney, on the other hand, are slated to be the top two receivers of Brian Daboll and Mike Kafka’s offense.

Golladay’s starting spot is self-explanatory. He had a rough 2021 campaign and not a single person is doubting it, but the Giants are paying him $18 million per year and it’s clear that if anyone is a WR1 on this roster, it’s him (at least right now).

The new Giants coaching staff should certainly utilize Kadarius any way it can. When healthy, Toney could be one of the more dynamic and shifty receivers in the league. The Giants should be using him how the 49ers use Deebo Samuel — just get the ball in his hands!

The question marks

Well, let’s see…

  • QB: ?
  • RB: ?
  • WR3: ?
  • TE: ?
  • LG: ?
  • C: ?
  • RG: ?
  • RT: ?

That’s a whole lot of question marks!

The unknowns of the offensive line

The hope is that left guard Shane Lemieux and center Nick Gates will return better than ever following injury-plagued seasons (the former played in just one game while the latter appeared in two).

But with a new general manager in Joe Schoen, head coach in Daboll, offensive coordinator in Kafka, and offensive line coach in Bobby Johnson, who knows what will occur with both Lemieux and Gates?

The Dave Gettleman-Joe Judge regime is what drafted Lemieux and then signed Gates to the contract extension he’s currently playing on. There’s a chance the current crew could look in a different direction, potentially opening the door to new starters at left guard and/or center.

As for the right guard and right tackle spots, the Giants may need to look to free agency and/or the draft to fill out those roles.

Right guard Will Hernandez’s rookie contract is expiring and New York likely won’t be retaining him unless it’s on a cheap, short-term deal. He’s been inconsistent since a promising 2018 rookie campaign and the organization may be better off addressing this spot in one of the first two rounds.

Given his age (will be 34 in April) and declining skill, veteran tackle Nate Solder is probably exiting East Rutherford. Matthew Peart, on the other hand, hasn’t totally panned out since his 2020 third-round draft selection. Like with the left guard and center positions, the current regime could look elsewhere at right tackle.

The unknowns of the offensive weapons

The WR3 spot is a mystery.

Given his immense injury history, there’s a significant chance the Giants part ways with Sterling Shepard. He should be a cap casualty this offseason considering his $12.50 million cap hit and $7.99 million dead cap hit for next year.

Darius Slayton could be the occupant of the starting WR3 spot, but the young receiver has a tendency to disappear and hasn’t been a consistently reliable target since a strong 2019 rookie campaign. The Giants could possibly cut him ahead of the regular season or at least attempt to make him a trade piece.

As far as the tight end position is concerned, there’s little-to-no chance the Giants bring back Evan Engram, whether it’s on a new deal or the franchise tag. He wouldn’t be worth the latter (not even close) and it would be a waste to extend him — it’s been tough to overlook the drops and overall on-field mistakes.

Kyle Rudolph doesn’t stand a chance at being the starting tight end either. The veteran proved to be a waste of a signing this past season and might be another cap casualty ($7.43 million cap hit, $2.43 million dead cap hit in 2022). Bringing Rudolph back to be a starter at 32 years old would be…dare I say…a Dave Gettleman-type move.

And then, there’s the running back spot…

Look, Saquon Barkley is a great guy who had a sensational rookie year — but the Giants absolutely must find a way to trade him ahead of next season.

It’ll be tough to find any sort of suitor given Barkley’s cap hit (a fully-guaranteed $7.22 million due to the fifth-year option), the remaining time on his contract (one year), and his recent production (3.7 yards per carry, 593 rushing yards, and four total touchdowns through 13 games in 2021).

But given how he hasn’t brought much of a spark to this Giants offense, it’s really tough to confirm he’ll be the team’s starting running back when Week 1 rolls around. Joe Schoen has to discover some maneuver to part ways with him.

The unknown at the most important position

I understand both Brian Daboll and Joe Schoen seemed high on Daniel Jones during their respective introductory press conferences.

But that doesn’t mean the Giants will definitely be rolling the dice with DJ in what will be his fourth year in the league.

There’s still the chance the Giants start absolutely fresh with a new general manager, new head coach, and new quarterback. They could still do their due diligence with this upcoming draft class or explore a trade for someone like Russell Wilson or Kyler Murray (if the latter is, in fact, using the deleting of Instagram pictures to say he wants out of Arizona).

Like with Saquon Barkley, it’s difficult to confirm Daniel Jones will absolutely be a starter on this Giants offense come Week 1.

Follow Ryan Honey on Twitter: @RyanHoneyESNY

Listen to ESNY’s Wide Right Podcast on Apple here or on Spotify here.

Ryan Honey is a senior NFL analyst, betting writer, and podcaster for Elite Sports NY. He hosts the Wide Right Podcast, which serves as both a New York Giants podcast and sports betting show.