Barkley, Beckham and the biggest questions for the Giants

Owner John Mara said Monday he hopes RB Saquon Barkley plays for the New York Giants "his entire career." The Giants placed the franchise tag on Barkley earlier this month. Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire

When Brian Daboll spoke at the annual league meeting on Tuesday, the New York Giants coach noted there were 163 days until his team would play its opener. At least that was the number he had heard.

Assuming the Giants open on the first Sunday of the season, Sept. 10, the number was actually 166, but either way, that leaves plenty of time to fine tune and refine a roster that still needs work.

The Giants and general manager Joe Schoen believe they’re “better” after trading for tight end Darren Waller, adding depth to the wide receiver room, addressing the defensive line and signing middle linebacker Bobby Okereke. They also signed quarterback Daniel Jones to a new deal and placed the franchise tag on running back Saquon Barkley.

Still, they know a lot needs to be done. While a reporter listed last season’s accomplishments, Daboll chimed in that they got “smoked in the playoffs” by division-rival Philadelphia Eagles.

Daboll’s crew isn’t resting on laurels after winning a playoff game. The Giants need a center, a high-end wide receiver, more on the defensive line and at least one cornerback.

“It’s not fantasy football,” Schoen told reporters on Monday. “So they say, ‘Go get a No. 1 receiver!’ You can only afford what is on the market and what is available. So all these things sound great, but with the receiver group that was out there Parris Campbell was a guy our coaches really liked and we liked. [Darius] Slayton, getting him back was important.

“It was important to upgrade our D-line, linebackers. I know receiver is kind of the one everyone wants to talk to, but I think Daniel [Jones] has a better group.”

That it is a better group does not mean it is a complete group. Two weeks into free agency and one month out from the draft, here are the three biggest questions still facing the Giants.

What’s the latest on Odell Beckham Jr. and the WR position?

The Giants undoubtedly feel better about their wide receivers. They signed Campbell, Jamison Crowder and Jeff Smith in free agency, and re-signed Slayton and Sterling Shepard. Schoen also said they view Waller as an “offensive weapon” and not merely a tight end.

But there is no true No. 1 pass-catcher in that group. Owner John Mara said Monday they “haven’t closed that door” on Beckham. He would be in favor of that reunion if Schoen and Daboll can make it happen.

It doesn’t mean it will happen. In fact, it’s a long shot, even with Daboll admitting he’s texted with Beckham a couple times this offseason.

“Those are conversations that are private,” Daboll said, seemingly not wanting to offer any indications that a move is possible.

The Giants haven’t been willing to pay Beckham anywhere near what he’s asking or will command. Their chances of landing him are slim to none, according to one source with knowledge of the situation. Trading for Arizona’s DeAndre Hopkins also is unlikely.

The draft is a far more likely solution because that is a more economical and long-term solution at the position. Daboll and Schoen have been traveling the country eating expensive steaks and assessing the wide receiver landscape, most recently dining with TCU’s Quentin Johnston and attending his Pro Day.

New York’s next big move is much more likely to be inking defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence to a long-term extension than signing Beckham.

“We’re in negotiations,” Schoen said of talks with the player who was a result of the Giants trading Beckham to the Browns in 2019. The two sides talked as recently as late last week.

Will Barkley show up for offseason workouts?

Mara admitted that Barkley wasn’t thrilled with being assigned the franchise tag after Jones signed his long-term deal in early March. The two had a conversation in the past few weeks about the running back’s situation.

Barkley is on the $10.1 million tag, and Schoen said this week that the team stepped back once they tagged Barkley. There is “no outstanding offer” on the table right now. That doesn’t sound promising for Barkley, even if Mara said he’s still hopeful the two sides can reach a long-term deal.

Based on Schoen’s comments, that seems unlikely. Barkley’s only leverage would be to express his displeasure by not attending the offseason program. Most of that is voluntary anyway and wouldn’t cost him money. Mandatory minicamp and training camp would be a different story.

“I don’t know,” Daboll said about whether he expects Barkley to attend this spring. “That would be a good question for Saquon.”

There is no reason for Barkley to make a firm decision just yet. There is still time. But this situation has the Giants at least a little nervous.

“Obviously you’d rather have him in your building,” Mara said. “So, yeah, it would be a concern but he has whatever rights he has under the CBA.”

They’ll find out soon enough. The Giants offseason program starts April 17.

What will the Giants do at center and cornerback?

These are the two positions where the Giants haven’t addressed obvious starting spots. They allowed centers Jon Feliciano and Nick Gates to walk, and haven’t re-signed cornerback Fabian Moreau.

Schoen and Daboll mentioned that Jack Anderson, Ben Bredeson and Shane Lemieux were options at center. Schoen specifically described Bredeson as a “guy we feel very comfortable” with at the position.

The draft and free agency are also options. Everything appears on the table at this point.

“We don’t play until September, camp in August. We still have time,” Schoen said. “Guys may be cut post-draft, cap casualties, so we’ll be patient. We’ll continue to look.”

Cornerback is just as wide open. On one side is veteran Adoree’ Jackson, who has struggled to stay healthy. Cor’Dale Flott, Nick McCloud, Aaron Robinson and recently-signed Amani Oruwariye seem the most likely options for CB2. A first-round draft pick on the position is also not out of the question.

“It’s going to be open competition. I think we showed that last year, regardless of where you were drafted or how much money you’re making, we’re going to play the best players,” Schoen said. “I think that was apparent.”