What claims of Giants’ Daniel Jones contract envy get wrong

It is easier, and often more effective, for a player to ask for more after his team actually accomplishes more.

After the Giants won three, five, four, six and four games, respectively, each season from 2017 to 2021, players did not pound their chests for more money when their individual exploits rarely translated to collective success.

In 2022, however, the Giants won nine games in the regular season and one more in the playoffs, shocking some, surprising all. And the timing couldn’t have been better for a few of the highest-profile players on the team, all at the end of their contracts or in need of enhancements to their contracts.

Daniel Jones would not have attained a new deal anywhere in the vicinity of $40 million per year on average if he had been the starting quarterback for a team that won only a handful of games in 2022.

Saquon Barkley could not have made a strong claim for an extension unless his career-high rushing total was directly linked to the team’s improvement on the field.

Dexter Lawrence, coming off his finest season, played his way into deserving elite financial status among defensive tackles, but the Giants would not be so willing to pay the man if Lawrence’s performance had not been part of a franchise resurgence.

In a sense, these three players tried, or are trying, to cash in on the franchise’s sudden success as measured against the crumminess of the previous five years.

Getting the Giants to agree to a $160 million extension was a lot easier for Daniel Jones after he led the team into the second round of the playoffs.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

As stated (so often) in “The Mandalorian”: “This is the way.’’ And there is nothing wrong with this way, as long as presumed self-importance does not reach irrational levels.

Jones got paid.

It seems only a matter of time before Lawrence and the Giants come together on a package that will average at least $22 million per year.

And then there is Barkley, who was offered a three-year deal averaging $13 million annually. He wanted more in the way of guaranteed money, and did not accept the offer. Once Jones signed, the Giants were free to secure Barkley for 2023 with the franchise tag of $10.1 million.

Whether it was a mistake or a misread by Barkley and his representation, he needed to get a deal done before the Giants had the opening to apply the franchise tag on him if he wanted to fully capitalize on the past season.

That left the Giants with Jones on hand Monday for the opening of the offseason workout program — and Barkley and Lawrence absent.

Their absences, though noticeable, are standard operating procedure for players who have not yet signed their franchise tenders (Barkley is prohibited to attend without a signed tender) or are trying to jump-start contract negotiations (Lawrence).

It is not great that two of the team’s best players — and captains — are staying away from these voluntary sessions. It is also not alarming.

It is … not much of anything at this point, three months before the start of training camp.

Saquon Barkley #26 of the New York Giants runs the ball in for a touchdown during the first quarter.
Saquon Barkley has yet to sign his franchise tender after turning down a multi-year offer during the season.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

There are those who disagree. Mike Lombardi, a former NFL scout, personnel evaluator and general manager, sees Barkley’s and Lawrence’s absences as examples of “the disease of me,’’ a phrase Pat Riley coined in his coaching thesis “The Winner Within,’’ published in 1993, when Riley was in the midst of turning the Knicks into title contenders following his success with the “Showtime’’ Lakers.

Riley warned that winning triggers ego, and ego eventually can lead to team dysfunction.

He wrote: “When the Disease of Me afflicts the strongest members of a team, or even its coaches, they develop an overpowering belief in their own importance. Their actions virtually shout the claim, ‘I’m the one.’’’

There is no doubt Barkley and Lawrence are among the “strongest members’’ of the Giants and that they believe they were a big part of the 2022 success. Lombardi, speaking recently on his “GM Shuffle’’ podcast, surmised that the Barkley and Lawrence contact issues are related to jealousy over what Jones got paid.

“Everybody in that locker room knows the reason they won wasn’t because of Daniel Jones,” Lombardi said. “He had something to do with it, but he didn’t carry the team. The players know this. You can’t con the players. They know this. And so there it is. This is what happens.”

This feels like a fairly reckless assessment. Barkley and Jones are close friends. Barkley was in Arizona a few weeks ago when Jones gathered a bunch of teammates together for passing sessions. And he has long been Jones’ staunchest supporter, at times expressing almost blind faith in his quarterback.

Daniel Jones #8 of the New York Giants greets Saquon Barkley #26 of the New York Giants during the first quarter.
Teammates for four years, Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley have become friendly enough that they met up in the offseason for few days of passing sessions.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

Lawrence is an affable team-first guy, until proven otherwise, and linking his absence to any sort of resentment toward Jones is quite a stretch.

Lawrence is eyeing the huge contract extensions signed by fellow defensive tackles Jeffery Simmons and Daron Payne rather than comparing himself to Jones, his 2019 draft classmate and buddy (they were training-camp roommates as rookies).

But Lombardi’s assertion was echoed by Bucky Brooks, a former NFL cornerback and kick returner who is currently an analyst for NFL Network. Posting on Twitter in response to Lombardi, Brooks wrote:  “This is what happens when you ‘overpay’ the QB1. The locker room knows if the QB is special or not, and when the team pays franchise $ for a ‘manager+’ it is hard for the stars to settle for less pay. … Giants got to fix it or it could wreck the squad in ’23.’’

Everyone, as they say, is entitled to their opinion.

There is no doubt players are aware of the money their teammates are getting, and resentment can fester. But before making the serious claim that Barkley and Lawrence are jealous of Jones, it would be nice if there was actual proof. The speculation here seems hollow.

