Several Giants could be playing their final game in New York

ByJordan Raanan ESPN logo
Thursday, January 4, 2024

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It's the final week of the regular season, which means there are more than a few players who could be suiting up in a New York Giants uniform for the final time.

There will be no playoffs this year. Instead, this week's finale for the Giants (5-11) is a Week 18 matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles at MetLife Stadium. Not quite the same as the divisional-round matchup the two teams had last January.

This is an important game for the Eagles. They are playing for the division title if the Washington Commanders can simultaneously upset the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday afternoon.

While the matchup might not have playoff implications for the Giants, it could have sentimental value to some. Players such as running back Saquon Barkley and safety Xavier McKinney are impending free agents, and their futures in New York are in doubt. The same could be said for offensive coordinator Mike Kafka, defensive coordinator Wink Martindale and special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey. Wide receiver Sterling Shepard senses this is the end of the line for him.

It's hard to imagine that co-owner John Mara would sign off on changing all three coordinators, even if it is a possibility. If he did, that would put all the pressure squarely on coach Brian Daboll next season.

Nobody knows for sure, because these are discussions the Giants have temporarily put on the back burner. They intend to address them in the next few weeks.

"I just wanted to make sure we focus on the opponent we are playing, doing as well as we can do. That's the stuff that we're focused on as a coaching staff and the players," Daboll said. "The business side of things, they'll take care of themselves. But during the season, we're just locked into our opponent, doing what we need to do, practicing, preparing. That's where all our focus is."

Daboll might want to ignore the elephants in the room at 1925 Giants Drive, but they are there. His strength coach, Craig Fitzgerald, has already said he's leaving for the University of Florida.

More departures are likely to follow. Here's a look at some of the situations:

RB Saquon Barkley: He's set to be a free agent (again) after the season. The Giants still can use the franchise tag for the second straight year, this time at $12.2 million.

"Obviously I don't think any player wants to get franchise tagged," he said Wednesday.

The problem is that it's still an option for the Giants, who can absorb the salary relatively easily, given they are in a much more favorable salary cap position this offseason. The evidence from this season seems to suggest the Giants want Barkley to stay.

They refused to make him available at the trade deadline, and he remains the featured playmaker in their offense. Barkley also wants to stay. Legacy is important to him, and his post-career aspirations include being in New York.

CB Adoree' Jackson: He has missed at least three games because of injury in each of his three years with the Giants. His play has also dipped (54% completion percentage against to 63.4% this season) despite making $12 million.

It's hard to imagine this not being Jackson's final year in New York with first-round pick Deonte Banks ready to ascend into that top cornerback role, if he hasn't already.

S Xavier McKinney: McKinney has not allowed a touchdown as the nearest defender (per NextGen Stats). But his contract is not going to be cheap. The Giants decided prior to the start of the season they would defer this decision. Now, the price has likely gone up. Are they willing to pay it?

The franchise tag is an option for McKinney. Whether Martindale returns (let's not forget their midseason incident) could play a major factor in McKinney's future.

WR Sterling Shepard: He seems to know it's over and that Sunday is "probably going to be my last time in [the locker room]" at MetLife Stadium. The longest-tenured Giant is soaking in everything this week, saying he doesn't want to go home because he wants to spend extra time with the guys in the locker room. But the writing has been on the wall.

Shepard, 30, has been plagued by serious injuries in recent years and played just nine snaps in the past three games. But he has 369 catches for 4,077 yards and 23 TDs in a productive eight seasons with the Giants.

Special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey: It just seems his time is running out in New York. The veteran coach is a holdover from the previous two regimes and he drew the ire of the head coach this past summer, when Daboll was caught glaring at him during a preseason game.

It has only been reemphasized considering the Giants are 19th and 21st in special teams EPA the past two years. They were 13th and 16th in the two seasons before this current regime arrived.

DC Wink Martindale: The tension between the Giants defensive coordinator and coach has been documented. It's real. But opposing teams (most recently Eagles center Jason Kelce and Rams coach Sean McVay) have made clear the respect Martindale garners around the league for his aggressive scheme.

There will be demand for Martindale's services if he leaves -- unless Mara and Giants ownership are able to convince him it can work long-term.

OC Mike Kafka: It's not just the Giants' defensive coordinator who may be in his last game in New York. Even though Kafka was in the running for head-coaching positions last year, Daboll has gotten more involved in the offense this year. That naturally minimizes Kafka.

The Giants are still 30th in total offense and points scored. There have been rumblings that Kafka could want out, as well.