Giants on 'Hard Knocks': Inside combine interviews, teeing up Saquon Barkley exit

The New York Giants, entering their 100th NFL season, are featured in the first-ever edition of this new version of the hit HBO show that for a long stretch would only cover a team during training camp leading up to the regular season.

Now, we get a behind-the-scenes look following the Giants directly after the conclusion of a 6-11 season as they prepare for a pivotal 2024 campaign with quarterback Daniel Jones, who played in only six games last season due to neck and knee injuries, including a torn ACL from which he continues to recover.

Here are our takeaways after the second episode of "Hard Knocks: Offseason with the New York Giants," with a focus on the process of rebuilding the team in the third year for general manager Joe Schoen and head coach Brian Daboll:

'Give me your word'

There was so much to digest in this episode and great insight into how the Giants attacked their preparation for the NFL scouting combine, but let's start this review with what transpired in the show's final five minutes.

This has been teased since the initial trailer for the series, and it turns out to be phone calls on March 5 — the final day to use the franchise tag — from Schoen to Ed Berry, the agent for Saquon Barkley, and Barkley himself. The Giants' GM, among other things, is letting Barkley's camp know that they will not be using the tag, and he'll reach the free agent market for the first time in his career.

What we learned from Schoen's conversation with Berry: they clearly have a good relationship.

Consider what Schoen told Berry, which is the reason why the Giants decided not to extend Barkley a contract offer: "Here’s what I’m worried about, we offer him something, he gets a little pissed off because it’s not what he wants, and then some other team comes in a million over us, he feels disrespected so he goes. ... I think he can still play, you gotta get the value right."

That sentiment established the most revealing exchange of the entire series to date.

This from Berry: “That’s why I’m asking, like, in your room at night, when you’re by yourself, are you like, ‘I wouldn’t mind if this kid bounced'?”

Schoen answered with surprising candor.

“I’m torn, Ed, because I still think he can play. And I think he can help us," he said. "But I didn’t want to come in at a number, because I don’t have a great idea where the market is. I’m gonna let the league tell him what it is. ... I do think he was our best offensive player.”

Schoen tells Berry he's going to reach out to Barkley and deliver the "no tag" news, and he'll text him back after their conversation. When Barkley answers Schoen's call, you can feel the frostiness between them.

Barkley seems appreciative of the Giants' decision to allow him to set his own market, but when Schoen presses Barkley on his commitment to circle back with an offer to match, asking the running back if he'll "give me your word," the response came off somewhat chilly: "I mean, I already told you where I want to be, so ..."

Barkley's voice trailed off, and that set the stage for what sure sounded like a farewell from Schoen, even if that was not the intention.

"I love you, man, I appreciate everything you did for the organization, the two years I was here," Schoen told Barkley. "I’m not saying we’re not gonna get something done, but I think it’s right, if for some reason it doesn’t work out, you know the organization thinks the world of you and everything you’ve done. But, hopefully, you go out there, you see the market and you say, you know what, I want to be here, and you give us a shout back."

To which Barkley replied: "All right, I appreciate y’all.”

That conversation seemingly sets the stage for what we will witness in Episode 3: free agency and Barkley's ultimate departure to the Philadelphia Eagles.

PREVIOUSLY ON 'HARD KNOCKS': Team doubles down on Daniel Jones over Saquon Barkley

Salary cap surprise

The episode opens with Schoen in his office when the memo from the league pops up on his computer screen. The date is Feb. 23.

“Holy cow - $255.4 [million],” Schoen says with a breathless gasp. “Wow. Wow.”

He’s quickly on the phone with Chris Rossetti, the Giants’ director of pro scouting.

“That’s huge, so that gives us, what, $35 [million in space],” Rossetti says before Schoen interrupts him, somewhat playfully and laughs: “Just relax.”

In the moment, Schoen acknowledges that the Giants will have to adjust their conservative cap projections, and how the new number will likely change some things across the league in terms of free agency. Xavier McKinney is mentioned, and both Schoen and Rossetti seem to express having a better chance of retaining the safety, who ultimately signs with the Green Bay Packers for a deal worth $17 million per year.

“26 probably thinks he’s getting Jonathan Taylor money now,” Rossetti quips, referring to Barkley, whose story arc with this series should culminate in Episode 3.

Malik Nabers speaks to reporters at the NFL scouting combine prior to being drafted by the New York Giants.
Malik Nabers speaks to reporters at the NFL scouting combine prior to being drafted by the New York Giants.

Inside the combine interviews

To me, this was the best part of the series to date. We get rare insight into when the draft evaluation kicks into high gear and how the Schoen-led Giants take what their scouting staff provides and uses that information to guide the process.

Before the Giants get to Indianapolis for the NFL scouting combine, the area scouts present their reports for the quarterbacks and wide receivers — a "Cliff Notes" primer from Scott Hamel of the LSU duo of Jayden Daniels and Malik Nabers; Patrick Hanscomb of North Carolina's Drake Maye; Brendon Prophett on Michigan's J.J. McCarthy and Ohio State's Marvin Harrison; Blaise Bell on USC's Caleb Williams and Hannah Burnett on Rome Odunze.

Fast forward to the Combine interviews inside the Giants' suite, and with Brian Daboll taking the lead, team brass tries to make the most of their time. Daboll does what Hamel suggested with Daniels by "putting him on the spot and getting a feel for his recall,” for example.

Won't you be my Nabers

Since we already know how the draft played out and that Nabers was the Giants' pick, there is more to glean from his interaction with the Giants. It's also pretty cool to see secondary coach Jerome Henderson interact during Combine drills with cornerback Dru Phillips, their third-round pick. It's also notable that Giants defensive coordinator Shane Bowen turns to Daboll to praise second-round safety Tyler Nubin: "He's impressive."

Circling back to Hamel's report on Nabers about there being "a lot to the personality," Daboll digs right into that and seemingly comes away impressed, even acknowledging that he needs to learn how to channel his emotions and competitive fire as well.

Prior to the Nabers interview, this was an interesting passing exchange between Daboll and Schoen:

Daboll: "Joe, I had that LSU tape on. I watched that Nabers dude, dude’s a baller."

Schoen: "Nabers or [teammate Brian] Thomas?"

Daboll: "Nabers. I watched him all day."

Post-interview, Schoen admits he was surprised that, despite being as fiery as he is on the field, Nabers was much more reserved in their meeting. Assistant GM Brandon Brown again has the most revealing comments of the show, admitting that the Giants really don't yet have a feel for Nabers and his personality. They leave the conversation with this overarching point: the Giants do not have a player like Nabers on offense and not all stars at receiver, corner and pass rusher are "choir boys," referring to a level of ego and edge that defines their greatness.

Trade talks teaser

Schoen visits with New England executive Eliot Wolf in the New England Patriots’ suite to “plant the seed” that the Giants are interested in trading up, and that if the Patriots decide to move the No. 3 pick, don't forget about Schoen at No. 6.

This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: New York Giants 'Hard Knocks: Offseason' episode 2 recap

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