Barkley and Lawrence not attending what essentially are weight-lifting sessions, and missing meetings in mid-April hardly qualifies as proof of this.

“Those are their business decisions, and those guys have to go about them how they see fit,’’ Jones said. “I certainly respect that, I think we all do. Knowing those two guys, they’re team-first guys, they’re great teammates to everybody, and everyone in our locker room has a tremendous amount of respect for both of them.’’

New York Giants defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence (97) reacts after a tackle against the Detroit Lions during the first half at Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022.
It is believed Dexter Lawrence is using a handful of recent deals signed by other defensive ends as a negotiating benchmark.
Noah K. Murray for the NY Post

Once he set up the premise, Lombardi went on to warn the presumed jealousy could be the Giants’ undoing, adding that Brian Daboll needs to prevent selfishness from running roughshod through the locker room.

“They didn’t win enough and they’re not good enough as a team to be able to kind of go through this,” Lombardi said. “They didn’t win a championship. They won nine frickin’ games and beat a sh–ty Minnesota team and got their ass kicked [by the Eagles]. They’re not good enough to have the ‘disease of me.’’’

Riley’s theory tapped into the very essence of human nature — wanting more for yourself because you believe you are worth more than you actually might be and that belief leading to resentment and jealousy among those around you.

Is that at work here with the Giants? Not likely — at all.

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Can’t mock this

You know what time it is. It is mock draft time, of course.

First, a reminder: No one outside the organization at this point really knows much of anything when it comes to which players the Giants like best and which they do not like at all.

But mock drafts — the educated ones — are interesting and can be quite enlightening.

The one we cite here is the latest from The 33rd Team, a respected think tank filled with former NFL executives, coaches and scouts. Their latest two-round edition will no doubt please Giants fans eager to see more offensive firepower added to the attack.

Quentin Johnston #1 of the TCU Horned Frogs runs after catching a pass during the third quarter in the Vrbo Fiesta Bowl at State Farm Stadium on December 31, 2022 in Glendale, Arizona.
Quentin Johnston, who might fit well in the Giants offense, averaged 19 yards per catch in three years at TCU.
Getty Images

In this mock, the five top cornerbacks are off the board by the time the Giants make their selection at No. 25. But only one wide receiver, Jaxon Smith-Njigba of Ohio State, is gone.

The pick for the Giants is receiver Quentin Johnston of TCU, who at 6-foot-3 and 208 pounds has the desired blend of size and speed to be a game-breaker.

The 33rd Team explains: “The New York Giants pick what could be the No. 1 wide receiver on their board. Quentin Johnston does have some head-scratching drops, but what he brings to the table could make those drops worthwhile. Johnston has the speed to stretch the field and the size and length to win 50-50 balls.’’

In the second round, with the 57th overall pick, the mock draft has the Giants selecting safety Jammie Robinson from Florida State. This, too, makes sense with a starting safety spot vacated after the loss of Julian Love to the Seahawks in free agency.

It remains to be seen whether the Giants value the player and the position this high.

Asked and answered

Here are two questions that have come up recently that we will attempt to answer as accurately as possible:

There remains a great deal of discussion, and social media speculation, about whether the Giants should do something with Leonard Williams’ contract. Will something happen?

It would be great for the Giants if they were able to reduce Williams’ extraordinarily high salary cap hit of $32.2 million for the 2023 season.

He is in the last year of a three-year, $63 million deal he brokered with the previous front office. General manager Joe Schoen, who inherited this contract, pointed out, correctly, that Williams remains an excellent player and the Giants do not have many options at defensive tackle other than Williams and Lawrence.

There is no reason for Williams to accept less money than he is owed. He has generally been durable, though he did miss five games last season dealing with neck and knee injuries. He is an eight-year veteran and, remarkably, only 28 years old.

Leonard Williams #99 of the New York Giants reacts as he walks off the field after the New York Giants defeated the Minnesota Vikings 31-24 to win the Wildcard.
Though still a critical piece in the Giants’ defensive picture, Leonard Williams’ $32.2 million cap hit this season will not be easy for GM Joe Schoen to work around.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

If the Giants want to give Williams a contract extension, they could lower his cap hit for 2023, but it does not seem as if that is the direction Schoen wants to go. He is concentrating on getting a long-term deal done with Lawrence, and there is only so much money he can tie up at the defensive tackle spot.

The Giants have only two quarterbacks on their roster. Aren’t they going to need more when the team gets on the field in the spring and summer?

Yes, there are only so many passes Jones and Tyrod Taylor can make before their right arms grow weary.

At this point in the offseason, however, it doesn’t matter how many quarterbacks a team has on its roster. Maybe the Giants pick up a quarterback in the late rounds of the draft. (To that end, they reportedly met with Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker Wednesday.)

More likely, they pick up a guy who is unsigned and waiting for a call. And it would be helpful if that guy has some familiarity with Daboll’s offense, so the learning curve is not nearly as steep.

This is not to suggest a newcomer is going to supplant Taylor as the backup. It means players are signed for a purpose. The Giants will need any new quarterback they add to be able to function at a high enough level to keep practice moving.