NFL teams have spent the past six months reshaping their rosters and now, finally, the 2022 regular season is nearly upon us. But which teams have truly pushed all their pieces to the middle of the table and are ready to make a serious run to Super Bowl LVII? Welcome to The Ringer’s All In Week, where we’ll examine the quarterback moves, team-building philosophies, and gambles that teams have made to compete for a championship and determine what it truly means to be all in.
“London is satisfied, Paris is resigned, but New York is always hopeful. Always it believes that something good is about to come off, and it must hurry to meet it.” —Dorothy Parker
“I hate how much I like what the Jets have done.” —Twitter user @AaronQuinn716, draft night 2022
Let’s get this out of the way—neither the Jets nor the Giants will win the Super Bowl in February. This feels like a fairly safe assumption, even before a single snap of the regular season has been played. Each of New York’s pro football teams has won just 22 total games over the past five seasons; there is not a playoff appearance in that span for either franchise. The 2022 preseason has already included some concerning developments for each team. Jets tackle Mekhi Becton is injured for the second year in a row and expected to miss the season, and quarterback Zach Wilson is currently out while recovering from meniscus surgery and is questionable for Week 1. For the Giants, quarterback Daniel Jones had an up-and-down training camp and the offensive line has been hit with so many injuries that, at one point last week, the starting offense was practicing with a sixth-string center.
And yet there is real optimism in both organizations that they can be meaningfully better this year. Both teams added multiple first-round picks in the draft in April. The Giants picked pass rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux (who sprained his MCL in the preseason against the Bengals but should be ready early in the season, if not by Week 1) and offensive tackle Evan Neal, and the Jets took cornerback Ahmad Gardner, receiver Garrett Wilson, and pass rusher Jermaine Johnson—each of whom could be cornerstones. Both teams are under relatively new leadership with well-respected coaches and general managers who came from successful franchises—Buffalo alums Brian Daboll and Joe Schoen are in their first year with the Giants, while Robert Saleh and Joe Douglas, previously of the 49ers and Eagles, respectively, are entering their second season together on the Jets. Both teams should win a few more games, identify a few more building-block players, and generally make some progress in 2022.
But in the context of today’s NFL, that puts both New York teams in a murky middle ground; neither has opened a Super Bowl window, and neither is rebuilding. According to The Ringer’s All In-dex, both the Jets and Giants are closer to “all out” than “all in”—each ranks near the bottom of the NFL in resources allocated to winning now. According to our All In-dex formula, both teams are spending less than league average on contracts, and both teams have stockpiled high-value draft capital. Overall, the Jets rank 25th, and the Giants are 31st, ahead of only the Texans. But this doesn’t mean either team is necessarily “all out” either. The Jets would have ranked higher on the list if moves they tried to make, like trading for receiver Tyreek Hill, had worked out, and Schoen stated explicitly when he was hired that the Giants have short-term goals to “build a roster that will be competitive, have depth, and most importantly, win football games.”
So, are these coresidents of the Meadowlands simply mired in mediocrity? Or does either or both offer a model of incremental progress in a time when few good teams take it slow? Let’s take a look at both programs, starting with the Jets.
I asked Saleh this spring whether he believed in an alternative path to going all in, and he told me it all comes down to the quarterback. He said the teams that have been able to be “ultra aggressive” have a commonality—an established quarterback to build around.
The Jets would ideally like to maximize 2021 first-rounder Zach Wilson’s rookie contract, but know that he hasn’t yet established himself as a franchise quarterback, so they are toeing that line of aggressiveness. Wilson went 3-10 as a rookie, throwing nine touchdowns and 11 interceptions, and his 69.7 passer rating placed him last out of 33 qualified passers. His knee injury, suffered in the Jets’ preseason opener against the Eagles, has robbed him of valuable practice time and preseason reps. Still, the Jets believe in him as a foundational piece, and the sooner he is back as the starter, rather than 37-year-old backup Joe Flacco, the better for the team’s long-term prospects.
“We have a really young team; our receivers are young, our quarterback is young, our backs are young, even the back end of the defense is young. And I know how we tried to be aggressive with Tyreek, obviously, with working the trade market and all that so we were trying to get in there too because we do have faith in our quarterback,” Saleh said. “Some things work out and some things don’t, but with the youth of this team, having the luxury to allow it to grow and gain another year of experience allows us to have that little bit in the tank to be aggressive when we need to be.”
My takeaway was that the Jets, philosophically, might actually love to be a team that takes big, risky swings. But they also aren’t sure whether they have the right hand to bet the house on at the moment.
Of the two teams, the Giants seem closer to living their conservative team-building values at the moment. This likely has a lot to do with what Daboll and Schoen learned from being part of the process of building the Josh Allen–era Bills in Buffalo. The Bills are in a different position in terms of roster needs than the Jets or Giants currently, but Buffalo is the model organization for a patient building process. The Bills used a first-round pick on Allen in 2018, gave him and Daboll as offensive coordinator time to grow and develop an offensive system that worked for them, and strategically made moves to upgrade talent around the quarterback, like the trade for no. 1 receiver Stefon Diggs in 2020 and investment in young defensive linemen in 2021. The Bills rank 10th on the All In-dex, so not low, but certainly lower than most Super Bowl favorites. General manager Brandon Beane, whom Schoen worked under as assistant general manager before taking the Giants job, tends to be more mindful of the salary cap than his peers, and spent his first year on the job essentially purging dead money—$70 million of it in 2018, Allen’s rookie year—from the balance sheet to get the team on solid financial footing before building up the roster around Allen.
The Giants have mirrored this practice this year, something Schoen said in March at the NFL combine would be a necessity.
“We’re in a situation where unfortunately we have to get under the salary cap and we’re not in very good salary cap health,” he said.
The Giants aren’t swallowing $70 million in dead salary cap charges like the Bills were, but they are near the top of the league in dead money, ranking eighth in the NFL with $32 million going to players who aren’t on the roster. (The Jets are last in this category, spending only $2.9 million on dead cap charges.) The Giants’ dead cap charges are coming mostly from contracts for cornerback James Bradberry ($11.7 million), cornerback Logan Ryan ($11.5 million), tackle Nate Solder ($4 million), and tight end Kyle Rudolph ($2.4 million), most of whom were cut to help the Giants clear roughly $40 million to get under the salary cap. Bradberry was released in May, essentially so that the Giants would have the money to sign their draft class.
Some of those moves, like releasing Bradberry when they could not find a trade partner, probably wouldn’t have happened if the Giants hadn’t felt like they had to make them. But even though the team has short-term goals and could be competitive in a wide-open NFC East, the priority is a year or two down the line.
“We want to be competitive today and also build for tomorrow. I think if we’re able to do this the right way, I think there’s a real possibility that we’re going to be able to do that,” Schoen said.
The Giants may come by their incrementalism more honestly but, like the Jets, a lot of their actions can ultimately be explained by their quarterback situation. The new regime did not pick up Jones’s fifth-year option in April, meaning 2022 is essentially a one-year tryout for his new bosses. The history of quarterbacks (think: Jake Locker, EJ Manuel, Christian Ponder, Brandon Weeden, and Paxton Lynch) who have had their fifth-year options declined by the teams that drafted them says it’s almost certain that Jones’s long-term future will not be with the Giants. That alone can explain why the team would be inclined to save up some resources for the future.
Still, though, most of the Giants’ actions to clear dead cap charges and regain financial health do seem in line with the organizational philosophy Schoen and Daboll would have brought from Buffalo. Whereas the Jets seem like a team champing at the bit, waiting for their quarterback to give them license to go all in, the Giants believe in going step by step, and probably still would even if they had a long-term solution at quarterback. There may be two teams slowed down in search of franchise passers in New York City, but really only one that seems to count not going all in as its organizational credo.